In the office, we were talking about the value of attending a support group, like a BASIS group for bereaved parents. The value is in the sharing. For everyone who attends there are 2 things that happen. 1. You see survivors and you learn from another parent who has been through the part of the journey of grief you are in right now. 2. Every parent gets to see that something in their experience is helpful to another bereaved parent. You get to give help to others as well as receive the help you are seeking. It’s wonderful how God arranges for this “one-another” sort of interaction. So why should you attend a support group? To listen. To share. To comfort. To be comforted. When should you attend a support group? As soon as possible after your loss. But that possibility might not be until even a few years after the loss. It might be that you have never found an opportunity, till you found BASIS. It might be that you weren’t ready before several months or more after your child’s death.
One of my mentors in bereavement, Marilyn Heavilin*, had a good way of describing the “stages” of grief. (As an aside, I don’t really like some descriptions of grief, especially the language of stages. That word implies a linear progression, but grief is not that neat! It’s messy and mixed up, more like what another man described: “a chaos of emotion.”) She named 3 stages:
- Survival. Learning to breathe again.
- Wondering how other parents have done this.
- Wanting to help other people through their journey in the valley of the shadow of death.
Going to a group during the Survival stage is too early. You have to be ready to hear others stories without being overwhelmed or drowned by their sorrow. You have to want to learn tips from others about how they handled special days, or what the cemetery means to them, or how to deal with Christmas or------ the list goes on.
So let me just say that our groups are ready and interested in receiving you into our fellowship as soon as you’re ready. It’s never too late either. You can even come back, after you thought you had “graduated.”
One picture of the value of a group is this: in every group sooner or later one parent is going to preface their story with these words – “you are going to think I’m crazy but….” Then they begin telling of some incident. Meanwhile all who are listening will begin nodding their heads. Because the things the other one thought were signs of loosing their mind, the parents recognize as something they have thought or done themselves. We are all crazy with grief. And it’s temporary. Other parents in the group have thought or done that same thing – and lived to tell about it. They are surviving their loss. So can the newcomer. That’s one of the great values of participating in a group. You are not going crazy, just grieving.
*M. Heavilin has experienced the deaths of 3 of her sons at different ages and circumstances. She’s written several books about and for bereaved parents including: Roses in December, Grief is a Family Affair (with her son), When Your Dreams Die, December’s Song and others. (Click on the titles to order or learn more about these books in one of our affiliate stores.)