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Not long after Arlyn died, my husband and I decided to attend a support group program run by the local Hospice organization. We felt lost, afraid, and alone, and we desperately needed to understand the emotional roller coaster we were on.
So the night of the first support meeting, we drove 30 miles to the church where the meeting was held. The room we walked into had a single row of fold-up chairs arranged in a circle, refreshments on a table, and a friendly woman welcomed us.
We had arrived early; all of the seats were empty. After I glanced at my husband, to make sure he had not turned around and walked out, we sat down quietly on the seats closest to us and to the door.
Shortly after we arrived, a few other people wandered in and took seats also. We nodded at them nervously, wondering if their stories were like ours, wondering if they had nightmares as bad as we did.
And then, the meeting began. The facilitator spoke. She welcomed us all, stated that everyone in the room had lost a loved one, and asked us to introduce ourselves.
One by one, the people present stated their names and briefly told us about why they were there. Some of them shed tears as they talked. As each one spoke, my mind was trying to take in a situation outside of my experience. How could this be? We thought we were the only ones in the world who were grieving. We were not alone, after all!
For the next couple hours, we talked - and listened. We discovered that some of our feelings matched the feelings of others there. Perhaps we were not abnormal, after all!
Best of all, though, when we said Arlyn's name, and when we said the word suicide, no one blinked an eye! No one got up and walked out, no one replied by saying, Get over it! She's gone! And no one even hinted that it was our fault.
During the meeting, some of us cried. No one tried to stop us. During the meeting, some of us talked about funerals, and no one squirmed. It was amazing.
We were the only ones in the group who had come because of the death of a daughter, and we were the only ones mourning a suicide death, but even then, the connection we felt with others was strong. We were not alone.
By the time we left the meeting, I felt emotionally drained, but that was exactly what I had needed. A safe place to talk, to vent, to connect. A place where I could find someone to walk with me.
That's what a support group is: a safe place. It may be an AA group for those who struggle with alcohol, an abuse group for those who have been victimized by abusers, a group for people addicted to gambling, or a grief group for those who are trying to survive the loss of a loved one by death.
It's a place to go to so you can connect with others who have almost walked in your shoes.
Some support groups are run by professionals. They generally have a program to follow, materials to take home with information, and they are led by people with college degrees. They sometimes encourage people to set goals, and they sometimes offer therapy.
Other support groups are lead by those who have no official certification, but whose experience may teach them more about the common issue than anything they could read about in books.
I have participated in both types of support groups, and I find value in both. They meet different needs in different ways. I personally think the value of peer-lead support groups are greatly undervalued, however. When people sit in a circle and share their stories and hearts with others who will not pass judgement on them, others who truly do know how they feel, a huge burden is often lifted from their shoulders.
Lifting that emotional burden seems to be the key to survival, the key to living life again - as opposed to being pulled down into deep depression and not finding the strength to come back up.
The best thing about peer lead support groups is that they are free! The worst thing about them is that there are not enough of them around. Quote of the day:
When it seems that our sorrow is too great to be borne, let us think of the great family of the heavy-hearted into which our grief has given us entrance, and inevitably, we will feel about us their arms, their sympathy, their understanding. - Helen Keller
~ Karyl Chastain Beal
The GRief After Suicide Support (GRASS) group first met on Dec. 1, 2005 and has met continuously since then.
You may find these other resources helpful.