The Bereavement Group as a Healing Tool

When a loved one dies and grief follows, it is such a strange time:

A familiar world is shattered, and there is no sense to be made of anything. For a while, numbness has you living on automatic pilot.

When the shock passes, the deeper painful feelings dig in, and still, you have to go on living, even though you may not want to.

It just hurts so much.

New Life from Old

Three months after a loved one’s death, our culture generally expects you, the survivor, to be getting back into ‘normal’ life. Maybe we can do that. Is there a cost though, to our wellbeing, when we suppress this most momentous and painful time in all of human experience? Are we missing something? Is it only time that will heal my loss? Or is there something else I need to do? What is a ‘Bereavement Group?’ and why would I want to attend one and possibly speak my grief, in front of others, strangers, no less?!

I want to respond to the above questions, from my own experience of loss and grief, and how I feel my own process was and is supported by the work of Hospice, particularly the Bereavement Groups that I was part of.

In September of 2009, Colin, our youngest son, died suddenly at age 22, and I was thrust into the shock and grief of a life without him. The most urgent need in those first days was to know that he was ‘okay:’ a Hospice person suggested I do something to honour him. And so I did, and still do. As well, I worked one-on-one with a grief support person from Hospice; I talked with those who could listen well; I cried (I’m aware now that ‘grief’ tears contain stress hormones, and that they’re better out, than in); I took a few sessions of counseling. And I attended, as energy allowed - as grief is exhausting in all ways - Hospice-sponsored Bereavement Support Groups.

We met for 2 hours in the evening, once a week, at Broader Horizons. The group was facilitated by two trained volunteers. We were a mixed group, different ages, different losses. We sat in couches and easy chairs around a central coffee table. We lit candles for our loved ones, sipped tea. Each person spoke, in his or her own time, of their loss.

During my time in the group I learned several things: that I am not alone – grief can be so isolating – and that others felt like I did; that we’re all in this thing together. I learned by others’ presence that it’s possible to actually come through this most challenging time, and remain alive – that there’s light at the end of this tunnel and I feel inspired to journey on. I learned that how I am responding is wonderfully appropriate and normal, and that I’m not going crazy. I discovered that I feel better when I can talk about my grief; in talking I discovered for myself, the language of grief; and so I can listen better to others who are grieving.

As a group we even laughed sometimes, and oh, how good that felt. Near evening’s end, group members could share a favourite memory of their loved one, or offer their self-care plan for the upcoming week. There were books and videos to borrow as needed.

When I heard the news of Colin’s death I instinctively knew that I needed to be as open as possible to whatever came up. If not, I might contract into a pillar of bitter salt-grief, like Lot’s wife in the Old Testament.

Bereavement Groups are excellent tools to ‘keep the channels open.’ As others hear and receive our story, without judgment, we accept ourselves: thus the healing begins, the channel opens, the heart softens. I am convinced that having the group as witness to my grief made it just a little more bearable – the load is divided, carried by many instead of just the one, and things happen that much faster when the work is shared.

There is something healing too and very subtly powerful, in a group where members share a similar suffering - we resonate at a deep level. Bereavement Groups offer a time and a place set apart (in a beautiful room at Kalein Centre), to do the work of mourning our loss: we may not be able to mourn anywhere else. We human beings can, and do, inspire, encourage, and nourish each other.

Now as a trained Bereavement Group Facilitator, I warmly invite anyone who may be grieving a loss, to attend our groups. They are held at Kalein Centre - 402 West Richards in Rosemont. Rides may be available.

Call Jane to register 250-352-2337.