Ask a health expert: how to find a grief support group

Ask a health expert: how to find a grief support group

An Elizz reader named Catherine wrote to ask us about how to find a grief support group. Catherine wrote, “I am looking after my husband who has stage 4 cancer. I am finding it very hard to think that I will be left alone in the near future. Is there a support (group) I can attend to get me ready, for the time is close. I feel lost and alone.”

Hi Catherine,

It’s normal and okay to feel lost and alone given the situation you are facing. In fact, according to Vicki Lejambe (Elizz expert in Oncology and Palliative Care), and Jane Vock (Elizz Caregiver Counsellor), wanting to move ahead to the future (in your mind) and imagining life without your husband is a normal part of the grieving process.

What you’re feeling is called anticipatory grief, which starts when the person you’re caring for receives a devastating diagnosis and their health begins to deteriorate.

Anticipatory grief starts when the person you’re caring for receives a devastating diagnosis and their health begins to deteriorate.

You’re grieving for the aspects of your husband that you feel are already lost, such as his personality, vitality and physical abilities. You’re also grieving for the future that you imagined you would have had with your husband before his diagnosis.

Anyone going through anticipatory grief may find a great outlet for caregiver stress relief by talking to someone, whether it’s a close relative or friend, religious or spiritual advisor, or grief counsellor.. But, not everyone is comfortable talking about their feelings in a one-on-one setting.

That’s where death and dying grief support groups come in.

A quick Internet search using terms such as “support groups” or “grief counselling” (plus your area) will yield many broad results for support groups. Try experimenting with more specific words (such as “grief” or “cancer”) in order to narrow down the search results until you find the support groups that appeal to you.

This can be time consuming and daunting if you’re not even sure what you’re looking for, so I suggest starting your search within your own networks, like your doctor, a social worker, or spiritual advisor, and ask for recommendations that they might have come across in their line of work.

Even your local community newspaper can be a good starting off point for locating support groups within your area.

An online virtual support group is also a good option if you don’t have time to attend a support group in person, or you are located too far away from the nearest meeting area, or you prefer to remain anonymous in a group setting.

These days, you can find an online forum for just about any issue including death and dying, whether it’s a general forum about dealing with grief, or a specific forum about your husband’s type of illness.

You may also want to look into receiving one-on-one support from a professional counsellor to help you through the anticipatory grief you’re experiencing. Elizz offers Online Counselling by telephone or email to help caregivers like you navigate, adjust, and manage major transitions and changes, such as the impending death of a loved one, in their lives. Elizz counsellors are experienced professionals with a masters-level degree to bring a specialized understanding of what it means to be a caregiver and the challenges that come with this role. They provide key insight, support, and will work with you to develop the practical strategies and skills you need to bring positive change to your life as you approach the next phase of your caregiving journey.

Joining a grief support group means investing your time, which is precious given your caregiving role, so consider these questions before you make a commitment to any one support group:

  • Do you feel welcome and secure in this group?
  • Are there rules or guidelines for participation that will protect your confidentiality?
  • Is the support group environment respectful?
  • Do you find the meeting times and places convenient? (If not, an online option may be more ideal.)
  • Are experienced health care professionals involved to facilitate discussion?
  • Are subject matter experts invited to speak to the support group occasionally?

If you can answer yes to a majority of these questions about a certain grief support group you’re thinking about joining, you have probably found the one that best meets your needs.

Elizz caregiving offers caregiver support services in Canada as well as support services for those in your care.

 

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