Support Groups

Many grieving people wonder if they would benefit from joining a support group. Support groups are a time-tested method of help for people struggling with all sorts of difficulties. But groups are not magic; there are no words that can be uttered within a group setting that can make grief disappear. Many people report comfort in the companionship of group support and benefit from knowing they are not alone in their experience of grief. 
How can a support group help?

Groups are places to work together and support one another in an environment where everyone gives and takes. Not every griever will find a support group suitable, as everyone grieves in their own way. For many, however, support groups have much to offer, such as:

Grief is experienced in so many ways—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Being with other grievers can reaffirm that one is not going crazy, which is a common concern of people who are grieving. While every loss is unique, having the support of others who have experienced loss and understand can be comforting.

Time away
For many people, a support group can be a break from the loneliness and isolation that often come with grief.

Suggestions for coping
There is no single solution to dealing with loss; but by listening to stories of how others cope with a particular problem or situation, new ideas for coping can emerge.

Support groups offer two other gifts:

  1. They provide hope by providing models that reaffirm that one can survive loss.
  2. They provide new understandings and reminders of past coping skills. Sometimes grievers find that providing comfort to fellow support group members brings them a sense of pride by showing empathy and kindness to others who are grieving.
How to find a group
Most hospices offer grief support groups that are open to the public—including those who didn’t use their hospice services. Funeral homes, hospitals, and places of worship will also have grief support resources and may be able to help you locate a support group. There are also national grief support organizations with local chapters that host support groups.
Support Group Resources

Click on the following links for help finding a support group:

When is it time to seek professional help?

Grief can affect people in a lot of different ways—physically, emotionally, spiritually—as well as in the ways they behave or think. While it is normal to be “out of sorts” when grieving, certain manifestations of grief should be evaluated and treated by professionals.

Here are examples of some “yellow lights” that might be cautionary signals:

Intense physical reactions
While physical manifestations of grief such as fatigue, aches, and pains may very well be related to the stress experienced in grief, any persistent physical complaints ought to be evaluated by a physician. Be sure your physician knows that you are grieving a significant loss.

Grief that is disabling
Seek counseling if grief is critically interfering with key roles in work, school, or at home, especially if you cannot seem to minimally function in those roles.

Extreme anxiety or sadness
While anxiety and sadness are normal reactions to loss, seek help if they seem severe or disabling. If you have a history of anxiety or depression, it might be worthwhile to be proactive and seek help.

An intense inability to speak of the person who died or an extreme unwillingness to make any changes in the deceased's room
If these or other minor events trigger intense reactions, they should be evaluated.

Destructive behaviors
While anger is a natural part of grief, intense anger or thoughts of hurting others should be a sign to seek help.

Self-destructive behaviors
Thoughts of suicide, excessive drinking, or excessive use or dependence upon prescription medications or illegal drugs are signs that one should seek immediate help. The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day by dialing 9-8-8.

If you feel you need to speak to a counselor, you should do so. The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) maintains a list of counselors certified in grief counseling (www.adec.org)

Developed from Journeys with Grief: A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv., copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2012.