Q. My sister-in-law died last week after a brief illness, and my brother is shell shocked. I’ve heard about bereavement groups and think he might benefit from one. Exactly how do these groups work and how can you find one? I want to know what I’m talking about before I suggest the idea of a group to him.
A. Bereavement groups offer comfort and support to help people deal with the death of a loved one. Some focus specifically on the loss of a spouse or child or elderly parent. There are also groups for young children who have lost a parent. Groups may be free or involve a fee. They are available at or through churches, synagogues and other places of worship, as well as hospitals, hospices, community centers, caregiver organizations, and organizations concerned with a disease such as the American Cancer Society. You can search on the Web to locate “bereavement groups” in your brother’s city or area. Online groups are also a possibility, particularly if your brother lives in a rural area or is unable to attend an in-person group for whatever reason.
Look for a group with a qualified leader, such as a clergy member or social worker (or both). A leader moderates, makes sure one person (or a few people) don’t monopolize the time, and clarifies any incorrect information offered by a participant. Such groups can help survivors express their emotions safely and make new friends.
Participants must feel comfortable in the group to have a successful experience. If the mix of personalities doesn’t work for your brother, he can drop out. On the other hand, some groups work so well that members choose to meet by themselves after the initial series of sessions is completed. They continue to learn from each other – everything from how to word the inscription on a gravestone to how others handle sadness on holidays and other special days like birthdays or the anniversary of the loved one’s death. Knowing you’re not the only one who feels devastated or angry on such occasions can be priceless.
Be aware that some people feel bereavement groups are not for them. Men, for example, may be less willing or able to discuss feelings and balk at trying a group. Macho attitudes can deter them. But it’s worth a try to see if he’s open to the idea of a group. If not, individual grief therapy can be a helpful option.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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