Monday, March 8, 2021

In Grief: When to Consider Joining A Support Group

[Reviewed and updated August 22, 2021]

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.
  ~ Booker T. Washington

A reader writes: I was wondering if anyone around the 6th month maybe (because that's where I'm at now) remembers things more vividly. I had forgotten so many precious things and I don't know if it was the holidays or a point that I am at but everything comes to me so clearly. I dream more vividly, I look around my house and memories just flow in. In some ways I am glad to have these memories come to me, but they are also reminding me of how wonderful things were with him here and how I won't have that again.

I think of what we would be doing right now if he were here. I know he would be the best father in the world. He didn't even get to meet his son. I guess it is one of the 'stages' I am supposed to go through. I miss him like crazy -- sometimes I feel like I literally miss him so much it makes me crazy. How many times can people be talking to you and have you there just not even paying any attention to them before they commit you. Well my venting is through. Thank you for listening and God bless you.

My response: As you accurately observe, this re-awakening of intense grief around the six-month mark is not at all unusual, and in fact is normal and very common in bereavement. This is why we encourage the bereaved to consider joining a grief support group, most especially at this particular point in their grief journey. See Grief Support Groups: What Are The Benefits?

It may help to read what these various authors have to say about finding support in a group. Such writings also serve to explain why our own online Grief Healing Discussion Groups can be so helpful:

It is often difficult for a widow or widower to express genuine and at times, intense grief, because of our society’s tendency to view death as an unnatural occurrence rather than as a universal phase of the life cycle. Society also tends to put the widow or widower on a time schedule for the grieving process and usually prefers that the bereaved partner 'get on with living.' A support group can combat this insensitive societal schedule by encouraging bereaved spouses to establish their own timetable for grieving. Bereavement support groups represent an excellent approach to this highly vulnerable population, because the small-group format can specifically address and lessen 'the intense social isolation experienced by most bereaved spouses' (Yalom and Vinogradov 1988). In general, the literature advocates support groups for bereaved spouses . . .

Support groups for bereaved spouses have several goals:

•To assist members to cope with the pain of grief and mourning by creating a community in which they are deeply understood by peers.

•To combat the social isolation that is so pervasive

•To support members as they begin to understand the changes facing them as they begin to fashion a new future for themselves

•To offer hope; to see that others who also know the darkness of loss are not immobilized by it

•To obtain support from others who’ve shared a similar loss

[source: The Loss of a Life Partner, by Carolyn Ambler Walter, © 2003 Columbia University Press, p. 229]

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The worth of [grief support groups] does not emanate from empirically supported treatments, but from something much more simple (yet powerful): the telling of stories. The meetings are anchored in honoring each member's stories of grief and supporting each other’s need to authentically mourn. No effort is made to interpret or analyze. The group affirms the storyteller for the courage to express the raw wounds that often accompany loss. The stories speak the truth, and create hope and healing. [The leader’s] role is not so much about group counseling techniques as it is about creating 'sacred space' in the group so that each person’s story can be non-judgmentally received. Effective grief group leadership is a humble yet demanding role of creating this space in ways that members can express their wounds in the body of community. The very experience of telling one’s story in the common bond of the group contradicts the isolation and shame that characterizes so many people’s lives in a mourning-avoidant culture. And, because stories of love and loss take time, patience, and unconditional love, they serve as powerful antidotes to a modern society that is all too often preoccupied with getting people to 'let go' and 'move on.' The creation of new meaning and purpose in life requires that mourners 're-story' their lives. Obviously, this calls out for the need for empathic companions, not treaters. Indigenous cultures acknowledge that honoring stories helps reshape a person’s experience. The stories are re-shaped not in the telling of the story once or twice or even three times, but over and over again. Mourners need compassionate listeners to hear and affirm their truths.

[source: Companioning the Bereaved, by Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, © 2006, Companion Press, pp. 82-83]

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I searched the Internet for hours to find groups that could relate to this pain. I was fortunate to know a few other mothers who had experienced the loss of a child. These mothers sought me out to offer me comfort and hope. We should not be alone during this time. We need to hear from others who have been there before us, who can listen to our stories and know what our sorrow feels like. We need to talk about our loved one to strangers, to proclaim to others that our beloved lived and was a real person. Other bereaved people know this and listen willingly. They share their stories also. We help each other by sharing our loss and pain. Eventually we find ourselves on the giving end of this compassion, reaching out to the newly devastated, helping them along, encouraging them, and listening to them. There is an old song we used to sing in church that had this refrain: “Bear one another’s burdens, and share each other’s joys, and love one another, love one another, and bring each other Home.” This is what our lives are all about.

There are many people who have suffered the same loss that we ourselves have, who know what our pain feels like and who are able to reach out from beyond their brokenness to help us along. In time, we too are able to turn and help those who come after us on the same road. Together, stumbling, reaching out for help, pausing to offer comfort, walking together, we can complete our journey. In the process, we learn to love and to be loved much more fully. This is one of the gifts of bereavement.

[source: A Season of Grief, by Ann Dawson, © 2002, Ave Maria Press, pp. 47-48]

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