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Grief counseling during the holidays in Pasco

Published Dec. 21, 2012

It's the time of year for "making rather merry," as Bob Cratchit told Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' classic story A Christmas Carol. But for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a time of heartache.

Four local churches want to help by offering a 13-week GriefShare course designed to provide support, guidance and encouragement.

"If you've lost a spouse, child, family member or friend, you've probably found there are not many people who understand the deep hurt you feel," says the website of the international organization behind the GriefShare program. "This can be a confusing time when you feel isolated and have many questions about things you've never faced before. GriefShare groups meet weekly to help you face these challenges and move toward rebuilding your life."

The courses begin in January and are offered free of charge to anyone in the community who has lost a loved one. Those who choose to use a workbook will pay about $15; the churches will help those who can't afford the payment.

Brooksville Wesleyan Church will begin sessions at 10 a.m. Jan. 7 in the church cafe. The facilitator will be Joan Wallace.

Pam Johnson and Judy Marks will facilitate the course for Northcliffe Baptist Church. Classes are at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays beginning Jan. 15 and at 9 a.m. Saturdays beginning Jan. 19.

Christian Church in the Wildwood begins classes at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16 in Building B, Room 102. Martie Walsh will be the group leader.

Classes will begin at 3 p.m. Tuesdays starting Jan. 29 in Krysher Hall at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church with Susan Villnow leading the group.

While each program will reflect the guidance of its facilitator, the GriefShare program has three distinct elements — videos, discussion and time for personal study and reflection.

Each week, the group will watch a video seminar, produced in television magazine format, featuring experts on grief and recovery subjects. Real-life case studies are used with dramatic re-enactments and on-location video.

Group members then discuss what was presented in the video and have an opportunity to share what is going on in their lives.

Between the 90-minute weekly sessions, members can use a workbook for further personal study at home.

They are encouraged to write down their feelings and experiences and then invited to share questions and comments at the next meeting.

Wallace began leading the program last year.

"I have suffered the loss of two wonderful pastor-husbands," she said. "I feel the program not only helps others who are hurting, but was helpful to me as well."

The discussion times helped her open up to others.

"(We could) see that we had things in common," Wallace said.

Villnow, who lost her husband in 2006, participated in the program shortly after his death and then became a facilitator four years ago.

"It's helped me tremendously," she said. "Grief is a very personal and a very private and a very different feeling for everybody. It gave me time to reflect on my own sadness and then reflect on how other people cope with their sadness."

Martie Walsh believes GriefShare helps the group understand the process and normalcy of grief.

"Grief is work, painful work," she said. "We learn we are not alone or different. We are given words for what we are experiencing."

It's a time to share pain, anger, fears and questions with each other, she said, and thereby find hope.

"We form new relationships and can smile, even laugh again," Walsh said.

Grief causes people to develop a deeper relationship with God, she said.

"We can love again, because he loves us," Walsh explained. "And now we can become the comforters, because of the comfort we received in our group."

Northcliffe Baptist has been offering the program twice a week for several years.

"The journey of grief can be lonely, long, perhaps complicated and even, by family and friends, misunderstood. GriefShare allows people to come together with common emotional struggles to find compassion, peace and fulfillment of a healthy grief journey," said Francis Welch, former minister of care at the church.

At the first session, grievers often are unsure if they are in an environment where they can share their deepest, innermost thoughts about their heartache, sorrow and loneliness, he said.

"By the fifth session, the group has built its own trust dynamics, sharing openly and honestly," the minister said. "By the final week, we see individuals who (realize) that there is a future.

"Our goal is to assist and enable grievers to find and be comfortable in their new reality in life."

GriefShare offers helpful information at its website, including articles with suggestions of what to do and what to avoid during holidays.

But December is not the only month with special holidays that intensify grief, Villnow said.

"We've got Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduation, anniversaries, weddings, birthdays— holidays are tough," she said. For that reason, churches often repeat the course and have offered one-session classes called "Surviving the Holidays."

"It never gets better; it just evolves," Villnow said. "It changes and you have a different perspective, and as time goes on you evaluate with a deeper heart. The really neat thing is that on occasion we actually laugh. Sometimes that kind of breaks the tension."