Several years ago, my cousin’s husband died after a short illness. They had taken early retirement and moved to Florida to enjoy “the good life” together, but suddenly she was alone. She, like many grievers, was at a total loss in how to deal with the emotional pain she was experiencing. She was invited to join a group that was run by a local agency and was relieved to think that there might be someone who could help her through this horrible time in her life. After the first meeting, she called and told me that the first meeting left her even more lost than she felt before attending! The other people in this group were each so intent in trying to convince everyone that their own individual pain was worse than anyone else’s that she felt totally discounted in her loss.
Most grievers are at a total loss when it comes to looking for meaningful support in dealing with their emotional losses. Many have found that the people they counted on to support them have no clue how to help them. As a result, they have found themselves even more isolated in their personal pain. When this happens, if they have the drive and energy to do so, they start looking for help.
There are an infinite variety of “Grief Support Groups” available to grievers. There are groups that are loss or gender specific. There are groups that are faith based. There are groups focused on the “stages of grief.” There are “book club” grief groups, focused on sharing the writings of a number of grievers. Some support groups are free, while others charge a fee. While some are led by trained professionals, many are led by grievers who are attempting to move forward by trying to help others. We often say that the many conflicting feelings generated by loss can be confusing to the griever, but the number of choices in support options can be overwhelmingly confusing as well!
Up until a short time ago, we who were trained by the Grief Recovery Institute told people that we did not offer grief support. I would tell people that “I am not here to support you in your grief, but rather I am here to offer assistance in how to recover from the pain of loss!” That is still very much the case. The problem we discovered is that people do not search for “recovery” groups on their computer, but instead look for “grief support,” since this is the term that they most often have heard from others. The problem for many of those who are offering this time tested educational process that is utilized around the world, is often in how to distinguish themselves from all of the other support groups that are available, often at no charge.
First and foremost, the Grief Recovery Method is different from every other type of program that I have ever encountered. Having been in funeral service for more than 40 years, I have had a chance to have learned about a wide variety of different support groups, both within my community and in visiting with people presenting formats and international funeral and cemetery conventions. Most of these programs were directed by people who really wanted to make a difference, but offered little hope of any real success in dealing with the emotional pain of loss. Many actually did more to support people in constantly reliving their pain than taking any meaningful action in moving through and beyond it. In some instances, the focus was on giving grievers other things to keep them busy, in an effort to redirect them, rather than in helping completing their unfinished emotional business related to their loss. That is why I have continued to believe in and follow the model of The Grief Recovery Method. I have honestly looked for something that might be more effective, but never found it.
Your first contact with any griever is the key!
While a griever may have seen your flier or brochures, or heard about your program from someone else, they may still be skeptical about The Grief Recovery Method. This is understandable. Grief can be overwhelming! Most people never realized how little useful information they had in dealing with grief until they were grieving themselves. It is only then that they discover that the cliché remarks that so many people offer have no emotional value whatsoever. That is why it is key that you show them that you are not like “everyone else.”
The Grief Recovery Method Certification Training spends several hours on communication skills that are vital when you are working with grievers. In your first contact with a griever, these skills are essential. In reality, grievers will form an opinion as to whether or not to trust you as someone who is offering something of value within the first 90 seconds of your first contact! They have become so accustomed to being disappointed by those that they trusted to help them, prior to meeting you, that they are unconsciously looking for any sign that you will fall into that same category. That is why it is essential that you show them that you are different!
How do you do this? As covered in that training, you ask them what happened and wait for an answer. You let them explain things, to the best of their ability, without analysis, criticism, or judgement. You might follow up with a second question, from those listed in the Directive Communication Skills, but more than anything, you listen and do not offer any saccharine suggestions on why they should not be feeling whatever it is that they express. This approach alone has already defined you as different from those with whom they have previously spoken.
The next step is to talk about why grief is so hard to live with.
Now you have another opportunity to show them that you are approaching grief and loss from a different perspective. You might share with them that one of the greatest challenges all grievers face is that most people never learned anything of value on how to deal with loss. You might touch on those “myths” that are covered in training and in “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” and how they really do not speak to that very personal emotional pain that is grief. I have often found that sharing a story about seeing something that reminded me of that person usually brings to mind a happy memory that is then quickly overshadowed by the things that might have been different, better, or more in that relationship. I then ask them if this is something that they have experienced, to which most people will say yes without any hesitation.
In doing this, you have started building on your relationship with that griever. This is very important in establishing a level of trust that they will need if you are going to work together to take recovery action.
Finally, you offer them a solution!
This is the point where you introduce them to The Grief Recovery Method. You need to tell them that Grief Recovery is never about forgetting the past, but rather dealing with all of that unfinished business of the relationship that gets in the way of enjoying fond memories. Grief Recovery is focused on giving grievers the tools they need to deal with their specific and personal loss. Your role in this process is to walk with them in taking action and in creating a safe environment for them to deal with this unfinished business.
Why and when do we cover all of this with the griever?
First of all, you are obviously not having this complete conversation in the back aisle of the pharmacy, where you perhaps met this person for the first time. In that situation, you are going to ask them what happened, listen to their answer, tell them about the “Grief Recovery Handbook" and set a time when you can visit with them in greater detail. To do more than that in a public situation might make them emotionally uncomfortable. This complete conversation might be in person in a private setting or on the phone.
The reason for approaching this in this manner is to start building a relationship with the griever. As a Grief Professional, you will be “competing” with any number of free support groups in your community. By taking the approach noted above, you have the chance to not only show them that you have something very different to offer than just supporting them in their pain, but also that you are a trained professional. Once they see that you actually have something of value to offer, the concept of having to make a financial investment in their recovery will seem far more reasonable.
This conversation also offers you the chance to explain that since each individual’s loss is unique, there really is no reason to restrict your groups to people with a similar loss. Just because different people may have lost a spouse or a child does not mean that their relationships had anything else in common. The focus of this program is in giving each and every participant the tools they need for taking action related to their specific personal loss.
There are all kinds of groups that will support grievers in sharing their pain, but The Grief Recovery Method is all about taking action to move beyond the pain of an emotional loss. Taking this emotional action is never easy, but the ultimate result is worth the work. I often ask people who are unsure about doing this work whether they would rather spend a few weeks working with a proven method to be able to enjoy their memories, or if instead they would rather spend a lifetime living with their regrets? Most grievers are desperate for tools to help them work through the pain of their emotional loss. Your job is simply to show them the steps that will best help them through this process.
A closing note –
At the beginning of this article, I talked about the death of my cousin’s husband. After she attended that first support group meeting, she called me and asked if she had to go back. My reply to her was that as an adult she had a choice! I shared with her the difference between The Grief Recovery Method and many of the more traditional support groups. She decided that perhaps The Grief Recovery Method might be what she really needed instead. When last we spoke, she was again enjoying life and the memories of her late husband, rather than living with heartache on a daily basis. She told me it was one of the best choices she ever made!