After losing her husband in 2018, Orange County resident and licensed mental health counselor Dr. Joanne MacPherson was overwhelmed with grief, stress, and depression. As a counselor herself, Dr. MacPherson is familiar with the stages of grief and thought it would be instinctive to move through the grieving process, but she says, “It just doesn’t work that way.” She signed up for a support group called GriefShare hosted by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando.
“I thought it would be good to be part of a group; groups are always a good support system when you are going through something,” she notes. “Listening to other people with similar experiences even though they are not exactly like your own can be very helpful and healing. I had been dealing with the pain on my own and I thought it was time I went to a group.”
GriefShare welcomes anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one no matter how long ago the loss occurred. Caring facilitators encourage people to share their stories in their own time. The weekly classes (now offered online) highlight helpful tools for healing and feature videos for discussion; people jump in as they feel comfortable. Identifying similarities with other people’s experiences can help those grieving to feel less alone and more at peace with their own story.
MacPherson shares that, “It was very helpful with the grieving. I found people in the class very supportive and you could talk freely about whatever it was that you were dealing with or struggling with. How many places do you know that you can talk about your feelings, especially sad ones? And even though my friends were very supportive, how many times can you tell your friends the same thing? Because recovery from grief is all about repetition. It is a lot of repeating your story and what happened and how you are feeling about it. So, it is good to have people who understand around you. Plus listening to other people’s stories makes you realize that you aren’t the only one who has gone through this and, even though I knew that logically, it felt good to listen to other people’s stories.”
Since March of last year, over 800 people have died from COVID-19 in Orange County alone. Opening up about personal loss in a safe environment helps those who are grieving embrace their journey toward healing and can provide hope for the future. Recovering from the loss of a loved one is a hard process and GriefShare offers access to practical resources that help people look forward to the next chapter of life.
In MacPherson’s words, “The best part about this group was the companionship and compassion people had for each other and for me.” She also mentions how being vulnerable during this class was a challenge for her, but that experiencing empathy from others and hearing their advice was the most healing part of the process. Her advice to anyone going through a rough time is, “It is important that you have an outlet, a place that you can go to and be heard and for a lot of people a group is very healing.”
You’re not alone and you don’t have to grieve alone. If you or someone you know has experienced loss, consider logging on/encouraging a friend to log on to GriefShare. New groups will start February 4 and February 24. A daytime and evening option are available. The 13-week groups meet online weekly through May. There is a one-time workbook fee of $15. Visit st.lukes.org/care/#grief to register.