Submitted by Katie Kliner, Big Bend Hospice Youth Bereavement Counselor
It’s a Thursday afternoon and a group of strangers have gathered to talk about something personal, painful, and raw. I ask the group to share why they have decided to attend today. Nearly every response suggests a yearning to be understood; to be in the company of others who ‘get it’. As we close our first meeting, it feels as though the walls of the room have released a collective sigh; the type when you hadn’t realized you’d been holding your breath.
Grief will do that to you. It is traumatic, life-altering, and unforgiving. Grief is also a universal and inevitable part of the human experience…yet, it can feel incredibly lonely. Under “normal” circumstances, grievers may feel emotionally isolated. The added physical isolation due to a global pandemic has compounded the struggles faced by many. Being unable to say goodbye or hold the hand of a loved one due to Covid-19 visitation restrictions, the inability to honor or memorialize at a funeral, or to simply hug friends and family are just a few of the issues discussed during night one of our 6-week grief support group.
Grief support groups are not suitable for everyone but have been found effective for many since they began over 50 years ago. These spaces can provide validation for people experiencing the physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and social impacts of grief. At Big Bend Hospice Inc., our grief and loss counselors provide grief education and healthy coping strategies. In my opinion, the most valuable feedback comes from the group members themselves. Whether it’s affirmations of support, brainstorms of ‘ways to deal’ or simply sharing space, the new growing bonds between group members are precious igniters of hope and healing.
The following groups are available to anyone living in the Big Bend Area (including Leon, Madison, Jefferson, Taylor, Wakulla, Franklin, Liberty and Gadsden Counties) and are free of charge. An important distinction to consider is whether a group is “closed” or “open”. Closed groups have a clear beginning and end. They are comprised of the same participants at every session, although new members may be permitted to join through the second or third meeting. Open groups are just that – open to new members at any meeting and are usually held on the same day and time of the month. All BBH bereavement groups require prior registration and space is capped due to Covid-19 safety precautions.
Big Bend Hospice hosts numerous closed adult grief support groups (GSG) throughout the year. Following a “pause” due to Covid-19, we started back “in person” February 2021! This GSG meets for an hour and a half on the same day and time for 6-weeks. This group is often a mixture of people who have lost a loved one who was under BBH care and others who have lost a loved one to various causes, such as accidental death, illness, and addiction. Grief and loss counselors provide education about grief and much of the time is spent in a conversational format amongst group members.
The BBH Survivors of Suicide (SOS) Support Group meets once per month (every 2nd Tuesday). SOS is an open group for anyone in the Big Bend area who has lost someone to suicide. BBH works closely with the LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) Team of the Big Bend to connect survivors with support. The LOSS Team of the Big Bend is a group of trained paraprofessional suicide loss survivor volunteers and mental health professionals serving as volunteers who want to be a resource of hope to bereaved survivors who live in the Big Bend area of Florida.
As the Youth Bereavement Counselor at BBH, I often work with schools in the Big Bend to implement youth grief support groups. These closed groups meet during school hours once a week for 6-weeks. Youth can expect to engage in a variety of activities aimed to help process emotions, learn about grief, facilitate healthy coping and…have fun!
Children’s, Young Teen and Teen Nights
BBH holds a space once per month for youth of various ages who have lost a loved one. Children’s Night (for elementary school-aged youth), Young Teen Night (for middle school-aged youth) and Teen Night (for high-school aged youth) are open groups in which facilitators lead participants in activities similar to those offered in school-based grief support groups. These nights are held at our BBH Tallahassee location and are the newest bereavement support offering by BBH.