Earlier this year, the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) began facilitating virtual grief support groups to help people who are grieving during COVID-19. These groups were introduced as a means of enhancing VNA’s bereavement program. The goal was to provide a channel to offer support that was simultaneously hands-on and socially distanced.
The COVID-19 outbreak was an important time to begin the groups as people were not only dealing with the deaths of loved ones but also dealing with other socioeconomic and emotional issues that came on unexpectedly. Such situations can escalate grief or lead to what is called disenfranchised grief, a form of grief that occurs when individuals can’t grieve appropriately or publicly acknowledge their grief due to circumstance.
Grief support groups are facilitated by VNA staff who take turns facilitating depending on the topic that week. These groups encourage a diverse range of conversations and give participants an opportunity to ask questions. An open discussion format allows everybody to share what they need to.
Jamesetta Roach, VNA Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator, leads many of these support groups and says participants respond well to smaller group sizes. “People often come in hesitant about joining. They often say they’re just going to listen in, and we encourage them to do so,” says Jamesetta. “But it’s not soon after they are listening that they begin to feel comfortable and relax, and before you know it, they’re sharing.”
For people considering a group, even if they’re hesitant, Jamesetta says that they should make an effort to try and attend at least one. “It’s about finding a group that’s right for you. We hear from some people that they have tried another group before and it’s not for them, and I like to look at it like if you go see a counselor. You don’t necessarily connect with every counselor, but that doesn’t mean all counselors don’t work. It means you maybe need to try another one.”
Groups require participants to listen to others in confidence, creating a safe place.. “To be in a safe place is to be able to make a statement and not be judged by being told you shouldn't feel like that. It’s about having an opportunity to talk it out and to express your feelings,” says Jamesetta. “Usually, we find that makes people feel better.”
Many participants are at different points in their grieving journey. Some people in a session are first-time participants; for others, it’s been a full year. “This diversity of participation often influences more experience sharing among participants. Everybody’s situation is unique and different to them but there can be similarities,” says Jamesetta.
Jamesetta recommends people considering joining a group ask themselves specific questions prior to joining, the primary ones being what am I expecting to get out of this, and what expectations do I have of myself? Not only is it important to reflect on expectations, participants must set realistic expectations for entering into a support space. This doesn’t mean setting strict boundaries but rather ways to be honest and open minded about how a support group can help.
If you’re grieving and would like to join an upcoming support group, please register on our home page.