By Carly Fleming, M.Ed., RP
Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada offers support groups for individuals with a brain tumour and their loved ones. These groups provide incredible support for people throughout their entire brain tumour journey. For some group members, the journey sadly ends in death and the grief experienced by members of the group needs to be acknowledged and supported. Support group facilitators are well experienced in helping the group acknowledge and remember their friend who has died. Facilitators will walk with group members as they each grieve in their own way. The group itself will also grieve. Grieving in a group can be a unique and powerful process that warrants further exploration.
Even if you are not part of a group, the following points can help you understand and support someone who is grieving.
Grief is an individual process
It is a well-known reality that each person will grieve in their own way and that there is no “rule book” for navigating grief. But given the individual nature of the grieving process, the group has a unique role to play. In a group, it is natural that members will contrast and compare their grief reactions to each other – this has the potential to be a powerful exploration for each individual. People may see their own feelings reflected in the feelings of others. This is intensely validating and can create safety and encouragement for them to explore their own grief. People may also see expressions of grief that look different from their own. This allows for learning, growing and perhaps stretching in terms of their willingness to be vulnerable or explore feelings that would usually go unexplored or unacknowledged.
Grief in a non-linear process
Grief is an ongoing process that shifts and changes over time. This is why it is important that a group member’s death be explored over multiple sessions. Group members will be ready/willing to look at their grief at different times and each individual’s grief will feel different at different points in time. Sharing the experience of how grief changes over time allows people to recognize the evolution of their feelings and insights.
It is important to recognize that numerous losses get compounded over time. When addressing the death of a group member, people may find themselves re-experiencing grief related to the death of someone else/a previous loss. Group facilitators can be especially helpful here and can identify when a group member might need some additional support in their grief.
Grief can be isolating
It is very difficult for grief to be openly recognized and supported in our culture. Many times grieving individuals feel that they are isolated from the people who they would usually turn to for support. This is where the group can be so powerful. The group provides built-in connection to others who are grieving. By being together, sharing stories and participating in rituals, the grief can be shared. It may also be that group members who are grieving other deaths and losses (that did not take place within the group) benefit from the reduction in isolation that the group can provide.
Grief can be transformative
Grief is inherently meaningful. And nowhere is this more powerful than in the group setting. Group facilitators can help to harness the meaning in grief by asking the right questions and providing opportunities for reflection. Through their grief, group members can seize opportunities to be more present in their lives, more thoughtful and more grateful and this can be carried into their individual lives creating personal growth. Meaning in grief will usually come naturally once space has been made to fully explore the feelings of grief.
“Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life. We grapple with fear and guilt. We search for meaning, love, and power. We try to understand fear, loss, and time. We seek to discover who we are and how we can become truly happy.” —Elisabeth Kubler-Ross