Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 30, 2006
Support groups help bereaved cope with hard times
Loss of loved one often leaves survivor uncertain of where to seek help
By BILL GLEN
People "feel a connection to life when they know they are not alone."
- Sandra Konrad
"There is a lot of help available. But most people don't know where to start."
Anger, blame and questioning God's love are expressions of grief that she has noticed in many groups.
"Someone might not be able to simply make a cup of tea and he might be angry at his wife for leaving him," Robinson said. "That is something he can't tell his children. But there might be another fellow across the table nodding his head. He doesn't say anything but he understands how bereft the first man is feeling.
"Depending upon how a person has been socialized, they might feel they should be able to resume their lives when two or three years later, they find there are still some issues around grief and loss," she said.
"They might be having trouble around the anniversary of the death or they don't want to participate in Christmas."
Sandra Konrad has been affiliated with Catholic Social Services for some 15 years, as a leader and facilitator of numerous workshops involving grieving and loss.
She says there is a spiritual benefit when people gather to share their grief.
"People want to know how others are doing. They feel a connection to life when they know they are not alone. There is the pain of the loss, but there is aloneness. Friends might not know how to support that."
Konrad said, "Some people might come to a group a month or two after a death, or 20 years later. They often say they had no idea a group experience would be like it was."
Robinson said when people are grieving someone significant to them, they often go through a search for meaning. Is there a God? Maybe they feel the faith they have practised all of their lives is not sustaining them. Then they might not feel comfortable in their own parish.
"Those of us who do groups create an atmosphere where people feel it is safe and confidential.
- Margaret Robinson
If Robinson sees a person crying in church she will tell them it was good to see them rather than asking what they are crying about because that person has achieved the comfort level to be able to cry in public.
And that particularly includes coming to a grieving group.
"Those of us who do groups create an atmosphere where people feel it is safe and confidential. It's OK to cry or yell. Anger is an emotion and that is normal. It isn't right or wrong. It just is," she said.
Listening to a person who is suffering so deeply that they cannot speak their mother's name is to honour their story, Robinson said. It gives credence to the relationship they have with their special person.
"Susan and Jane may be widows and they may have different journeys of grief, but they will each travel through various emotions and behaviours that they will see in each other. And that's what comes around the table in a group."
Grief is not forgetting our loved ones, but about integrating that loss into our ongoing lives. Group members often become friends who travel together or go out to watch a movie or get together for dinner.
Robinson has heard numerous stories of how people choose to remember their loved ones, from planting flowers and trees to building memorial benches and water ponds.
She is holding a one-day seminar - Coping With Christmas While Grieving - Nov. 25 at Providence Renewal Centre (430-9491).
In the capital region, The Support Network provides information about different community services, including support groups, grief counselling and basic needs information, says Nancy Douglas, supervisor for the 211 program.
Within the city of Edmonton limits, people can simply call 211. Outside the city, call 482-INFO (482-4636).
"Most of the information we have is for Edmonton and area. Outside of the capital region, generally we refer the callers to the various family and community support services (FCSS).
"The FCSS offices tend to act as information and referral offices for the different areas. They will know what services are available in the area, or they may offer the services themselves."
Robinson suggests that people in smaller communities call their local parish that may have its own grieving group. Or, the parish may know where to refer them.
The Edmonton Archdiocese recently held a workshop with the intent that every parish will eventually have someone trained in the basics of being a companion for someone in grief.
"It is not to do bereavement counselling, but preparing people to accompany someone who is struggling with grief through the period of transition when they need someone from their parish to befriend them," said John MacDonald, director of the family life and health care office for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
The Journeying with Grief workshop drew 18 people from across the archdiocese. MacDonald says plans are in the works for another session in the near future.
People who are prepared for the ministry are recommended by their parish priest, must pass a police security check and provide two letters of reference.
"It is a very fragile place so we want people who are suited to be this type of caring companion," MacDonald said.
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