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To many of us, December is a month of celebration. We embrace the holiday season, celebrate the past year, and look forward to the next one. Memories, both happy and sad, come bursting to the forefront. And sometimes, when faced with loss in December, it can be even more difficult to deal with.

This month, the world is mourning a great loss, with the passing of Nelson Mandela. His life, his illness, and now his death, have been covered by media outlets across the globe because people everywhere have cared so deeply for this remarkable, inspirational man.

I hear so much during this time about recognizing his achievements, celebrating his life, and sustaining his message. For me, that message is hope. It’s just a word – but think how he brought it to life with his strength!

Of course, as well as honouring the man, we must mourn. The global grief is probably unprecedented and deep sorrow may visit you. Old losses may come to the surface or you might be facing a loss of this kind for the first time.

Human connections

It’s a funny thing, how we can feel so connected to someone we don’t know personally. We have, as a society, just relived the Kennedy assassination, and now we say goodbye to Mandela. We look up to the great leaders of our time and are affected by their deaths. It’s only human to feel those connections and mourn those losses. Some will feel the sadness as intensely as if they lost a friend. For others, it will remind them of more personal losses. We will also grieve for those who knew and loved Mandela – he was, after all, a husband, father, grandfather, and friend.

Lean into the pain

If you are feeling the pain of loss this holiday season, I want you to lean into it. It can’t be outrun. There’s no going over it, under it, or around it.

Don’t let yourself get stuck in any one moment. Keep moving through it. It’s a process, and it’s work. It’s ok to do this is small doses.

Feeling your loss doesn’t have to be torture for you. Do as we do with Mandela – honour his life. Smile. Be thankful for the gifts your loved one gave you – maybe even gave the world.

All my best to you.

Laurie

Continuing on from my last post, I want to help you find grief support and give you an idea of things to consider and what to expect.

Where to look for grief support

  • Some funeral homes maintain lists of professionals who specialize in bereavement support.
  • Crisis intervention centres can refer you to professionals trained in dealing with loss, grief and other crises.
  • Your local hospice may have a day program for grief support.
  • Your personal physician can refer you.
  • Google search “grief support group” along with your location.
  • A hospital, mental health agency, or family service agency may have a referral list.
  • Your pastor/minister may have a resource.

What’s best for you?

  • Talk to the facilitators directly. Get a feel for their tone – are they empathetic? What is their education and bereavement experience?  You are allowed to ask questions!
  • Learn something about the facilitators.  Have they experienced personal loss?  How long have they been facilitating grief support groups?
  • If the grief facilitator seems open to your thoughts and ideas, this is a sign of a good professional. If he or she comes across as an all-knowing expert, you might want to keep looking.
  • Ask what the program looks like. Do you have a clear understanding of how the support group will help you in terms of your grief and mourning? If you feel good about what you feel and hear, this may be the right group for you.  Go to a session to be sure it is.
  • The grief facilitator should be asking you questions to learn what your needs are and if this particular group will meet your needs. For example: How recent was your loss? Who died? Are you currently in counseling?  If so, have you spoken to your counselor about attending a grief group?  Have you attended other groups?  Are you on medication? Keep in mind that grief group support should provide a safe environment for talking, learning from others and gaining deeper insights about your own grief experience.
  • Ask for references.  It’s good to talk to other people who have experienced that particular facilitator’s group.  Remember, it’s your right to ask.
  • For maximum effectiveness, the length of time for a grief program should be a minimum of seven sessions. Some groups run for 10 to 18 weeks to provide even longer support.
  • Each meeting typically runs from 90 to 120 minutes. This allows enough time for group interaction. Keep in mind that many sessions are held in the evening and you may be tired.
  • The location should feel safe.  The environment should be comfortable. Some facilitators provide food, water, tea, coffee and water.
  • When the group begins, there should be a set of ground rules. While each person’s grief is unique, there may be commonalities in your experience. The ground rules should provide a guide to respect and accept each other’s needs to create a balanced, healthy and harmonious group experience. Each group participant should feel free to talk about their grief.  Some people may prefer only to listen.  Everyone needs to be respected.
  • Confidentiality must be respected.  It must be agreed that thoughts, feelings and experiences shared in the group are not made public.
  • At the beginning of each session, there should be a warm-up with social exchanges.  In the sessions, however, if you talk about everything but your grief and mourning, or the facilitator is doing most of the talking, then something is wrong.
  • The facilitator should encourage dialogue and share stories about the loss or event. The more you talk about the loss, the more the layers of pain will peel away. The intensity of the loss will diminish as it becomes more familiar.

These are only a few things to consider when you’re looking for a grief support group.  The grief facilitator should provide hope for healing, which is essential to your ultimate reconciliation of the death of your loved one.  No, you won’t ever get over it, and grief group support is not a quick fix. Talking with other people who share a similar experience, however, will help you embrace your loss.

Take care, friends.

Laurie