Question: When offering groups, is it better to have groups based on “type of loss (spouse, parent, sibling etc)” or general groups that include people who have experienced different losses?
Answer: HeartLight has a variety of support groups, based on the relationship of the loss (spouse, parent, sibling) and how a loss occurred (loss to suicide, dementia etc), as well as groups that do not define the relationship of the loss or how the loss occurred. With that said, when you are looking to offer support to your community we recommend you consider the following:
- Size/interest in groups
- If you have a smaller group of people you are serving, you may not have the option to have separate groups based on types of loss. If, for example, you have 5 people wanting to join a group and they all come with different types of loss, then it is not possible to offer loss specific groups. With a skilled facilitator, it is better to offer support than not.
- Specific types of loss groups
Benefits: It can feel nice for people to be in a group with others who had the same type of relationship loss (loss of spouse, parent, sibling, etc) People enter this type of space with the assumption that they already have three things in common: 1. They are grieving 2. They are seeking support 3. The relationship with the person they lost was similar (parent, sibling, child, spouse etc) These assumptions can feel comforting.
Cautions: We caution assuming we have too much in common just because the loss was of someone in the same role in our lives. For example, loss of spouse to one person could be devastating if their marriage/relationship is remembered with love and affection but could feel as a relief for someone who was in a controlling marriage. Like with all grief, just because the people were in comparable roles does not mean we interpret the loss in the same way.
- Mixed groups
Benefits: We can all learn from each other and support one another in unique ways. Although grief is unique to each individual, there are many commonalities in the experience that, no matter who you lost and what their relationship was, likely others coming to group have relatable feelings/emotions. The loss of a spouse is different than the loss of a child, of course… AND if we enter the space as supportive listeners it can be powerful. Same is true as the way we lose someone. For example, the loss of a spouse to suicide is different than the loss of a spouse to a terminal diagnosis. In all of these circumstances, we have to remember that how we show up and support each other matters more than if we are with groups of people who have experienced the “same” type of loss. As we all know, no matter what, grief is an individual experience.
Cautions: As we approach coming to group where we enter with different types of loss (spouse, child, sibling etc) it’s important to remind people we are here to be, supportive listeners, simply because we enter the space having fewer assumptions that we have similar experiences.
With all types of groups, offering variety can help people feel like there is something for them. With that said, there is power in the group experience and, with a skilled facilitator and open group, people can find value and comfort in being with others regardless of the loss category.
Written by: Jenn Flaum, LCSW, MBA