Life support

Bereavement support groups offer fellowship, understanding

Bereavement support groups offer fellowship, understanding

November 21, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Jane Plummer's world crumbled when her 32-year-old daughter, Joanna Plummer, was murdered Nov. 24, 2002. A bereavement support group at Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown is helping her put the pieces of her life back together.

Jane Plummer, of Hagerstown, said she found solace and support from her family and friends following her daughter's death. She reached out for counseling to help her cope with the ensuing judicial process. But there came a time, about five months after losing Joanna, that Plummer needed the support of other grieving parents. She needed the company of individuals who could relate to her feelings, who understood her pain, who didn't mind seeing her cry or hearing her talk about her daughter over and over again.

"You always want to hear your child's name," Plummer said. "You want to talk about it."

"After a while your family gets tired of hearing about it," agreed Hildegard "Hedi" Saylor, who lost her husband in July 2001 and her son in March 2003. She sought bereavement support at Rest Haven's spouses' and parents' support groups.


"It was someone to talk to, someone who understood, at both groups," she said.

Plummer and Saylor are among 10 grieving parents who find support each week at licensed clinical social worker Mary Hedges' parents' bereavement group at Rest Haven Funeral Home. The group - which Pat Brown, wife of Rest Haven owner Charlie Brown, asked Hedges to form in early 2002 after hearing about her bereavement support group at First Christian Church in Hagers-town - meets at 4 p.m. Mondays in front of the fireplace to process their grief by talking about their emotions and listening to others share their feelings, Hedges said.

"If I didn't have this group, it would be very difficult for me," Plummer said. "Mary is a wonderful therapist. She knows what it's like to lose a child. She really does understand."

Hedges, whose son was killed in a bicycle accident about 30 years ago, said individuals who lose loved ones often need outside support within three to six months after their loss. By then, she said, their families and friends have gone back to their own lives - but the grieving individual continues to mourn.

"Reality is beginning to hit," Hedges said. "That's when they really start struggling with emotions. They need a place to come and express feelings and thoughts about what they're going through."

It generally takes about three years to get through the grieving process, she said.

The most difficult aspect of that process is adjusting to the physical absence of the loved one over time, said Larry Crawley-Woods, bereavement coordinator for Martinsburg, W.Va.-based Hospice of the Panhandle. The organization's six-week bereavement support program, Circle of Hope, provides participants with information about the grieving, an informal venue for discussing their feelings, and advice for expressing grief through mourning.

"Grief is the internal experience of devastation; mourning is that way we make that known," Crawley-Woods said.

Grieving is a personal experience that's based on the nature of the relationship between the living and the deceased, type of death, and amount of social support, he said.

The need to grieve

The death of a loved one can trigger emotions ranging from denial and shock to anger and despair and such physical reactions as stomach pain, and loss of appetite and sleep, according to information from the National Mental Health Association.

Seeking bereavement support is a sign of strength, not weakness, the organization states.

Unresolved grief can lead to depression, substance abuse, aggressive behavior and stress-related physical symptoms, Crawley-Woods said.

Bereavement support groups can offer members a nonjudgmental venue for expressing their grief among individuals who understand how they feel, said Faye Altizer, director of bereavement and social services for Hospice of Washington County. She runs several bereavement support groups in Hagerstown.

"I think the thing that I hear most frequently from participants is that they discover they're not alone with whatever their feelings are," Altizer said.

Judy Moore said the fellowship she found at the Rest Haven support group helped her cope with the November 2001 death of her husband, Jim Moore. She is among about 40 people who have completed the bereavement support programs at the funeral home, Hedges said.

"It's such a good venue for learning and sharing," Moore said. "We were kind of problem solvers who took an equal interest in each other."

Several parents in Hedges' support group, who asked to remain anonymous, said they view the group as an extended family. They said Rest Haven staff members make them feel welcome and comfortable. And while everyone's grief is unique, one member said, "we all pull together with books, poems, understanding and a lot of talking."

Men and women grieve differently

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