Monday, July 6, 2015

Starting A Support Group: Suggested Resources

[Note: Since its original appearance, this post has been updated ~ most recently on September 4, 2017.]

To know the road ahead, ask those who are coming back. ~ Chinese Proverb

A reader writes: Do you have any ideas/resources for starting a parent support group? I live in a very small town. We have recently had several of our young people pass away, including my own son who was killed in an auto accident on Mother’s Day of this year. I have no idea how to go about starting something like this nor how to manage it. The closest mental health resources we have are an hour’s drive away. Any suggestions would be welcome.

My response: I’m so sorry to learn of the tragic accident that took the life of your son—and on Mother’s Day of all days. How horrible that must be for you—I simply cannot imagine. My heart goes out to you.

I commend you for wanting to start a support group in your town, and I certainly understand your desire to do so. If you’re like most of us, however, since this happened barely two months ago, you’ve hardly had time to emerge from the initial shock and numbness of your own loss, much less to be ready to take on such a big project.

You might consider contacting The Compassionate Friends for help, but even that organization requires that at least 18 months have passed before a parent, grandparent or adult sibling is considered ready to start a local chapter.

While there is nothing magical about allowing 12 or 18 months to go by following the death of a loved one, most experts agree that it is best that we allow ourselves that first year to experience the first four seasons of our grief—one year of all those “firsts” (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or any other special days) without our loved one’s physical presence in our lives—and at least that much time to learn to work on and to process our loss before we are ready and able to volunteer to work with other bereaved individuals.

That is not to say that there cannot be valid exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course, and as you consider proceeding with your desire to start a support group in your town (especially since you have no other local sources for grief support), these are the books I've read myself and would personally recommend:

Support Group Manual: A Session-by-Session Guide by Harriet Sarnoff-Schiff

The Understanding Your Grief Support Group Guide: Starting and Leading a Grief Support Group by Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD

Death and Grief: Healing through Group Support by Harold Ivan Smith

Guiding People through Grief: How to Start and Lead Bereavement Support Groups by William G. Hoy

Another alternative you might consider is to participate in an online support group, such as the one I moderate, Grief Healing Discussion Groups, as it contains a forum specifically designed for those who have experienced the Loss of an Infant, Child or Grandchild.

In any event, please know that my heart goes out to you as you mourn the loss of your precious boy.

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