By KATHLEEN GEST
Loss is an inevitable part of life and grief is a natural response to loss.
Grief takes on many forms: the loss of a loved one, selling your family home, retiring from a career you loved, the loss of your health or the letting go of a long-held dream.
Coping with a significant loss can develop into one of the most difficult times in a person's life, but the length of the grief period can be different for each individual. Given that there is no predictable timetable for grief, the grieving process should unfold in its own way and in its own time.
The Traverse City Senior Center has joined with Munson Medical Center to host and facilitate a grief support group on Tuesday mornings at the senior center on Front Street.
Because grieving clearly is an individual experience, how you grieve depends on your personality, how you cope with life occurrences, your faith and the nature of your loss. Yet spending time with others who already have been through what you are facing can be an important source of mental strength and support. The path you choose is much easier when you allow others to walk with you.
Volunteer facilitators professionally guide the group at the senior center.
-- Marion Boehme, one of the facilitators, has a master's degree in career counseling from Central Michigan University and did her master's thesis on bereavement. She was a teacher for 45 years and has worked with hospice for 20 years.
-- Ron Kramer, another facilitator, has a master's in special education from Grand Valley State University, has worked with seniors at the Family Independence Agency and took hospice training to work with grieving families.
As the group facilitators, Boehme and Kramer do not follow any specific scientific technique or philosophy for the grieving process. They feel there isn't a script for grief and emotions are not felt in a pattern. Their approach depends on the group's dynamics and what the individual needs are.
"We deal with emotions anywhere from sadness to anger. Loneliness really comes into play," Boehme said. "We just let it flow, that's the beauty of the group." She tries to let the individuals who already have dealt with the various emotions of grief guide the conversation and make suggestions on how the others can cope with the concerns affecting them.
Where one person may withdraw, feel helpless and become anxious, another might be angry at the injustice of the loss and display feelings of powerlessness, frustration or even abandonment. One griever may reproach himself for hurtful things said or gratitude and love left unsaid, while another's sadness may become quite intense and be experienced as emptiness or despair.
No matter what the reaction, the grieving person normally will respond to the support of others.
I was able to see the dynamics of the group sessions for myself. Everyone had something to contribute. Words of encouragement, empathy, advice and humor flowed throughout the gathering. Although emotions ranged from sadness and guilt to anger and regret -- all normal reactions to grief -- the humor was so timely it soothed the tense moments. Just knowing that others had experienced the same emotions made the group beneficial to everyone.
I realized from listening to the conversation around the table that grief takes as long as it takes, but eventually acceptance is there. So, be patient. It can take months or even years to absorb a major loss and accept a life that has been changed significantly forever.
The process of grief is frequently misunderstood and many misconceptions continue to persist in our society. Those supporting the grieving person need to anticipate the possibility of a wide range of emotions and behaviors; understand and accept the reason behind the behaviors; and respond in an appropriate manner. Therefore, simply understanding grief and the grieving process makes healing easier, and that's where a facilitated support group gives an advantage to the individual.
When seniors grieve, Boehme thinks their grief is deeper, especially when they lose a spouse. Couples often become part of each other. After a spouse's death many seniors feel they have lost half of themselves. At older ages and after a long marriage, it may be a very difficult adjustment accepting the reality of their loss.
"They know they will come out on the other end of grief and be OK," Boehme said. "They will never be the same, but they will be OK."
For more information and the time the support group meets, call the TC Senior Center at 922-4911 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.