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How a Bereavement or Grief Group Helped Me


When my mother died, it was just four months after my youngest of three brothers died from cancer. Diagnosed at 40 years old, a father and husband and active member of his community, he succumbed 13 months after his diagnosis at 41. I suspect he outlived his doctors’ prognosis, but I never knew exactly what that was.

I think the heartbreak and stress of my brother’s thirteen months of treatment and physical decline and then his death may have been the final straw for my mother. She had had her own experience with cancer three years prior, and it was successfully removed with surgery. But, it left my mother with a compromised immune system.

When my mother died suddenly in 2008, I believe I knew the moment it happened. She had collapsed on a Friday night and was taken to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed pneumonia and put a breathing tube in her and flooded her system with fluids and antibiotics. News of her situation didn’t reach me Friday, and on Saturday I was with friends and suddenly started crying. When they asked me what was wrong, I said, “It must be grief for my brother.” I went home that afternoon and heard my sister’s voice saying, “Mum’s in ICU. She’s unconscious.” Five days later we disconnected my mother from the machines in the hospital and she was pronounced dead. The anniversary of that event is tomorrow.

Grieving for a Loved One: I’ve Got This!

How did I handle this? I consider myself a spiritual person. I believe that when it’s your time to go, it’s your time. I was complete with my mother. I had the luxury of spending a lot of time with her and my Dad – I visited them two times a year from West coast to the East coast. I thought I had it handled. But, I underestimated the compound effect of my brother’s and my mother’s death.

Oh, and I’m self employed. Like most people, I suffered financial loss during the recession.

All those losses took their toll.

In 2007, I participated in a grief group with some friends who were all experiencing loss: a mother, a husband who died in his sleep, a father, and for me, my brother – not yet dead, but diagnosed. It helped, but it was a self-generated group that started in 2007 and fizzled within a year. We worked through a workbook that is very helpful. I learned  a lot and followed the workbook exercises with everyone else.

I got this! Right?

Fast forward to 2012. I had a sudden insight. I thought I might be experiencing depression.  Somehow, some way, I worked up the courage to tell my friend Ann. I called her from my car and she said, “Hang up the phone, call your doctor and schedule an appointment, and call me back to let me know how it goes.” I did it. It felt good to have someone in my court. Talking to my doctor was a starting point. To make a long story short, eventually I heard about the Bereavement Group at the Center for Spiritual Living in Granada Hills, California.

I want to tell you what it was like attending this bereavement group for the first time and why I went back monthly, for several months. It’s important that you know how the group works, because, if you’re like me, you may be shy about sharing your feelings of loss with people you don’t know.

How the CSL Granada Hills Bereavement Group works

The CSLGH Bereavement Group meets in the Sanctuary of the Center for Spiritual Living on 17266 Chatsworth Street, Granada Hills, California, The group meets at 1 PM on the fourth Sunday of the month. Sunday services end at the Center at approximately 11:30 AM, so at 1 PM the facility is relatively quiet and it’s likely your arrival will be private and calm.

Parking is in the back parking lot or on the street in front of the Center, and both doors are open so you can enter either way. From the front entrance the Sanctuary doors are the double white doors directly in front of the door. From the back entrance the Sanctuary door is just a few steps to the right of the doors.

The bereavement group starts on time and everyone takes turn reading out loud the group guidelines, including that there is no cross-talk (when someone shares, other should not comment or provide advice or force Kleenex on the person or touch them). You can attend and just listen – there is no requirement to share your story. The sharing is confidential – nothing heard should be shared outside of the group.

If someone arrives late, they won’t be turned away, but they will have to go outside and review the guidelines before they can enter the circle of chairs and participate in the group, and as mentioned before it’s up to them as to whether or not they share their story.

The group is facilitated by a Center for Spiritual Living Minister, Reverend Jessica Fish. Rev. Jessica (as I call her) is an amazing soul who truly creates a safe and sacred place for people to grieve. She facilitated the Bereavement Group at the Agape International Spiritual Center for many years before becoming the “Bereavement Minister” at the Center for Spiritual Living Granada Hills. You can read her bio and contact her by email on our site.

Rev. Jessica sets up a beautiful circle of chairs with candles and spiritual objects that soothe the soul and create a setting of peace.

After reading the bereavement group guidelines out loud, one member of the group reads from a selected spiritual book. Then, the group opens up to sharing. There is no order, and  or requirement. Whoever is moved to share raises a hand or just starts speaking. If someone hasn’t shared, Rev. Jessica will ask if you want to say something, and you can share or just say, “No,” or “Not at this time,” or whatever you want to say!

When the sharing ends, there is a closing statement and all participants are welcome to talk to each other, exchange information, ask questions and more for at least half an hour after the program.

In my opinion, all of these details are very important. The first time I went to the Bereavement Group I had high anxiety, even though I had been at the Center before. “Would I be embarrassed?” “Would I feel safe?” “Would people judge what I was saying?” “Would people keep what I share confidential?”

But I learned that Rev. Jessica pays a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the Bereavement Group. She does everything in her power to make attendees feel safe and comfortable, including posting signs directing people where to go, having handouts and Kleenex ready and being present to calmly and quietly greet everyone as they arrive.

The Benefits of a Bereavement Group

There are many benefits of attending and supporting a bereavement group. Here are some that I’ve noticed. If you have received others, please add them in the comments below.

First, whether you share or not, attending a group and listening to others share their grief and experiences can help you. You may not want to or be able to share your story, but just listening to others can give you hope and also help you understand that you are not alone.

Second, the Center is a safe place for your grief. The guidelines, the quiet atmosphere of the sanctuary, the support of spiritual people in attendance, and Rev. Jessica’s amazing facilitation skills make it so.

Third, we welcome individuals, families, couples. All are welcome. People are dealing with the loss of a child, a spouse or partner, a parent. (We also recognize that people grieve over pets, so we have an Animal Ministry facilitated by Rev. Kathy Lyons that meets on the second Saturday of every month.)

Fourth, for some of us, grieving can last for many years or come up many years after the death of a loved one. If you are someone who struggles or has struggled with grief, some time in a support group can be helpful. There is no prescription for attendance; some attend one session and others attend for a longer time.

I write this post at a time when my father is in the hospital, getting his own tests and a diagnosis of cancer. My sister and two remaining brothers and I are in constant email and phone communication. Here we go again. But, today, at least I know I have a resource in the CSL Granada Hills Bereavement Group.

We are not alone. There is help and a safe place to get that help. Contact the Center for Spiritual Living Granada Hills for more information about our Bereavement Group and our other programs for spiritual growth. Join us on the fourth Sunday of the month for the Bereavement Group, or call us a 1-818-363-8136 for counseling or other information.

Photo by Andrew Malone on Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.


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