Grief Support Groups: What to Expect
Suggestions for finding and participating in a grief support group
It is often said that each journey begins with a single step. This is certainly true of a grief journey. If you are a Solo Mom seeking a grief support group, it’s important to consider your individual circumstances. Here are some suggestions:
Ask for referrals from local social service providers. Local social workers may be able to consider your individual circumstances and suggest the best grief groups for you. It is useful to contact local hospitals, hospice providers, and similar providers.
Ask for help from friends and family. A support group often accommodates work schedules; therefore, the group may meet during evening or weekend hours. This may necessitate asking for help with child care. Watching your children while you are at a support group meeting is a very tangible way in which your friends and family (who are eager to help) can help. Make sure to have child care in place long enough so that you can bookend your group meeting with time for quiet reflection. You may find that you want some time both before and after a group meeting to collect yourself.
Leave any judgment at home. Go to a group understanding that responses to grief are deeply personal—that there is, in fact, no “correct” response to grief. Suspend judgment as you practice supporting others at the same time that you are seeking support.
Prepare yourself to listen. Practice the skill of active listening. Many who attend grief groups want to be heard. They are not always looking for advice as much as they want their own experience of grief to resonate in a room. For this reason, expect to listen more than you talk. You may learn to appreciate this as you feel comfortable sharing your own story of loss in this space with the expectation of solace.
Expect to feel safe in this space. Everyone present in the group should treat your story with absolute respect. Those present should listen respectfully and give you time and space to express your feelings without judgment. The path of grief is erratic, and expressions of complex feelings—including things like anger—do belong in a safe space such as a support group. You should expect to feel safe expressing the full universe of complex emotions.
Understand that people in the support group are at different points in their journey. Some may have suffered a very recent loss, and others may be coping with a loss that occurred further in the past. And their ages may vary. Again, it is critical not to judge the experience of another person who shares a wish to receive support in an individual journey. Resist the temptation to feel that an elderly person mourning the loss of a spouse and a long marriage has an easier road than you do. Although it is certainly understandable to feel cheated if your loss occurred decades sooner and you have young children to raise, remember that all who are there carry a terrible grief. Be gentle with others as you are gentle with yourself.
Own your story
In grief groups, we learn the power of narrative—the power of telling our stories. As we do this, we give ourselves a gift as we cultivate self-compassion. Our response to individual losses often presents as the culmination of the things that came before. Our response to grief often makes us return to a central existential question regarding our place in the world and our relative safety as we build and rebuild our lives. Leave the hierarchy of grief out of the question because nothing is gained in comparison.
The power in our stories of loss is beyond question. It is certainly hard as a Solo Mom to find the time to value your own story of loss; however, in so doing, you are setting an example for your children about self-care.
There is an unspoken fear that many people have about visiting their grief. Some fear that if they delve too deeply into their pain, they risk falling apart. For a woman parenting alone, that is a powerful reason to “keep it together” at any cost. However, the cost is too high. Solo parents need support. You need to be understood by people who are also grieving and sharing their individual experiences.
Take the time to find a support group that feels like one you could fit in to. If you are uncomfortable in your first group, consider trying another one. You may find people who are willing to help you in fundamentally important ways. They may hear you. They may listen. They may make you feel like the hero you are and actually understand what this entails. They are not guessing at your grief. They are there with you in your corner. And their presence might enable you to receive the support you need to nurture both you and your children.
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Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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