December 14, 2017

Glimpse at a Grief Support Group

"Angel of Grief" statue, W. Story

By Chaplain Mike

One of the responsibilities of a hospice chaplain in our agency is to lead grief support groups. Hospices organize these groups as a part of their bereavement programs, to provide continuing care to those who have lost loved ones. Other organizations also provide these kinds of support services—churches, hospitals, funeral homes, etc.

This is not the time to go into this extensively, but in my experience evangelical churches have been quite weak in understanding bereavement and providing extended care for those who lose loved ones. We generally mirror our culture: a few days of intense interest, then it’s back to normal life. The bereft one is forgotten. We expect him or her to “get over it” and “move on.” We may claim to be Christians, but we can be thoroughly secular when it comes to practicing our faith in the context of matters like grief. Thankfully, some churches are beginning to offer more, but there is still a long, long way to go.

Those who have studied the grieving process recognize that the entire first year after a loss can be a roller coaster ride that deeply affects one’s daily living. And we need to get this straight—people never “get over it.” That phrase ought to be banned from our vocabulary. It makes no sense when talking about losing a loved one. Grieving people learn to adjust to a new way of living, they don’t “get over” their loss. Who would want that anyway?

I plan on writing about this more soon. For now, I know that many of you have kept Denise Spencer in your thoughts and prayers since she lost Michael in April. A number have asked how she is getting along. With her permission, I am linking to an article she just wrote on her blog about a recent “good ninety minutes” she and others shared in her grief support group.

I hope this will remind us all to keep her in mind, and that we will ask God to continue to be to her and to all who grieve, “the God of all comfort.”

Read “A Good Ninety Minutes”

And give Denise a warm greeting from the IM community.

Comments

  1. david carlson says:

    My church just started a ministry/rolling open small group for those who have experienced loss.

  2. Chaplain Mike: You wrote “This is not the time to go into this extensively, but in my experience evangelical churches have been quite weak in understanding bereavement and providing extended care for those who lose loved ones. “ Please do make a time to go into this extensively.

    My dad died when I was a teen. He left behind my mom, me and my younger brother. The church folks brought food to our house, came to the “visitation” at the funeral home (a horrible, horrible experience to endure where the three of us sat in chairs beside the open casket while people walked by, shook our hands and told us completely stupid reasons as to why God “took” our dad and husband) and the funeral, then nothing. Nothing.

    We were all numb. My young dad had died rather suddenly. We weren’t prepared to go it without him. I still remember finding my mom in the basement crying because she couldn’t set a mouse trap. She was really crying because my dad wasn’t there to figure out that and a thousand other things.

    Our church was invisible to us. The pastor of one of those “liberal” mainline denominations showed up at our door many times with something in hand or offers of help (with insurance, taxes and so on). Strange – I don’t remember him ever explaining his theology or trying to get us to attend his church. I still remember his name after almost fifty years.

    Three men in our little town took me under their wings. These guys never went to church. They could outdrink and outcuss anyone. But they took a lot of time for me. Mostly, they just thought about things they already were doing where they could take me along and let me talk about what was on my mind. One of them would park down the street and around the corner from my church. I would leave just before the final prayer and we’d be out of there, headed off for an adventure, before the church folks were out of the door. He wouldn’t pick me up until church was almost over, because in his words “church is important”. (I’d still have believed in God, but I don’t know if I would have ever gone to a church service again once I became an adult if he hadn’t told me that.) I know you know what I looked forward to on those Sundays.

    Now that I’m older I’ve finally figured out why those guys did it. That’s just the kind of people they were. This all made a profound impression on me and still is one of two or three main factors that have molded my impression of churches, Christians and “sinners”. Too bad the church, with the exception of one “liberal” pastor was AWOL. (This “liberal” business is my way of saying this guy was the only one who really “got” the Gospel. He was busy loving the hurting while the other church folk were trying to get their theology correct. – Apparently they never succeeded.)

  3. Thank you for sharing this Mike. It’s so true. In fact, while on internship I’m doing hospital chaplaincy as both a house chaplain and ER on call chaplain. As soon as my background check is done, I’ll be volunteering for hospice as well.

  4. October 30 will be the first anniversary of the death of my grandmother. I was close to her and this past year was a “new normal” so to say. Holidays come, and I have to remind myself not to get her cards. A couple of times I called up her old number and dreamed of hearing her voice again. But having her in my life for 36 years and then being suddenly gone is hard. My parents still have her number in their cell phone and can’t remove it. Its hard.

    I was out of the evangelical church when she died. But when we were burying her I had all these thoughts go through my head based upon what evangelcials said about Catholics. It really angered me. And I can’t imagine why people respect evangelical Christianity? I wish I knew but it seems as if all it does is create problems and difficulties for people at the times of their life where they need help and support the most.

  5. My husband and I just moved to a small town when, within the following year, both my parents died. I have wished for a grief counseling group or a counselor nearby. It’s so odd to feel like an orphaned child at this age. But I am still struggling with memories of what all they suffered physically, emotionally, and familially.

    My chair will be pulled up into the circle, and with my styro-foam cup of coffee, I will look forward to your writings Chaplain Mike.

