A frequent question of those who’ve experienced loss is should I join a grief support group?
While bereavement groups are generally positive, the decision to join one is unique to each individual. Each of us mourns death differently. Some people cope with their grief by themselves and do not want or need outside assistance, while others find comfort in sharing the pain, anger, depression, and other emotions they feel following a loss.
No magic pill
When considering bereavement support it is important to ask if you have unrealistic expectations, if you are ready for a group, and if the group can help. Support groups are not magic. There are no words that can make one’s grief disappear.
Groups are places for the bereaved to work together, assisting one another as the group explores both grief reactions and ways to adapt to a live now changed by loss.
Listening and sharing
The first question is whether you are ready to join. Support groups involve both listening and sharing. Sometimes we can be so introverted , so shy, or so private that it may be difficult to share our story with people we barely know. Or we may be too needy, with such great desire to tell our story that we leave little room for others.
Sometimes we believe our loss is so horrendous that we have little patience with others. We simply don’t see their losses as compared to ours. In these situations, individual counseling may be a better option.
“The course of bereavement does not run smooth; it progresses in fits and starts, and takes unforeseeable turns.”Long Litt Woon, The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning
Establish the right objectives
Other times, you may be tempted to join a support group to meet new friends or develop new relationships. Such friendships can form in groups, and perhaps, over time, new relationships develop, but these are not good reasons for joining a group.
There are other outlets, and other organizations that offer fellowship. Support groups are meant to be therapeutic.
What groups can provide
If you are ready, bereavement support groups can offer much. Support groups can provide validation, reminding us we are not alone and that others have had similar reactions and feelings. In short, support groups allow understanding from people who know and understand.
This can make grief less lonely. And it is time away – a break in the loneliness and the boredom that also is a part of grief.
Can it really help?
There is one other question. Is the group truly therapeutic – can it really help? All groups are not equal. As you attend, ask yourself some questions.
Do members actually share and respect one another or do a few people seem to monopolize the conversation? Is the group simply a sob session or is the focus not just on sharing difficulties but on finding ways to cope with difficulties?
Does the group respect the many ways that members react and adapt to loss or is only one approach allowed? Effective support groups are well run, respect individually, and are focused on effective coping.
Help yourself by helping others
Support groups reaffirm one more factor as well. In helping others, one helps oneself. You can find, even in the midst of grief, new empathy, new understandings, and renewed strengths.
In the shared progress of others, you can find – and offer – help.
CHP Hope forTomorrow Grief Support Groups meet monthly throughout our service area in Ada, Archbold, Bryan, Celina, Defiance, Delphos, Paulding, and Van Wert.
– Adapted from “Support Groups” by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv, Senior Bereavement Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America and recipient of the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Published in Journeys, Sep. 2020