Saturday, January 20, 2007

Support Group Etiquette

Okay, so you decided to take the plunge. You're weary of going it alone ... you need to reach out to others, so you join an infant or pregnancy loss support group.

I've been a bereavement counselor and support group leader for over a year. I've also experienced the death of three infants. Sadly, I know my fair share about grief, but I've learned quite a bit about healing, too. The support group is a great place to start!

Here's what you need to know before you go to your first meeting:

Be yourself. If you feel comfortable sharing your story at the first meeting - do so. If you feel uncomfortable, it's okay to sit quietly. Know that the more you talk about your loss, the more free (from grief) you will become. Sometimes it takes a few meetings before you feel comfortable opening up.

It's okay to cry. Crying is therapeutic both physically and emotionally. Initially, I felt embarrased about crying in public. I was never one who showed that type of emotion in front of strangers ... but when I allowed the tears to flow that first time, my discomfort gave way to relief. I could finally release the tension that had been buried for so long.

Express yourself. When you are ready to talk about those hidden feelings and experiences, let it all hang out! That is what the group is there for. For example, one person confided that she felt the urge to dig up her baby's casket. To some that may seem a foreign concept, but others related to her experience.

Don't judge. In a group setting, you will encounter people with differences in the way they dress, speak, believe and so forth. Just know that we're all united by tragedy -- we've all lost a child we love. Just as you will be embraced and allowed to express yourself, extend the same graciousness to others.

Don't gossip. Meetings should remain an intimate place where it is safe to open up. It's a place to get and receive feedback. Never betray that trust by talking about what so-and-so said simply for the sake of gossiping.

Give back. When you've reached a point where you've "received" from others ... don't forget to give back. Give feedback, advice and above all love, support and encouragement to other members (only when you are ready). We need each other.

Give the group a chance. Try to attend at least three meetings before you decide a support group isn't the place for you. The first meeting may (or may not) feel awkward, the second gets better and by the third, you would have made a friend or two and the tears won't fall so easily anymore. After six or more meetings, you will see a tremendous difference in how you feel.

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