Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Widowed Support Groups

Photo by megaroo.
The loss of a spouse is one of the most devastating events of a person's life. In fact, the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory lists "death of spouse" as the most stress-inducing life event.

While scholars attempt to study grief objectively, the reality is that each loss of a spouse is unique to the individual.

Even though I like to draw on evidenced-based research when confronted with conflict, I recognize that the bereaved don't need scholarly journals as much as they need a compassionate friend or comforting community.

Widowed support groups provide the bereaved a community whose aim is to offer individualized, sensitive grief support in the weeks, months and even years following the loss of a spouse.

I was fortunate enough to talk with Donna Rhodes and Janet Cook of Good Grief of Kansas, a local nonprofit organization founded in 1993 that administers a variety of support programs.  Donna is their office manager; Janet is the program director.

Not only do they and many other people organize widowed support groups in and around Wichita, Kansas, Good Grief of Kansas organizes and administers suicide loss support group, social events, seminars and workshops, and community presentation.  The organization also makes counseling referrals.

The dozen or more facilitators of the widowed support groups have all been participants in support groups themselves previously. They have shown an aptitude for the tasks of being good listeners and directing discussion. They have also received training and information about resources and the grief process. Each facilitator receives a handbook that centralizes the knowledge, experience and wisdom of the organization's 20 year history.

I'm always tempted to hand people a book in response to a life crisis.  But a support group is more dynamic. Janet Cook notes that "Everyone grieves in their own way, but there are some things that everybody has in common."  Support groups do a good job balancing the particular and the universal.

Many people resist attending support groups for a variety of reasons.  
  • Many want to manage grief themselves
  • Grieving people fear that something is wrong with them when they don't "get over" the loss.
  • Our society avoids discussion about dying, death and grief. 
Or some leave the support group before they have a chance to connect with the facilitators and other group members.  Good Grief of Kansas suggests attending at least three times: "The first two times may be difficult but you will begin to feel a difference in your grieving as you are able to share about our loss and other issues that come along at this time" (Good Grief News, November 2013 issue). 

Because each person is unique, not all people will be served by a grief support group. Some might prefer individual professional counseling or others might have friends or family members who can help them through their grief journey.  

Also, some areas  may not have in-person support groups tailored to specific types of grief: loss of spouse, loss to suicide, loss of a parent, loss of a child, young widows/widowers, loss of a loved one to violence, etc. Online support might be a good addition or a good alternative to in-person support groups. 

Or some might actually start a support group as part of their own grief process. This is how Good Grief of Kansas began. Founder Phyllis L. Gadaire-Sauer was a chaplain with the Wichita YMCA when she lost her spouse. Because she saw the need, she created Good Grief of Kansas in 1993.  

Whether you have experienced spousal loss yourself or you are seeking resources to comfort a widow or widower, consider spousal support groups as one of many resources for responding to grief.