Support in Losing a Loved One

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As I write this article, my family and I are coming off the heels of unexpectedly losing my husband’s mother. The last several days have proven to be a whirlwind of activities, family gatherings and intense and unexpected emotions.

Finding the time to grieve has essentially taken a back seat amid all the things that must be done in order to properly lay our loved one to rest and finalize important details in that regard. But once the business of tending to our loved one’s passing is completed, we know we will then be faced with the emotional component: grief.

People deal with this inevitable emotion in myriad ways, but deal with it they must. Some prefer that family and friends are simply “there” for them, but more often than not, friends, co-workers and other family members may not be able to realize or even appreciate the depth of your grief. Further, your need to talk about your loss and how it is impacting you may, unfortunately, long outlast the willingness of others to listen. You may need to turn to outside sources to help you deal with your grief.

A grief support group is one of the few places to which you can turn to be with others who are sharing similar experiences and who can understand, allowing you the space and comfort to talk about the one you have loved and lost. Bear in mind that a support group is not to be confused with a therapy group, however. It is not designed to cure any long-standing emotional issues or even change your values or beliefs. On the other hand, it is not just a social gathering, although you may develop friendships outside of the group as a result.

Instead, a bereavement support group is what the name implies: it is a healing circle that assists members who are dealing with the heavy burden of loss. It allows members to express themselves in a safe, structured environment with others who are similarly bound by the experience of a loss and who can come together regularly to share, express concerns and feelings and learn more about the overall mourning process while simultaneously working through their feelings. Members not only have the chance to grow by receiving help, but also by giving it.

Most support groups are facilitated by those who have lost loved ones themselves or who have worked through their own grief; they are passionate about helping others through the process. While each support group meeting varies in terms of what occurs, there are typically set ground rules, such as ensuring what is spoken within the group stays within the group. Members are free to exchange as much or as little as they desire. If you are not ready to talk, you can simply listen, but everyone is afforded equal time to share. Frequently, those present may share photos of loved ones or special poems, tributes and eulogies. However, everything shared, discovered and learned is expected to be held in strict confidence by everyone in attendance.

There is no set time period when it comes to joining a support group. While you may not feel compelled to join one now, that could change. Give yourself time to adjust to the group by attending several meetings to make sure it involves a group of people with whom you can easily identify and that is it overseen by a facilitator who runs the group effectively and who is knowledgeable about the process of grieving.

There are numerous benefits from joining a support group, including emotional and physical support in a safe and non-judgmental place; understanding from others who have experienced a similar loss; the chance to work through the healing process; and the acquisition of various coping skills to help you get through the grief journey. Above all, this is a place that gives you permission to grieve as well as permission to live a happy and productive life.

If a support group does not seem to meet your needs, you may consider meeting with a professional counselor who understands the issues associated with grief and who will allow you to grieve without interference. An effective bereavement counselor should be able to work through the mourning process with you while encouraging you to move forward, giving you the faith that you can and will survive.

To find a grief counselor or therapist in your area, contact your public library for numbers of local mental health associations; access the Yellow Pages or inquire of local hospitals and hospices. Many such places offer individual and family grief support for clients up to a year following a death and also offer bereavement support groups free of charge. Additionally, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization operates a database of hospices for each state. You can also go online at or utilize, the largest online counseling platform in the world. ■

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