The Reluctance to Attend Bereavement Support Groups

We tend to be unprepared for dying and death and we are unprepared for grief. Most of us don’t understand mourning, its natural flow, all the feelings and emotions that grieving presents. We are numb, we are screaming inside, we are confused, we are lost, we are alone, isolated, angry, afraid---all a normal parts of grieving. The thing is, most of us don’t know that all of what I just mentioned is normal and natural. It is grief but in our pain we think there must be something wrong with us, we are the ones out of step, we are not normal.

This is where bereavement support groups come in. Support groups are for anyone experiencing a death. The groups are not for just those people having challenges in dealing with their loss but for any and everyone who has lost someone close to them, or not so close to them. Bereavement support groups offer guidance to understanding that there is a normal pattern of grief and gives support and a place to verbalize as the feelings unfold. It is a place where those who have walked in the same shoes can gather and find strength to continue the walk.

Hospices are mandated by Medicare to offer bereavement support groups. Churches often offer grief support groups as part of their community outreach. This support can be found in almost any community. The problem is that bereavement groups tend not to be attended. The offer is there, but those mourning are hesitant to attend. Why? I think it's because part of grief is depression and isolation. Together that keeps a person in their home, alone, with out the energy or ability to reach out, to leave their house, to take the step to reaching out for support.

What can a hospice do about this hesitancy, this inability and reluctance to attend the group? I don't think it is enough to send out invitations; even making telephone calls and inviting doesn’t seem to get people out the door. What seems to work best is utilizing the hospice volunteers in the bereavement support program.

As part of the bereavement program, assign a volunteer to the griever. That volunteer’s job is to be a friend, to have not just phone contact but physical contact on a regular basis for a year if possible. This volunteer doesn't just invite but also goes with the griever to at least the first group meeting if not more. It is easier to turn down a written or a telephone invitation than it is to resist a friend, in person, who is offering nurturing, understanding, and to accompany you to a meeting.

Something More about... The Reluctance to Attend Bereavement Support Groups

A few years ago my friend's family member died by suicide. At that time I offered her my booklet, My Friend, I Care: The Grief Experience as a sympathy card. After she read the booklet she showed it to the grieving mother who asked for her own copy.  A couple days ago my friend and I were chatting- she told me that the mother still carries my grief booklet in her purse because grief rears its head at unexpected times.

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Barb Sanders

Great wisdom, Barbara. That is always the conundrum. How do we as a hospice organization reach those after the death when we had been so close to the family for the time leading up to the passing of a loved one. I love the idea of a volunteer connection – before death- and then that same volunteer walking with the grieving after the death. Great idea. Thanks!

BK Books replied:
Hi Barb, hope you give the volunteer assignment a try. Let me know how it goes. Blessings to you in the work you are doing. Barbara


My dearest friend died at the end of May. Another dear friend has dementia. I can certainly see how a bereavement group would be helpful. I appreciate all of your books. They have certainly been a help to me and to many of my friends.
BK Books replied:
Gene, thank you for your positive comments. Blessings to you. Barbara

Ken Helander

Hi Barbara,
I have been leading a support group for grieving caregivers ( I work for an Alzheimer’s program ). The premise of the group is that we are together there to listen, just listen. The group is very profound and connected. A little over a month ago I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. This has led to the decision that I will retire at the end of the month after a 46 year career working with older adults. Tomorrow is the last support group I will attend, and it will be “my turn” to have to say goodbye. The group will be experiencing loss in real time, as will I. I will miss this group more than any that I have ever had the privilege to participate as a leader. I know this kind of group helps – by validating and articulating the experience of grief….something so universal and also so intimately personal.
BK Books replied:
Hi Ken, I’m sorry to hear of your health challenges. Can you find and join a support group for people dealing with cancer? Ask your health care provider or just Google “Cancer Support Groups” for your area. If I can be of any help on your journey use my personal email Blessings to you. Barbara

Maureen Kures

This touches me on so many levels. When my dad died my mother was not just reluctant, she refused to attend a bereavement support group. No matter how I encouraged her to go she would not. Shortly after my dad died, my mother’s good friend’s husband died. They formed their own bond of grief. My mom could share grief with her friend which she was unable to do with her children, as she did not want to burden us. How wonderful it would have been to have a volunteer assigned to my mom. Someone who would be safe to share her feelings with without the fear of burdening them.
Thanks for sharing such valuable insight. I will be sharing “My Friend, I Care” as part of my sympathy wishes to friends and family!
BK Books replied:
Hi Maureen, having a friend who “has walked or is walking in the same shoes” is very supportive. How fortunate your mother was to have such a person enter her life. My blessings to all three of you. Barbara

Judy Brennan

Barbara, your article is super and so true. When I went through the passing of my daughter in 2018, the last thing I wanted to do was be around others who were also experiencing loss. Their stories didn’t help me heal. I hope this doesn’t sound selfish. I went to one session at church. What I found more helpful was talking to my friends. They are the ones who truly helped me out. So your statement about having an adviser come and talk to the grieving person 1:1 is right on for me. Thanks for all you do, Barbara.
BK Books replied:
Hi Judy, haven’t heard from you for a while. Hope all is well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Say hi to Lynn for me. I keep an eye on you two via Facebook. Blessing! Barbara

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