Ruth Edwards

Ruth Edwards

Helping the bereaved find their way

The North Okanagan Hospice Society offers Finding My Way, Coping with Grief, an eight-week grief support group starting in April

For those who are grieving, sometimes just knowing they are not alone goes a long way towards healing.

That’s the idea behind Finding My Way, Coping with Grief, the eight-week grief support group at the North Okanagan Hospice Society that begins next month.

The group welcomes the newly bereaved as well as those whose loss happened some time ago. Grief and bereavement counsellor Panadda Kosakarn said it’s a safe place to share stories, tears, laughter and feelings.

“We have had a range of the bereaved at the groups, from a recent loss of a few months to a few years,” she said. “It’s open to anyone who finds they are at the stage where they are ready and feel they would benefit from the support of the group, where they can share their stories and at the same time bear witness and provide support and listening to other people’s stories, and be able to be with others as they share emotions.”

Kosakarn said the group will meet every Wednesday from 9:45 a.m. to noon from April 10 to May 29. The first few weeks the group will spend getting to know each other.

“The group has to be able to be honest, to learn that it is OK to speak your truth and to be aware of others,” she said. “A lot of times people who are grieving, they will say they think they are going crazy.

“They start to hear the complexity and depth of each individual story. It’s a way of having a sense of normalcy, to have the realization that it happens to other people as well.”

Hospice executive director Ruth Edwards said that is a common feeling among the bereaved, even with those who have experienced grief in the past.

“Even if they have experienced grief before, they are surprised at how different it is, at the different feelings they have,” she said.

Anyone who has lost someone they love knows that the love never dies, that grief forever changes a person, but Kosakarn said healing does take place, even while an individual learns to live with the loss.

“People reach out to each other,” she said. “And we encourage people to bring photos and stories of their loved one, and personal mementos — we honour everyone.”

Kosakarn believes western society still has a way to go when it comes to how we care for the bereaved.

“Just the fact that we still need somebody like me, that people feel they don’t have a built in support system, that you need a professional who can be in that place with them,” she said. “It can be a very lonely place, and many people tell me that in the first little while after a loss, they receive many invitations and then it fades, and it’s the consistency that people need, knowing that others care, that they are still there and not just saying ‘you should do this’ and ‘you should feel this.’

“Invite them to participate in activities, it’s having that connection, to allow the person to express what they need.”

Kosakarn said the group doesn’t follow a set of hard and fast rules, rather the partipants’ needs will provide the guidelines in running the weekly meetings.

“We hope people will leave having learned some of the knowledge and to learn about what to expect about the grief process and some of the skills that they need, to find the sense that what they are going through is normal, to find support from one another,” she said. “We start the group by setting the ground rules, doing guided relaxation when appropriate, sharing the stories.

“And of course, confidentiality is key. As a facilitator, when people are grieving and they feel they cannot talk, they can choose not to. When they are grieving, there are no shoulds, and that’s OK. However, the facilitator would keep an eye on that, and that nobody dominates the air time. Some people of course just need to talk, some need to share their stories over and over, and need to keep repeating it over and over.”

The cost to attend Finding My Way, Coping with Grief is $60, as a donation to Hospice, but an inability to pay is not a barrier to attending the group: no one will be turned away.

To register, please call Kosakarn at 250-503-1800, ext. 200 or e-mail panadda@nohs.ca