My first visit to a traditional in-person grief support meeting took courage. I put off facing such painful remedies for nearly a year after I lost my son, my brother, and my grandson, all within six months. It took everything I had to wake up, clean up, and go to work every day. My emotions were paralyzed. I was a barely-functional complicated griever.
Eventually, I realized that I needed a support group-people I could share my feelings with who would understand and not judge me. I was tired of living like a zombie. I wanted to feel life again. I wanted to find tools that would help me heal. If I didn’t, I was going to die. So, I found a group, made the phone call, and went to the meeting.
The building was part of a religious campus. My first thought was, “Oh, no. Here come the judgment and recruitment tactics.” I went inside anyway. The older ladies who greeted me were too kind and welcoming. They asked my name and extended compassion.
When the meeting began, a fog of anxiousness, depression, and grief hovered over the entire room and settled in among us. It was heavy. Some cried. Some put up a shield of silence. Some gushed with emotions and talking. The group leaders were patient, but they had difficulty regaining control of the meeting once someone began talking and couldn’t stop. It was uncomfortable and uneasy. I wanted to leave but was too afraid I would be noticed and called out if I left my seat.
Then one leader went around the room, asking us to name our lost loved one and when they passed. Immediately, I noticed a pattern. First, with the name of the deceased, the group expressed sympathy. Next, with the date of death, came a weird sense of what I can only call “grief comparison.” One of the older women instantly went into “advice mode.” My head began to burn like fire. I was completely put off.
Another aspect of my grief that I was measured by was that I had lost so many in so short a time. One of the comments to me was something like, “Not only is your grief still new, but you’ve also got multiple losses. It’s going to take you a long time to even make sense of it all, let alone find healing.” My mind reeled. What did I just hear?
Every person in that group, except for the veterans, was judged and advised according to the length of their grieving process. Now, granted, I can understand that some folks who have been at it longer may have some insight to share. But with grief, no one should ever advise a grief-stricken soul unless it is requested. Any other way, and it loses any positive benefit it might have had otherwise because it comes across as judgmental, bossy, and egotistical.
It does not help a person in mourning at all. As a matter of fact, it has an adverse effect by setting them backward about 1,000 steps. Gaining the courage to go through that again will be next to impossible.
This “grief comparison technique” (“GCT”) to evaluate what stage of grief a person is in, what type of relationship was severed, and what type of advice the person needed is one of the worst techniques I have ever witnessed in aiding the grief-stricken. I understand why they do it. They feel it is the only way to give that person tools to cope. My argument is that it is not.
- GCT offends, belittles, repels, and further injures the grieving, causing more damage than what the person arrived with from the beginning.
- GCT is a critical and egotistical approach to offering assistance. It shifts the focus from the grief of the “new” person to the “more important” grief of the person advising them.
- GCT offers no hope or positive approach to aiding the grief-stricken. It is zero-sum.
Now, I have witnessed and tolerated GCT at others’ support meetings because they are not mine to conduct. I attended various meetings by different groups in different cities across the U.S. because I needed to learn, to understand, to give it a fair shot.
The result for me was that nearly every meeting I attended implemented GCT to some extent. Every single time, I recognized it, observed it, and was disappointed. These groups have an incredible platform to help the grieving, and yet they fail. Often, I would hear discussions about why they couldn’t retain members, why people quit going, and how to recruit those in need. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but it wasn’t my place.
On the other hand, please understand, grief support meetings are essential! Please don’t be deterred; just be careful of what and how you share information. You will need a network of people who understand precisely what you are going through. You need someone to share your feelings with and someone to advise you when you’re ready. You don’t have to suffer all alone.
This post isn’t meant to be solely a complaint. Truly. I would love if groups would evolve, change their techniques, and benefit from this critique. There are ways to better aid those in need without the negative backlash of GCT. I hope, I pray, and I believe we can all handle it much better. We need the network, and the network needs us.
Be creative. Here are some ideas:
- Find ways to welcome the heartbroken into groups in an atmosphere that are purposely less intimidating and heavy.
- Maybe set the tone with low lights, candles, and soft scents. Harsh lighting tends to make people feel like they’re in a spotlight. It isn’t conducive to speaking about grief.
- It’s okay to ask the name and relationship of a person’s lost loved one as long as it’s respectful.
- It is not okay to ask the date of death or how long they’ve been grieving. This puts an invisible rubber stamp on their forehead for others to judge them in their grieving process. This information should be for the person to disclose, only if they are comfortable doing so.
- Limit each person to a certain amount of time to talk. Get the group to commit to that rule before the meeting begins, so there is no awkward moment of trying to get it under control and no embarrassment to the person over-talking. Be fair to everyone the same.
- No person’s grief or grieving process should be compared to anyone else’s for any reason.
- Veterans of grief should not elevate themselves above anyone else or give advice where it is not requested, ever.
- Relationships between the deceased and the grieving should never be judged. The history and bond might seem secondary to one person, but to the grief-stricken, that relationship may have been their whole world.
- Respect, kindness, consideration, empathy, privacy, confidentiality, and warmth should always be the first rule for any grief support group.
- Ask a grieving person if they are okay. Then, listen.
My apologies: this post is lengthy. I felt it was a critical topic to address. I hope you are all doing well and staying safe. It’s a crazy world out there.
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