The loss of a loved one brings to the surface all kinds of deep and even unexpected emotions. There’s no question that the caring grief support offered by family and friends can help, but sometimes people experiencing grief and loss can feel like others don’t really understand what they’re going through.
Many people find solace in joining grief support groups where they can work through the stages of grief and loss with others going through similar experiences. Others hear the term “grief support,” and all they can imagine is how uncomfortable they’d be getting emotional in front of a group of strangers. The fact is, simply not knowing what to expect or having misconceptions about grief support groups are probably the two biggest obstacles people have about giving this beneficial free resource a try.
How Do Grief Support Groups Work?
In a grief support group, people dealing with grief and loss gather together for regular meetings where they’re encouraged to put their emotions into words and share memories about their loved one as a way to come to terms with a loss.
Like anything new and unfamiliar, trying grief support is the best way to find out if it’s right for you. You can find grief support groups in most communities, and often you’ll have several to choose from. A good place to start is at hospice centers like Faith Presbyterian Hospice. It’s not necessary to have used hospice services to attend grief support meetings. Other options for grief support groups may include places of worship, social service organizations and community centers.
What Can I Gain from Grief Support?
Many people who’ve tried grief support say they’ve been comforted and even uplifted by the experience, and that it helped them heal and return to a “new normal.” Others have said grief support provided a renewed sense of hope about their ability to feel joy and positivity again.
Some of this healing comes from simply meeting others who, like you, are dealing with grief and loss. Hearing about their experiences and struggles can help you realize that grief is a universal emotion (even if everyone handles it a little differently). Listening and sharing can also help you feel less alone just knowing others are going through a similar experience. Grief support can be inspiring, too – you’ll get to hear from people “further along” in their healing and see for yourself that there is life after loss. Those same people can also offer suggestions and tips for coping skills, as well as a special kind of empathy that can be helpful, especially if your emotions are still raw.
Those who lead grief support groups are acutely aware that grief doesn’t have an end date. People need to grieve on their own timeline and in their own way. Some people choose to attend only a few grief support sessions, while others continue for much longer. As an added measure of support whether you attend or not, hospices like Faith Presbyterian also take the time to reach out to family members periodically throughout the first year after a loss to check in and offer support as needed. Family members are also always welcome to reach out to Faith’s grief support team at any time, no matter how much time has passed since the loss.
It’s also worth noting that grief doesn’t just begin at the moment you lose someone. If your loved one has a terminal disease or condition, dealing with grief and loss can come in stages all throughout the illness. This is called anticipatory grief, and there are also grief support groups to help people deal with these feelings.
Four Things to Think About Before You Attend Grief Support
Here are a few things to consider before you attend a grief support meeting:
1. Not all grief support options are the same – Grief support groups differ in style and approach; not all groups appeal to all people. In grief support, the moderator often helps set the group culture: Is he or she a professional therapist or a trained volunteer? That detail alone can affect the tone of the meetings. You may find that it takes trying a couple of different groups to find the right fit.
2. Know the (unwritten) rules – Grief support groups need to be safe, “no judgment zones” for everyone involved. You have the right to expect respect and to feel comfortable expressing your feelings. The people in the group have the same rights. Try to arrive on time and stay until the end of the meeting, both as a show of respect for the group and to avoid disrupting what is often a very emotional discussion.
3. Don’t feel pressured to share until you’re ready – Remember that people in the group are dealing with different stages of grief and loss. Some are very raw emotionally if the loss is recent; others may be at the point of sharing freely. Try not to compare. Everyone’s grief journey is different and there is no set timeline. Start by just listening.
4. Commit to a trial period – It can take more than a single visit to decide if a grief support group is right for you, so commit to giving the experience a fair try. If you feel you’re having a particularly difficult time dealing with grief and loss (and only your feelings matter here), you may want to consider one-on-one grief counseling with a therapist. Your physician may be able to recommend someone in this case.
If you’re interested in exploring grief support options, we encourage you to consider the bereavement services offered through Faith Presbyterian Hospice. We offer weekly and monthly support groups for loved ones of all ages.