Monday, December 11, 2023

Finding Support in A Grief Group

Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty.  ~ Brian Greene

A reader writes: I am going to go to my first grief group meeting tomorrow afternoon. I have to admit, I have never been to any kind of support group meeting like this before, and I'm feeing pretty uncertain about it. Any thoughts you'd be willing to share with me?

My response: I applaud your decision to participate in a support group. It takes great courage to acknowledge your need for the support of others, and I respect and admire you for taking this important step in your own healing. Remember too that you are not alone in feeling as you do ~ I'm sure you'll meet others in your group who are just as reluctant to be there as you are. 

Humans by nature are social beings, and mourning is an interpersonal process. When death touches someone we love, whether that is a person or a cherished animal companion, we naturally feel a need to be with others who understand because their experiences are similar to our own, and we feel a need to tell our stories of loss

Unfortunately, because we still live in a death-denying culture, most of us have grown up with little if any exposure to death and dying. Until hospice programs offered an alternative, most people died in hospitals and nursing homes, and their remains were whisked off to funeral homes ~ it all took place somewhere other than at home. We've had little experience and training in how to manage grief. We don't live in tribes, villages or small towns anymore (where everyone knew everyone else and we knew what was going on in one another's lives), and unless we live near extended family, we don't have people around us who know enough about us to be with us in our losses. When someone close to us dies, the people we might encounter every day (at work, at the cleaners, the grocery store, the post office, etc.) know little or nothing about us and our losses, or what the deceased pet or person meant to us ~ so they don't know what we need or how to respond to us. And during the year-long COVID-19 pandemic, we may have been isolated and prevented from being with a loved one when they died, or unable to mourn a death in person with supportive family and friends. 

I think all of this serves to explain why support groups appeal to us when we're grieving. It's also true that most bereavement support groups are designed to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible (i.e. offered at no cost, and at times and locations that are most convenient). Today more organizations than ever before are offering support groups: hospices, mortuaries, churches, etc., so there are more available now than ever before. And then there is the internet, which offers all kinds of information, comfort and support to those who are grieving very specific types of losses (loss of a spouse, partner, parent/grandparent, child/grandchild, sibling, pet, etc.) in the form of websites, chat rooms, discussion groups, grief forums and message boards. Internet groups are limited to those with access to computers and those who are connected to the web, but still this is a whole other social support system that didn't even exist just two decades ago. It is growing by leaps and bounds, and it enables grieving individuals to obtain information, compare experiences with others and get needed validation without even having to leave home to participate in a group.

Groups offer grieving people a place to tell their stories of loss, to discuss their reactions and frustrations, to learn what normal grief looks and feels like, to discover new coping skills, to consider their changing identities, to discover what they have in common, to be with and feel supported by other people, to learn social skills they may have forgotten or not used in a very long time, to share information, resources and problem-solving techniques, to be encouraged and inspired by seeing others cope.

Whether the focus is on pet loss or on the loss of a person, a grief support group can be either of a self-help nature, or one that is facilitated by a mental health professional (a qualified grief counselor, for example). Self-help support groups are those facilitated by individuals who themselves have lost a loved one, have worked through their grief sufficiently long enough ago to have developed some perspective, and are now committed to helping others move through the grief process ~¬ and they can be very effective. The other type of support group is one facilitated by a mental health professional who has background, training and experience in grief education and grief counseling and/or grief therapy; understands group dynamics and group process; can provide structure and "ground rules" for the group; and knows how to address the more complicated issues of loss that may come up (anger or thoughts of suicide, for example). 

If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of support groups, I invite you to read some of the related articles listed below. And if you are willing, I hope you will let me know how your first group meeting goes for you.

Afterword: The meeting I went to this afternoon was great. The people there were nice and the counselor that ran the group was great. I did share about my loss and some other things but it was the reader's digest version. I really wanted to listen and learn from my first meeting what others say and do not only at the meetings but in their every day lives. I also wanted to see if I have anything to contribute / support to others speaking at these meetings and I did. When the meeting starts everyone starts, (taking turns of course). If you have something to say, say it. I will go back to this group in two weeks but I am also going to check out some of the other groups if I can, some closer to my age if possible. If others have grief support groups in their area, I'd encourage them to check them out.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing Newsletter. Sign up here.


Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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