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 fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


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.


Image via Flickr Creative Commons / familymwr

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Comment by Judith Fineberg on February 11, 2011 at 11:06pm

I have to say I am struggling on an everyday basis. I just lost my child and I have to say it going to take time and lots of it and mood swings and a huge mental change. All I can say is stay close so he can talk if he wants too and if not then just be there any ways. Knowing someone is in the  room with you makes a difference in life. When your alone you sometimes have time to think of the why and why not me and how the would have could haves to into play and then you get it in your head the why not me thoughts. Those are the worse there could be. So just be patient.


Comment by jill mann on February 7, 2011 at 8:41pm
I lost my sister to suicide on July 26 and am in need of a support group in the Lansing, Mich. area.  Anyone know of any?
Comment by Glenda Speelman on February 7, 2011 at 11:41am
I lost my twin brother May 30th in a canoing accident. They did not find his body for 3 days. Since that day, I have not been able to lay my head down without thinking about him being in the water for all that time.  I keep questioning "was he already gone? was he hurt and suffering? was he scared and hurt?" I am not coping well with the loss of my brother as we were very close. I dread when our birthday comes in April. That is the last time I spoke with him. Our birthday was always so fun because we were the twins. Now, it just doesn't even matter. I've already planned to take off because I know I won't be fit for work that day.
Comment by Kris Williams on February 4, 2011 at 4:10am
Antonia, I truly understand. I lost my husband of 30 years a few months ago and I am not coping well at all. I sleep for hours and cry every time something reminds me of him. My heart is broken.
Comment by Antonia Kambeitz on January 14, 2011 at 5:01pm
I have had five significant losses in just the past 10 months, I lost my Mom, my beloved pet Golden retreiver, my best friend and another close friend, and my boss who taught me everything about the job I love, volunteeering with the fire dept. I sleep all the time, because  dream about my loved ones, I've gained weight, and I feel empty inside. I take prozac for depression, but this is different. I'm sure my husband is tiring of all this, but he would never say anything to me, he's been very supportive. I'm also recuperating from 3 major surgeries in 6 months' time.
Comment by D. Cinn on January 11, 2011 at 6:53pm
Hello, It has been almost 16 months now since my mother died. I am coping a littler better, but I think I am still  not in a happy place. I just do not feel the same about things and people either. i just feel like I have a whole in my soul now.

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