On Jan. 10, 2024, a local grief support group will launch its third session in the Hearth Room at Leaside United Church.
This group began to address a need growing from the Covid pandemic, a particularly difficult time for those experiencing a loss. Jean Marie Suchora, the Minister of Pastoral Care at LUC, explains that the normal process of grieving had been disrupted when supportive gatherings and rituals were postponed and modified. The Pastoral Care Team decided to offer a grief support group to provide guidance and comfort for church members in mourning.
To that end, Jean Marie offered to design and facilitate a program that would educate participants and provide time to share and learn from each other’s experiences. Two other members of the Pastoral Care Team, Barbara Kinnear and Lynda Miller, volunteered to help facilitate the group, offered at no cost with a maximum of 10 participants from the church. The first session took place in January 2022.
The book Understanding Your Grief, by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., was chosen as the springboard for discussion. Each participant received a copy of the book along with a journal for personal reflection.
As Jean Marie says, “Grief often feels like a roller-coaster of emotions ranging from sadness, anger, regret, fear and loneliness that are often unpredictable and chaotic.” The group, she adds, explores “the work of mourning” as they journey from an “old normal” to a “new normal that is satisfying in a new way.” Part of the journey of healing is “the building of community support and resilience, while developing self-care and self-compassion.”
With the book’s guiding principle that it is vital to mourn in order to heal, some of the topics chosen for discussion include “Exploring your feelings of loss,” “Understanding the six needs of mourning,” “Reaching out for help,” and “Nurturing yourself.”
Sessions are held bi-weekly for a total of nine meetings from January to May to allow time to process these experiences. After the first year, the group members suggested that since the program was so helpful, it should be open to the greater community. After flyers were sent out to other local churches and funeral homes and an ad was placed in this publication, the 2023 participants came from various central and north Toronto communities.
As well, this year, former participant Graham Lute joined Jean Marie and Barbara as a co-facilitator. Lynda Miller acts as hostess and, according to Jean Marie, “soothes our bodies and souls” with her welcoming nature and homemade treats.
The group has clearly had a dramatic impact on the participants, with comments such as these: “I realized how long grief can take and that it is unique to every person”; “By understanding the process of grief, I better understood and accepted my feelings”; and “It was very important for me to be in a group who listened and did not judge.”
And while the group members are quiet and reserved at first, they gradually relax as they share their stories with the empathetic guidance of the leaders, and by the end are chatting and laughing with their new friends.