  6. Athanasia says:

    June 27, 1982 my husband of 26 months died. I was 22 and had an 18 mo. old son. I have since remarried and have a daughter. That was 28 years ago. And I dare anyone to tell me again “It was God’s will.” “It was God’s plan for your life.” “There must have been something in life that God knew he couldn’t handle and took him early.” I was, and remain, offended by those remarks.

    I’m still not “over it. ”

    My in-laws lost their only son. They never “got over it.”

    My sisters-in-law lost their only brother. They never “got over it.”

    My parents lost their son-in-law. They never “got over it.”

    My son lost his father. He’s almost 30 and still dealing with it – though he has a ‘second dad’ who *is* his Dad.

    May God, in His ever lasting mercy, grant us His strength to carry on in faith and hope.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      JMJ/Christian Monist has also written extensively on the damage caused by the “It was God’s will.” “It was God’s plan for your life.” “There must have been something in life that God knew he couldn’t handle and took him early.” glib reaction to grief and bereavement.

  7. In a few areas of the country (and the world), there some local no-fee “self-help group clearingouses'” that offer information on local existing bereavement support groups, and also help those seeking to reach out and join with others to help start a bereavement or other type of mutual help group. There’s a listing of such centers at:
    http://www.mentalhelp.net/selfhelp/selfhelp.php?id=859

    I work at one Clearinghouse that serves those in New Jersey. To see the different types of support groups available herre in NJ, see:
    http://www.mededfund.org/NJgroups/BereavementGroups.pdf

    Take care and hope,
    – ed

    “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.
    For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
    But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
    for he has no one to help him up.” – Ecclesiates 4: 9-10.

    “My years as a medical practitioner, as well as my own first-hand experience, have taught me how important self-help groups are in assisting their members in dealing with problems, stress, hardship and pain… the benefits of mutual aid are experienced by millions of people who turn to others with a similar problem to attempt to deal with their isolation, powerlessness, alienation, and the awful feeling that nobody understands… Health and human service providers are learning that they can indeed provide a superior service when they help their patients and clients find appropriate peer support.”
    – former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD, who also served as a member of Compassionate Friends, an international self-help group for bereaved parents, following the tragic death of his own college age son.

  8. Having lost a child and working many years with hospice patients both as a nurse and now as a physcian assistant I can assest that this is true. People don’t “get over it” nor should they and the first year is rough.
    .
    I think the stupid things people say after a death can mostly be chalked up to their discomfort but why people think that they need to say more than “I’m sorry” , “This is tough” I don’t know. I think another thing that can really help is to mark your calender for dates at the time of death and try to call or send a card or email depending on the person to let them know that you are still thinking of them. Simply being willing to let people talk about the person who died is a great gift because alot of times people don’t want to hear this.

    After our son died we were lucky enough to have a minister that came to the hospital to offer communion and prayer and stopped by weekly for quite awhile (I think untill he left the area) to make sure we were okay. I know that this is pretty unusual so I am still very grateful. There were alot of really inappropriate things that were said to me after my son died, some really shocked me and still do.

  9. You are so right that one doesn’t just “get over it”. Looking at “grief” booklets at the religious bookstore after my wife died more than three years ago, I was disgusted by reading rubbish like “you’ll meet someone else to marry”. I felt like shouting at the author; “no you idiot, I am in love with this one who is now gone!” It is not like selling an old car and buying a new one.

    Then, an elderly and wise woman who had lost her love some years earlier stated “you never get over it, but you learn to cope”. That helped me and I still repeat it to people now. Some months later I met an old work mate who asked how I was doing, and I answered that the “spark” had gone. She responded with – get it back. That hurt.

    One doesn’t have to dwell in sorrow constantly and literally and figuratively sit in a room with the curtains closed, but life is not the same. Another thing people should be aware of is that they should not stop referring to the person who has died. To the bereaved there is nothing worse than someone acting like your loved one never existed. Yes we may cry talking about the one who has died, but that is so much better than not talking and hearing about the loved one.

    Robin mentioned that there were a lot of really inappropriate things that were said to her after her son died. When my mother lost two of her children within weeks, a well meaning man from her church told her that she was still young and could have more. That still stung many decades later as no child could replace the lost ones, even though she had another child (me, and not a replacement) some years later.

    After my loss, I started reading books about heaven and the after life as I now had someone over there. Two books by J Paterson Smyth have become my favourites. One written one hundred years ago is “The Gospel of the Hereafter”. The other is a short book “On the rim of the world looking out over the wall” written in 1922. Both books are actually available on Amazon, and free on the internet.

  10. I very much like your distinction between “getting over it” and “adjusting to a new way of living”.

    There are things in life that we should get over. Bereavement is not one of them.

  11. Todd Erickson says:

    When I was a student at Calvin, part of our required reading (which is still on my shelf at home) is Nicholas Wolterstorff’s “Lament for a Son”, which deals with his loss of his son in a mountain climbing accident, and how he struggled to come to terms with it in the face of a variety of unhelpful attitudes and advice from the church. Very powerful stuff.