Grief sharing workshops help the bereaved heal their pain

Arizona Community Church counselor Bob Spear oversees a grief sharing meeting. — Wrangler News photo by Mark Crudup

When Sally Kick’s husband passed away on Christmas Day in 2006, she was devastated. Her loss was compounded three months later, when her mom died.

Kick, aTemperesident, felt a wide range of emotions during this time, one of which was an overwhelming sense of loneliness. When she heard about a GriefShare support group being offered at her congregation, Arizona Community Church, she decided to give it a try.

“It was very helpful, just having other people around with similar happenings and feelings,” she said.

“It was very comforting, and it felt like a little family support group.”

Kick found the GriefShare group to be so meaningful, she says, that she now helps co-facilitate the meetings, which are held every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. in a spacious room at the church, 9325 S. Rural Road in south Tempe.

Bob Spear facilitates the group, which meets for 13 weeks at a time. New semesters start in January, June and September, he said, but anyone who has suffered the loss of a person who was close is welcome to start attending at any time during a session, and people may repeat the course as many times as they feel they need to.

Like Kick, Spear discovered the GriefShare group after suffering his own loss: he started attending in October 2008, administered then by a different counselor, shortly after the death of his father.

“By the time the semester was finished I was leading the group,” he said.

Although the program is Biblically based and Christ-centered, Spear said people from all faiths and all churches are welcome to attend, as are people who have never been to church a day in their lives.

“We are here to support people who are in pain and are hurting,” Spear said.

GriefShare is a national program, Spear added, which means relatives who are all grieving the same death can attend the group in different cities.

While many people who attend are mourning the loss of an older loved one who lived a full life before passing away, Spear said the participants and their stories of loss range in age from a teenage girl who lost her mom to parents who have had young children pass away.

“Some are to natural deaths, some are to suicide, some are due to accidents or other reasons.”

Although the ages, genders, faiths and ways their loved ones died are all different, Carol Ketchum,  a licensed professional counselor who helps facilitate the group, said those who attend also have many things in common, one of which is certain types of feelings.

“People can feel a real loss of control when they have lost someone,” Ketchum, a south Tempe resident, said. “They often feel like they are losing their mind.”

“By being here, people know that they are not crazy, and that others are in the same boat, even if it feels like it’s rocking or sinking,” Spear said.

Many of the participants end up spending time together outside the meetings, Ketchum said, meeting for lunch or coffee or helping each other get through holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s Day.

Each meeting starts out with Spear reading a Bible verse and leading the group in prayer. Participants are welcome to talk and share their experiences and feelings before watching a 35-minute video, after which everyone discusses the film and the feelings it elicits.

Participants also do what Spear calls homework assignments in a workbook titled “Your Journey from Mourning to Joy.” The books cost $15, but Spear said no one is ever turned away due to an inability to pay.

Likewise, no one is ever forced to share his or her feelings, Spear said, and many arrive to their first meeting unable to speak at all. Some even leave partway through, overwhelmed by their feelings of grief.

“Everyone is unique, and everyone deals with their grief in their own way; there is not a cookie-cutter way of grieving,” Spear said.

Over the course of the 13 weeks, Spear said most people do end up sharing their stories, their feelings and their fears. Often, he said, a funny story about a lost loved one causes the entire group to erupt in laughter.

“Laughing is a great way to deal with grief, and it helps get the emotions out,” Spear said.

Robert Donati, an Ahwatukee resident whose daughter passed away suddenly at the age of 29, said being part of the GriefShare group helped him to process his loss and be among other people who understood his situation. Donati attended the group with his wife Cindy.

“I even found people who were more sad than me,” he said. “I thought my loss was big, and it was, but then 10 others would tell their stories and it would just break my heart. This group helped me to understand other peoples’ grief.”

Spear said he is honored to run the GriefShare group, and knowing that the weekly meetings are helping people get through one of the most challenging times of their lives.

“I love it, and I love people and I love leading the group,” he said.

“I like to watch people as they go from a place of pain and hurt to where they can remember the good times they spendtwith their loved ones, and not just the day that they died.”

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