Grief groups help survivors cope

On top of shock and grief, those who suffer the loss of a loved one also feel alone.

Grief support groups help by offering education – survivors learn what they’re feeling is normal and they’re not crazy – and the support of others walking that same mile.

“I always tell folks this is not group therapy – the primary focus is education and support – it’s a safe place,” says Fred J. Schneider, coordinator of bereavement services for Professional Health Care Resources Home Care and Hospice (formerly St. Agnes).

Says Sister Ann Hartnett, S.S.N.D., who organizes a grief support group twice a year at St. Joseph, Fullerton, “Some people just need that kind of support. Everybody is going through the same thing so they don’t have to be afraid of what they say.”

Both groups offer a similar structure; around 10 or so participants, led by facilitators, meet for six weeks.

“The first three sessions are grief education; we help them understand what they’re feeling,” Sister Ann says. The last sessions focus on getting through the holidays, and they share a bit about the person they lost with the group.
“They’re always sad to see the six weeks end,” Sister Ann says, adding that participants have the option of continuing to meet on their own – an option many choose.

Schneider’s program, Bereavement Outreach Network (BON) has a more formal follow-up program called Bridges. Once a person has gone through a six-week grief group they’re invited to Bridges, which meets once a month on Saturday afternoons.

Those meetings often feature a guest speaker; last month a psychologist spoke about how to make sure you have fun when you’re going through a difficult time.

While BON costs $40 for the six-week group, Bridges is free for as long as person feels they need it.

“The goal is not to keep them coming back for years,” Mr. Schneider says. “When people tell me ‘I don’t feel like I need to come here anymore,’ I feel like I’ve done my job. People ask when they don’t need to come, and I say, ‘When you have something better to do on a Saturday afternoon.’ ”

Both he and Sister Ann note that some continue to meet for the social component, and that’s fine, too.

While the support helps, the process is never easy.

“A big function of a bereavement support group is to engender that sense of hope that people can and do get through this,” Mr. Schneider says. “It’s not a disease, it’s not a mental disorder – it’s a natural part of life, which is not to say it’s easy – it’s God-awful.”

Mr. Schneider will offer a seminar entitled “Grief and the Holidays” at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17; location to be determined. For more information or to register, call 410-368-2840.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.