Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Before You Join a Grief Support Group, Consider These Points

Grief is exhausting. That's bad enough, but painful emotions are confusing and may keep you from functioning. Churches, hospitals, national and local organizations all have grief support groups. Though they may look the same from the outside, these groups can be very different on the inside.

In 2007 four of my family members died, my elder daughter, father-in-law, brother (and only sibling) and my twin grandchildren's father. So I understand grief and especially the grief of multiple losses. Getting help is a proactive step. How can a support group help you?

The Hello Grief website cites some pluses in its article, "Benefits of Grief Support Groups," including a non-judgmental environment, understanding, learning new coping steps, new traditions, and companionship. I think one of the best is "permission to grieve and permission to live a happy productive life."

If you're going to join a support group, you need to time it right. Personally, I wouldn't join anything until you can tell your story without sobbing. As much as people want to help you, it's hard for them to do so when you're sobbing. Your wrenching sobs are justified to be sure, but they may change group dynamics. At this time in our journey, it may be best to talk with a grief counselor or someone with similar experience.

Learn about the organization and its services before you make a commitment. Here are some questions to answer:

  • Who is the facilitator?

  • What are his or her qualifications?

  • When and where does the group meet?

  • How often does it meet?

  • On average, how many people come?

  • What are the rules?

  • Is this a specialized gathering (suicide,sudden loss, traumatic loss, disease-specific)

  • Does the group have a good reputation?

Ask around before you commit to anything. I asked a friend of mine about hospice-run aftercare sessions that he attended. His wife had been ill for a long time and died in hospice. He wasn't very enthusiastic about aftercare. "I went, but I didn't get anything out of it," he admitted.

Rules are really important. The facilitator should give everyone a chance to speak. One person shouldn't be allowed to dominate others. Confidentiality is para mount and what is said in the room stays in the room. Today, support comes in many forms: telephone networks, daily emails, self-help organizations, bulletin boards, and Internet communities.

Deborah Gray, who runs an online depression forum, cautions people about joining these communities in her Health Central website article, "What You Need to Know Before Joining an Online Support Group." Privacy can be a big issue, according to Gray, because the information is out there for anyone to access, especially employers and potential employers. Lack of verbal and visual clues may also be barriers.

"Don't jump to any conclusions about someone's intended meaning if you are offended," Gray advises.

Bob Deits, in his book Life After Loss: A Practical guide to Renewing Your Life After Experiencing Major Loss, says we need to believe our grief has a purpose and an end. Joining a support group may help you find both.

Copyright 2013 by Harriet Hodgson

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