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Grief tore into Pittsburgh woman, but mission trip set path to better days |

Grief tore into Pittsburgh woman, but mission trip set path to better days

Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Sheran White has endured the loss of four close family members in recent years. Her only son was shot and killed in 2007. Two of her grandsons, ages 10 and 4, died in 2008 in a house fire in Crafton Heights. Her husband died of a heart attack in 2009.

It did not immediately occur to Sheran White that she had become a widow.

First, in 2007, when her son, William James White III, was shot and killed, she became a mother grieving the death of her only son.

Next, in 2008, when two of her grandchildren — 10-year-old William James White IV and 4-year-old Jordan James White — died in a Crafton Heights house fire, she became a grandmother mourning the loss of her dead son’s children.

So in 2009, when her husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack, she did not think of herself as a widow.

She was simply a broken woman.

“To this day, I still feel married,” White said. “Even though I’m a widow, I still feel married. I was married for 33 years. It will be — it would have been — 38 this year.”

She paused, unable to continue speaking through sudden tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “As you can see, I can still well up at any given moment. Not nearly as much as I used to, but …”

When her husband, William James White, Jr., passed away at age 54, White gave up. She drank heavily and over-ate as forms of escape. She gained 52 pounds. She withdrew into herself. She questioned her previously unshakable faith.

“I said to my pastor, ‘This Christian thing is not working for me. I’m thinking about just leaving and walking away,’ ” she recalled. “I’m alone in this. I’m losing it. It got to the point where one of my grandchildren asked me who was next.”

A year after her husband’s death, at the urging of her pastor at Allegheny Center Alliance Church in the North Side, White went on a church mission to Kenya to help widows who had been shunned by their communities.

Only then did she realize what she had become.

“A full year had passed,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was a widow until Kenya. … The word kind of hit me. I remember that moment, that very moment.”

The experience helped White refocus. She stopped drinking and lost the weight. She started a nonprofit, the Five James Foundation, in honor of friends and family, all of whom had James in their names, who had died. She raised money to buy the Kenyan widows equipment to make jewelry and other small keepsakes, plus a car to drive to Nairobi to sell their merchandise.

In February, she will visit the widows in Kenya for the fifth time.

Back home in Pittsburgh, she shares her testimony and reaffirms her faith.

“I didn’t have time to grieve my husband before,” she said. “I still had to deal with my son, my only son, and my grandsons. But now I think I am starting. Believe me, I still have some really bad days, where it takes me a little longer to get up and get dressed, when I realize the permanence of it all. But every day, every year, I get better.

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