By Donna Kane, MA
For the past four years I have facilitated bereavement groups offered by Jewish Community Services for people in the community who are mourning the death of a loved one. And it has been an honor to be a part of these groups.
People often ask how I can do this work. Isn’t it too much sadness for a person to deal with week after week? It seems morbid and not “normal” to talk so much about death, they say. But the truth about these groups is that they are much more life affirming and optimistic than morbid or depressing. People who join bereavement groups are choosing to face their pain and their loss so that they may, once again, find some peace and even some happiness in life, even though the pain of their loss is always with them. I marvel at their courage and strength.
When you lose someone dear to you, it is not a singular loss. A death brings up every other loss that a person has experienced, and magnifies the pain and grief. It is so important for people to be able to tell their story, over and over again if necessary. This needs to be done in a safe, welcoming place, and bereavement groups provide such a setting. Telling the story is necessary for healing and integrating the loss into your life.
Healing does not in any way imply moving on and forgetting the person who died. Healing is a slow and painful process, much as recovering from any trauma is. People have described losing a loved one as feeling as if they have lost a body part. There is a lot of work to be done to recover from such a trauma. You do not forget your loved one, but when you have done the physical, or in this case, psychological work of healing, you emerge able to function at a healthier, and hopefully, happier level.
We live in a fast paced society. If someone close to you has died, you may find that other people, sometimes unwittingly and sometimes purposefully, try to hurry you to “get over” your grief. But grieving is a process that takes time. There is no schedule for grief, no distinct chapters in grieving. A bereavement group gives you permission to slow down and work through your grief. It creates a safe place to learn that we do not “get over” losing a loved one, but we can eventually integrate the loss into our life and continue to live, not simply exist.
I have witnessed people experience great personal growth and insight as they participate in these groups. Growth can come from pain. Grieving the death of a loved one is not the way we would hope to grow, but we are not given that choice. Time and again, I have watched participants discover an inner strength and a resilience they did not know they possessed. Group members often add to the process of self-discovery by pointing out strengths and positive changes that a fellow participant is expressing, and offer encouragement and praise.
I have also seen that the mutual support experienced in a bereavement group can lead to long term friendships. Many members of these groups continue to meet and support one another long after the sessions have ended.
I truly consider the opportunity to facilitate bereavement groups a privilege. I feel such hope and optimism at the end of our sessions when I see people who entered our group feeling so broken and hurt walking out with a greater sense of hope and purpose. There will still be a lot of work and pain ahead, but I know people are leaving the group with the tools and the knowledge needed to continue on their journey in life.
By Donna Kane, MA, Access Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
Jewish Community Services and its partners are offering two Community Bereavement Groups this winter, beginning on January 23 and 24. Click here for more information.
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.