Written by Maggie Campbell and Jan Mauk
Most of us understand that, within our lifetimes, we will experience the death of a loved one. When we do, we will learn some painful lessons about grief and loss. Although we may realize that grief is a normal reaction to loss, we may be surprised at the intensity of the uncomfortable emotions that we feel. Grief can leave us feeling overwhelmed as we struggle with the finality of the loss of a person we treasured. We may experience genuine pain and emptiness. Our lives may become disrupted and unsettled. Because we may find it difficult to talk about grief’s effects, the Mental Health Association in Niagara County conducts grief support groups twice a month in both Niagara Falls and Lockport. Originally formed for those whose loved ones have died in sudden, traumatic ways, the Grief Share support group meetings are now open to all who are grieving.
Led by licensed mental health professionals trained in both grief and psychological trauma, the groups are all about “the stories.” Participants report that being able to tell their “grief stories” without being judged helps them cope with the sadness, loneliness, longing and other emotions that accompany grief. In the words of participants: “People in this group ‘get it.’ They know what I’m going through, because they’re going through the same thing.” “It gives me someone to talk to. I found I could breathe again.” “This is one of the only places where I talk about it (grief) anymore because I still need to. I can say things here I wouldn’t say other places. “The stories may be different, but they all come down to the same thing – loss.
With loss being the common denominator in these groups, participants learn what works for others while grieving. Over time they also become aware of what works for them — how to reduce the stress of grief, how to find comfort and support during the grieving process, how to adjust to a changed life. They have a chance to talk about their grief and to listen to others. “It helps me cope. I can hear how others cope.” “There is no pity here,” but there is understanding, compassion, and acceptance. Group members learn what’s normal about grief and come away feeling relieved. In the words of a participant: “It’s nice to know I’m not crazy!”
Grief Share groups are ongoing, free of charge, and always have a mix of “newcomers” and “veteran” grievers who support and inspire each other. There’s a time for tears but also a time for laughter. People remain in the group as long as necessary and leave when they are ready, which is different for each individual. Group members are encouraged to talk freely about their grief, which seems to help. Sharing the pain seems to lighten the load. All discussions are confidential: “What is said in the group stays in the group.” One group member said, “We’re free to say whatever.”
What do people get out of participating in a support group? The participants answer: “It’s the day I set aside for remembering my son. It’s important to the grief process.” “I came to support a friend of mine and discovered that I have grief issues, too.” “It decreases stress.” “I can laugh and cry a lot.” “I feel safe and secure.” “It still hurts but not as bad.” “No one prepares us for grief. This group gives me hope.” “I feel embraced by the group. I feel loved.”
If you or someone you know has experienced a loss by death, you are invited to attend one of the Grief Share groups. Meetings are held as follows:
- The 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month, from 6:00 to 7:30 pm at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, 6th floor conference room, 621 10th Street, Niagara Falls.
- The 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month, from 6:00 to 7:30 pm at the Mental Health Association office, 36 Pine Street, Lockport.
For more information about these and other support groups we offer, please call 716-433-3780 or visit http://mhanc.com/support_groups.html
- Coping with Grief and Loss (enoughtribulations.com)
- Understanding the Grieving Process… (dejohnpetservices.wordpress.com)
- ‘My mum died… is there a way to lessen this unbearable pain?’ (gulfnews.com)