How to Start a Grief Support Group

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One of the common questions we get from people is “how do I start a grief support group?”. Or some variation like, “is there a good guide book or curriculum for running a grief group”. And, of course, “should I start a grief support group?”.

One of the common questions we get from people is “how do I start a grief support group?”. Or some variation like, “is there a good guide book or curriculum for running a grief group”. And, of course, “should I start a grief support group?”. You get the idea. Even if you’re a mental health professional, running a grief group for the first time might feel intimidating. And if you’re not a professional and don’t have group experience, starting a grief group might feel downright daunting.

Whatever category you fall into, we’re excited to share a resource that might be just what you need. It comes from our amazing grief-friends at the Heartlight Center. We love that this is a structured and manageable program that opens up an incredible space to explore grief. They’ve agreed to humor us with an interview about their guide and training – we think it is a good first step if you’re wondering how to start a grief support group. We hope it will give you a sense of whether it might be just what you need to get started.

To start, tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am Jennifer McBride, co-founder and former President of HeartLight Center, a non-profit center for grief support and education.  I retired Fall of 2020 and am pleased to say that Jenn Flaum is now HeartLight Center’s Executive Director.

How did the Facing the Mourning group program start?

While we may share many experiences in the process of grief, we all learn and process in different ways. Most grief support programs involve mainly verbal expression and participation.  Facing the Mourning invites people to try some kinesthetic experiences to help along the way.

Can you share a bit about the philosophy of the program and what people can expect from it?

Facing the Mourning is an interactive support group for friends and family members addressing all types of death and length of grieving. The group is designed to help with the grieving process by using visual and thought-provoking tools and examples. The attendees have weekly assignments to support the concepts introduced in each session. Each attendee receives a Facing the Mourning Participant Manual.

You’re printing an update of the program and looking to expand access. Can you tell us about how the program has evolved with time?

Feedback from participants and facilitators over the past 16 years has helped us to make improvements to the program. 

Online groups has made Facing the Mourning available for people, no matter where they are geographically, to be a part of programs offered through HeartLight.

If a person or organization is considering starting a Facing the Mourning group, what are some questions to ask themselves? What would make Facing the Mourning a good fit for them?

Our Facing the Mourning Facilitator Manual and two-hour online training program walks people through the 4-week program step by step. You don’t have to be a professional counselor to facilitate this program.  Our training program helps you get ready. This can be a great way for a community to gauge the needs and to gently begin an ongoing grief support program in their setting.

Joining a group comes really naturally for some people grieving but can be a bit intimidating for others. If someone is on the fence about joining a Facing the Mourning group, is there anything you’d like to share that might help them make a decision? 

We always make sure to let people know they are welcome to share or not share at their own comfort level and help to normalize that people can come with some apprehension.  I always talk about how people often look at me at the first session wondering if they really want to do this and that by the fourth session are always saying “But I’m not ready for this to be over yet!”  Many groups go on meeting informally due to the strong connections that can be forged in the 4-week program.

What is your favorite part of the program?

I have never ceased to be amazed at people’s courage and creativity as they try each of these exercises and the powerful connection and community that is formed over just four weeks.

If someone is looking to learn more about participating in the program or becoming a facilitator, where can they go to learn more?

Please visit www.heartlightcenter.org or call HeartLight Center at 720-748-9908 to learn more.

If you’re a griever thinking of starting a grief support group or providing grief support of any kind, we have some other articles that we think might give you some helpful insight to get going!

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