Good grief: bereavement support group making a difference

Charlie Denison

CMMC Home Care Services Social Worker Jennifer Granot stands outside the hospital Wednesday afternoon. Twice a year, Granot leads free 8-week support groups for those wanting help or assistance dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Photo by Charlie Denison


In the past two years, more and more people in the community have been taking advantage of Central Montana Medical Center’s Home Care Services Bereavement Group, a group for those overcoming the difficulty of losing a loved one.

It took a while for the classes to get off the ground. Although the bereavement group had been around since the establishment of CMMC’s Hospice Program in 1994, the classes were seldom used.

“Sometimes no one came,” said Beth Putnam, director of Home Care Services at CMMC.

But since Creel and Cloyd funeral homes got involved – volunteering to host the support groups and help get the word out to the families and friends who just lost a loved one – things have turned around.

“The last support group had 12 members,” CMMC social worker Jennifer Granot said. “When I used to have zero, one or two in the group, that’s a big deal.”

Twice a year, Granot leads an eight-week support group for the bereaved, and she is excited to see attendance rise, as there is definitely a need in the community, and – now that the funeral homes are involved – people are responding.

“Both funeral homes have been great,” Granot said. “They’ve really run with the program and recommended it to family members and friends of the departed. They have personal contact with the bereaved and have done an excellent job encouraging them to be a part of our group if they feel it would be beneficial.”


Stages of grieving

There are many stages of grieving, Granot said, and the bereavement group takes its time through each phase.

“There are a lot of different theories on this, from the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) to the four stages of mourning (acceptance, working through pain, adjusting to environment, finding an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life),” Granot said. “The five stages of grief fit better for someone who is personally affected, for example, someone who is just diagnosed with cancer. The four stages of mourning, however, are more directly geared toward people who have lost someone. It’s interesting because the five stages end with acceptance and the four stages begin with acceptance.”

Putnam said there are universal stages of grieving but one can never predict in what order a person will go through them. But the support group is beneficial for everyone, no matter what stage they’re on.

“There is healing in the sharing,” Putnam said.

“It’s a support group,” Granot added. “People are there to be support to others. That’s a big part of it. As the instructor, I want to create an atmosphere that’s comforting for people, and I also want it to be educational.”

By educational, Granot is also referring to the bereaved educating themselves on what triggers their sadness and loneliness. When going through grief, people can be amazed how little things can affect them in huge ways. Putnam said she’s also noticed unusual triggers in those suffering from loss.

“It’s odd what the triggers can be,” Putnam said. “Sometimes it’s just going to the grocery store or going to the movies.”

Keeping this in mind, a big part of Granot’s job as support group instructor is to “navigate people into their new normal.”

Granot also wants people to face their fears moving forward.

“A lot of people are afraid they are going to forget what their loved one was like,” Granot said. “I try to navigate people forward and let them know they are not going to forget.”

“Although there are things you do forget,” Putnam added. “They can’t hear their voice anymore. That’s why some people keep the voice on the answering machine. But people won’t forget what their loved one looked like or smelled like.”

Most importantly, though, Granot said the classes are available as not just eight-week support but as a long-term buddy system.

“The bereavement group broadens people’s support system,” Granot said.  “A lot of times – when you are dealing with extreme grief – you wear your family out. They are sick of listening to you, but you still need to talk about it. The support group offers a safe place where you can share, and that relationship can be extended after the class is over.”

This is a win-win, Putnam said, as the buddy system also takes a burden off of family members.

“Your family wants to fix the problem, but in a support group, there is no responsibility to make you better,” Putnam said. “The sharing is more free that way.”

Granot said she is thankful she has the opportunity to help those coping in one way or another, as it can be very difficult to move forward after a devastating loss, whether it be a grandparent, a sibling or a spouse of 60 years.

“Sometimes people are not just dealing with a loss of a loved one, but they are also dealing with the loss of an identity as a married person, as a partner,” Granot said. “That being the case, you really don’t know when it might hit you. It could even be two years later.”

This is especially the case for aging community members and it is particularly beneficial for them to have support when reality sets in.

“So many people are affected,” Granot said, “and it can really be a struggle. It’s hard work, especially if you are doing it alone. That’s why we offer these classes, and I feel fortunate about being able to provide this for those who need it.”

The next bereavement group begins in September and will be held at Cloyd Funeral Home. Those interested in joining are encouraged to call 535-6302 and sign up before the end of the summer. Classes are free.






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