One of the things many people don’t know about Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg is that we offer support groups for unique kinds of loss. One of these is a support group for individuals dealing with the death of a child: The Compassionate Friends (TCF).
As a co-facilitator of this group, it has been rewarding on so many levels to bear witness to the healing happening within this group. The other week at our monthly TCF meeting, one of our bereaved parents presented the group with a beautiful gift: a picture board on which group participants could hang photos of their child for the group to see as they spoke of them.
This wasn’t the first time the group had a picture board: a former group facilitator had started one a few years ago, which was well-loved by the group. Our group has changed and grown in the last two years, so the group member felt it might be time for an additional board.
As I watched the bereaved parents hang their children’s photos and write their names on the chalkboard hearts adjacent to the picture hangers, I realized that this picture board was so much more than a picture board – it was:
- A symbol that we’ve become a healthy group: We’ve gone from about 4-6 people attending regularly to 14-16 each month. People find us and keep coming back to us for support. Some come as far as Gloucester each month to join us. In our hour and a half meeting each month, we always find plenty to discuss, which I believe to be a demonstration of how much we, as grieving people, need safe spaces to share what’s on our hearts and minds. We have created a healthy space in which people feel welcomed to share the good, the bad and the ugly in a society that is lacking in such spaces.
- A sign that we are growing: not just in numbers, but in our grief. When someone within a group can initiate a healing ritual (like a picture board) you realize, as a group facilitator, that you are creating leaders. You are empowering other people to become vessels of support to those who are hurting. You are helping people to rise from the ashes, to create meaning out of the chaos. As a bereavement coordinator, I hesitate to use the “growth in grief” model because I think it sometimes misrepresents grief as a linear process with a designated finish line. However, I do think that growth is at the essence of our humanity – we are always changing, never finished products. In the same way, our grief is always changing and the ways in which we lean into it, embrace it and channel it change as well.
- A representation of the power of community: this comes down to the claim that we really can’t do most things alone, and this includes grief. Somewhere in our American history we adopted the Gospel of rugged individualism and we applied it to all things – even rollercoaster processes like death and grief. But the very act of gathering in the way that we do for our Compassionate Friends meetings deconstructs this ideology. One of the things that I have come to discover about grief is that it demands intimacy, and it does so pretty quickly when you start talking about it. When we talk about it in a group, we become deeply connected very quickly, and I think form the kinds of relationships we were always meant to have as human beings – relationships rooted in empathy, kindness and compassion. For our group this intimacy has translated into monthly dinner gatherings outside of our scheduled group time, which are full of laughter and great food. I am grateful each day for the existence of our Compassionate Friends and for the growth, hope and healing that unfolds in the sacred space that is the Hospice House.
The Compassionate Friends of Williamsburg is a local chapter of an international organization which exists to provide friendship, understanding and hope to those going through the natural grieving process after the death of a child of any age. Our chapter meets the second Monday of each month at Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg from 7-8:30 PM.
For more information on The Compassionate Friends support group held at Hospice House, please contact Chaplain Hannah Creager at 757-253-1220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.