BUTLER, PA. Mourning a loss, finding a calling

The Butler woman became certified in grief counseling and now helps others who have lost loved ones.
BUTLER, Pa. -- Judi Baglier's life turned upside down five years ago when her only son turned up missing and was later found dead.
"I was grieving in such a way [that] it was harmful. I was doing a lot of drinking [and] a lot of isolating myself from my husband," she said.
She and her husband, Dennis, a Butler car dealer, ended up separating after 25 years of marriage, and she continued to hide her grief in alcohol.
"I finally came to the realization that I needed to do something with my life. I checked myself into rehabilitation, and the first thing I did was get off the booze. I realized it was only a temporary fix. All I was doing was postponing my grief process," she continued.
Her work: Two years after checking into alcohol rehabilitation, Judi Baglier, 57, is now sober and has gone beyond working on only her own grief to helping others.
In May, she completed a certificate in grief counseling at Colorado State University.
She is now doing private counseling with those who have lost loved ones and is working at the State Regional Correction Facility at Mercer, counseling inmates who are grieving.
"God works in mysterious ways. The first day I showed up at the prison, walking up to the gate, I thought to myself, 'Is this really where you want me to be?'" she said.
After the first session, Baglier knew it was the right place for her.
"I have murderers in my group. I honestly don't know why, but God wants me to be there. Maybe if my son's murderer had gotten some kind of help, my son would be here today," she said.
Son's death: Her 18-year-old son, John A. Baglier, grandson of longtime Sharon car dealer John J. Baglier, was abducted and killed in November 1996.
Police say his killer, Richard Gamble, met him at the Clearview Mall in Center Township, took him to an undisclosed location and shot him three times in the chest.
Gamble, 23, of Ford City, Pa., committed suicide about a week later in Arizona after a scuffle with police. He was driving John Baglier's sport utility vehicle and had been using Baglier's credit cards during his cross-country trip.
John Baglier's body was found about two months later in a culvert near Kittanning, Pa.
After her son's death, Judi Baglier said it was difficult finding a therapist who could understand her pain. None had experienced a personal loss like the death of her son, she added.
"Initially, I went out to Colorado to get some help for my grieving, but when I was there, I realized that God had given me a gift. That was the ability to reach out to people and have people feel comfortable with me."
Sobriety: She realized that she must first get sober, however.
"How fortunate I am that I grasped that empowerment. It would have been so much easier to lay down and play dead. What an excuse I would have had. That's not what I wanted my life to be. That's no way to memorialize my child," she said.
Rehabilitation and continued meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous keep her on the straight and narrow and also have made her realize she had a problem with alcohol even before John's death.
"I've always been a good party person. I've denied that, but that's what rehabilitation made me realize. It really escalated after my son's death. I was having blackouts, staying at home and isolating myself by drinking," she said.
Before her son was killed, Baglier said, she was a country club golfer involved in various women's groups.
"Those things are just no longer important to me. My friends at the country club laugh when they hear that, but my priorities have changed so much. I learned to enjoy the moment. I appreciate things much more than I did before," she said.
She said her son was her best friend and that losing him was the most painful experience she has ever had. And although he's been gone nearly five years, she's still grieving.
"I have days I just burst into tears. I can be driving down the street and see a red car -- John loved red cars -- or a kid with dark hair and a baseball cap. I have that grief burst. I know it's normal, and I don't fight it."
She learned through her courses that the grieving never ends; it only lessens with time.
Relationships: But she says she is ready to move on with life and possibly start dating again.
"I doubt I will ever marry again. I hope to have a relationship with somebody and share his family," she said.
She spends her private time with her two cats, two dogs, two Arabian horses and a great-niece who shows one of the horses in competition.
But the plight of parents of missing or slain children is never far from her mind.
Baglier said she often seeks out parents who have missing children to offer help and counseling.
None has refused her help.
"When I talk to a mother who has lost a child, she knows that I know her pain. That I have been there," she said. "My famous quote is: 'My life no longer belongs to me. It belongs to those who grieve.'"

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