What I initially thought a grief support group was and what I later discovered it to be, were completely different. I had pictured people sitting in a circle, pouring their hearts out over the person they’d lost. “A pity party,” I said to a friend. “I can have a pity party alone.”

As a widow under age 50, I thought I was an outlier; so imagining a widow support group as a bunch of elderly women who had walked down the marriage aisle, had their honeymoons and children, bought their dream houses, taken all the vacations, and had 25 years or more of marriage with their sweet beloved didn’t seem far-fetched. I asked myself, “How could I fit into this equation?” and “Would they even accept me? I’m young.”

But I was wrong. Terribly wrong.

You could have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, complications after birth; maybe you’re an older widow or widower, mid-aged, or in the under 35 crew. You could have lost a parent, grandparent, family member, or friend. Whomever it is you’ve lost, there is a support group for people like you, who understand your perspective, who will embrace you. You’ll feel more at home than you thought possible.

Whomever it is you’ve lost, there is a support group for people like you, who understand your perspective, and who will embrace you. You’ll feel more at home than you thought possible.

Eventually, after months of going crazy and not knowing how to deal with my confused mind and aching heart, I joined a grief group. It had a membership with hundreds of grieving spouses and partners who were under the age of 40 and, to my surprise, shared many of my sentiments.

Here’s what I learned by having these wonderful people around and why you may want to consider adding a support group to your coping list:

Grief Support Groups Offer Validation

One of the first things we seek when experiencing grief is validation. Am I losing my mind? Is writing to them normal? I lost them two years ago; is it still okay to grieve? I hate happy music now; does that mean I’m bitter?

In grief we are often told “you’re not alone,” but when it comes from non-grieving people, it still feels like it. However, in a grief support group, “you’re not alone” isn’t something you need to be told. When you tell your story, or when you hear others tell theirs, you realize I’m not the only one. And I believe there’s great healing in acknowledgment.

Grief Support Groups Are Safe, Non-judgmental Spaces

This almost goes hand in hand with feeling validated but takes support a step further. Grievers tend to feel that if they’re too upset they will be permanently marked as a grief-stricken person the world should shy away from.

You may struggle with, “If I appear too happy, people wonder if I really loved them at all. What if others think I’m over it and don’t continue to check in?”

In a grief group, when you mention that you’ve continued to pay your husband’s or your daughter’s cell phone bill six months after their death, others will tell you they have done that for years. Grief groups allow you to speak openly because you’ll be understood and respected.

Grief groups allow you to speak openly because you’ll be understood and respected.

Friends Made in Support Groups Withstand the Storm

Grief comes in waves, and many who haven’t gone through it are unable to comprehend this. I’ve made great friends in grief support groups. When I lost my first love, I joined an online group for grieving women. Soon after, I befriended a lady who had buried her boyfriend several months before I had buried mine.

She and I became the best of friends, shared grief stories, talked about what our regrets and joys were, expressed our frustrations; and as we progressed through grief, we chatted about other things. We shared recipes and funny family stories. We sent pictures from our travels and “good morning” and “I love you” texts on the hard days: anniversaries, birthdays, holidays.

Our bond founded upon pain grew into something beautiful; and whenever we do hit a grief wave, we help each other swim to shore.

Grief Support Groups Are a Shelter and Coping Ground

If you join an online support group, chances are there will be members from a variety of states and even countries. If you’re up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, you’ll most likely find someone who’s up and can talk to you.

There were so many nights that my grief caused me to be an insomniac and I craved someone to talk to. Or perhaps it was 6:00 a.m. and seriously, who am I going to call then? Sure, friends and family said, “Call me anytime,” but did that include early morning hours or late at night?

Online or offline, you’ll tend to meet people who share the same habits you do and don’t mind chatting whenever and wherever. They also make it perfectly okay to go on and on and on and on about your person.

If you join an online support group, chances are there will be members from a variety of states and even countries. If you’re up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, you’ll most likely find someone who’s up and can talk to you.

Finally, Grief Groups Can Provide Hope

You’ll meet people in different seasons of their loss: I lost my father five years ago; I buried my wife two weeks ago; our child was 20 when he passed 10 years ago. Meeting a variety of people in various stages enables you to eventually guide those who were once where you were, and glean hope from those who’ve passed what you’re feeling. You’ll see others who are doing well, who have learned to integrate grief with everyday life, and it’ll give you a feeling of, “I can do this too.” Being offered hope from someone who’s been there hits a bit differently than it does from someone who never has.

Support group members get grief; and if you join one, you’ll have a better understanding of what “you’re not alone” means.

(Learning About Grief has an online support group. Check it out: Friendships in Grief.)

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