Running a Grief Support Group

Operating a Grief Support Group in a Congregation

These are materials that can be used to start and run a peer-support Grief Support Group in a congregational setting. They have been successfully used by Rev. Barbara Meyers to set up such a group.

Characteristics of the support group

  • This is a peer-support group. Leadership is not by a mental health professional.
  • The group meets 2 times a month.
  • The group is open to anyone experiencing grief. One enters the group by talking to the facilitator to make sure it is appropriate for their situation. After speaking to the facilitator, the person may join the group at the next meeting.
  • The leadership of the group can be either clergy or lay members. If laity are to run the group, it is desirable that the leadership is shared by 2 or three people. For lay leaders, there is oversight by supervising clergy.

Leading the group consists of:

  1. Send Letter to Potential Grief Support Group Member to each person who asks about the group. If they want more information, send them the whole packet.
  2. Calling people to remind them before each group meeting. The evening before is best.
  3. At the first meeting:
  4. Making sure that the agenda for the meeting and the rules for the group are being followed. In particular:
    • Use the chalice and the Opening Meditation for Grief Support Group
    • Make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak uninterrupted
    • If there are interruptions, gently remind people of the agenda. A few words of appropriate comment is OK, but any more should be discouraged. Say something like: “We’re listening to Mary.”
    • Don’t let the conversation drift off to something not having anything to do with the meeting. This can happen easily. A gentle reminder usually works.
    • If someone has shared something particularly painful, try and see that the group responds to it during the cross-talk.
    • Say the benediction, holding hands.
  5. Follow up on people who don’t come to the meetings when expected. Make sure they aren’t isolating themselves, or in serious trouble with their grief.
  6. If there are problematic situations, discuss with the appropriate minister

Oversight
Oversight by a minister should be done if the group is led by the laity. Oversight consists of:

  1. Periodic (possibly monthly, or every two months) having a meeting to see how things are going and if there are any problems
  2. If there are problems, help the leaders to resolve them, possibly bringing them to attention of the pastoral care team if appropriate.

Group Continuity
Make sure that the grief support group has leaders. When leaders feel it is time to move on, they should help to recruit their replacement. The leaders should preferably be former group members who know how it operates.

Referenced Materials:

Letter to Potential Grief Support Group Member

Grief Support Group Purpose and Ground Rules

Grief Support Group Meeting Agenda

Opening Meditation for Grief Support Group

Letter to Potential Grief Support Group Member

To: Potential Member of the Congregational Grief Support Group

We have established some ground rules, logistics and meeting format for the Congregation’s Grief Support Group so that we can clearly articulate to members and potential members the specifics of running the group. This letter communicates these to potential members.

PURPOSE AND GROUND RULES:

  • The purpose of the group is to provide a community of people who are living with grief. It is a safe place for people to be honest about their situation and its impact in their lives. It keeps people from feeling isolated, and helps them to feel cared about. It empowers people to face their grief and helps give validation that they are OK as a person despite their situation. It provides positive role models and encouragement that it is possible to feel better.
  • The format helps us embody our Unitarian Universalist principles of respect for every individual and will intentionally allow the spiritual nature of the group to help in healing.
  • Confidentiality – What is said in the group stays in the group. Who is in the group is confidential. Other than the group members, the only people who will know who is in the group are the parish minister.
  • This is a support group, not a therapy group.
  • To join the group, people need to be able to truthfully say, “I am living with grief.”
  • To remain in the group, people must agree to get professional help if the facilitator and the rest of the group think that they need a therapist. If their Doctor prescribes medication for handling their grief, they must agree to take it, or to work with their doctor to find a more effective medication. If their Doctor or therapist thinks they need to be hospitalized for their grief, they must agree to do so. The purpose of this ground rule is to ensure that the person is not using the group instead of professional help, if they need professional help.
  • Members agree that they will not try to fix any one else’s problem, just be honest about their own circumstances and what works for them.
  • Members are encouraged to tell their therapists that they are in the group.
  • The group is a self-help group where each group member and not the group as a whole, or the congregation is responsible for his or her own actions.
  • Group members do not have to be members of the congregation, but they do have to agree to abide by these ground rules and respect the spiritual nature of the group.

 

LOGISTICS:

  • The size of the group is from 7-12 members.
  • The group meets 2 times a month. Currently the schedule is to meet on [ex: the first and third Sunday afternoons at the church.]
  • The group is open to anyone experiencing grief. One enters the group by talking to the facilitator to make sure it is appropriate for their situation. After speaking to the facilitator, the person may join the group at the next meeting.
  • A person may leave the group at any time. If possible, they should say good-bye to the other group members before doing so, or get the facilitator to say good-bye for them.

MEETING FORMAT

  • The meeting begins with a chalice lighting. Following this, we have an opening meditation that helps the group draw together at the beginning.
  • Each member will begin by saying “My name is _______ and I am living with grief.” (filling in the blank with their first name)
  • Following introductions, each person has about 5 minutes to talk about what is happening in his or her life. This is done without interruption. We will establish a culture that no one goes way over his or her 5-minute time, so all will have a chance to speak.
  • When all members have completed their uninterrupted 5-minute times, we will have a period of time where there is “cross-talk” between group members on topics that people want to discuss together.
  • If a member is concerned about another member and thinks she/he needs to be in therapy, she/he can express concern in a loving way: ex: “I’m concerned about you. Have you talked to your therapist about this.”? Since the original covenant was that a member would seek therapy if the group thinks she/he should, this expressed concern in appropriate.
  • The meeting ends with a benediction, and the chalice being extinguished.
  • The meeting will take a maximum of 2 hours.

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Grief Support Group Purpose and Ground Rules

  • The purpose of the group is to provide a community of people who are living with grief. It is a safe place for people to be honest about their situation and its impact in their lives. It keeps people from feeling isolated, and helps them to feel cared about. It empowers people to face their grief and helps give validation that they are OK as a person despite their situation. It provides positive role models and encouragement that it is possible to feel better.
  • The format helps us embody our Unitarian Universalist principles of respect for every individual and will intentionally allow the spiritual nature of the group to help in healing.
  • Confidentiality – What is said in the group stays in the group. Who is in the group is confidential. Other than the group members, the only people who will know who is in the group are the parish minister.
  • This is a support group, not a therapy group.
  • To join the group, people need to be able to truthfully say, “I am living with grief.”
  • To remain in the group, people must agree to get professional help if the facilitator and the rest of the group think that they need a therapist. If their Doctor prescribes medication for handling their grief, they must agree to take it, or to work with their doctor to find a more effective medication. If their Doctor or therapist thinks they need to be hospitalized for their grief, they must agree to do so. The purpose of this ground rule is to ensure that the person is not using the group instead of professional help, if they need professional help.
  • Members agree that they will not try to fix any one else’s problem, just be honest about their own circumstances and what works for them.
  • Members are encouraged to tell their therapists that they are in the group.
  • The group is a self-help group where each group member and not the group as a whole, or the congregation is responsible for his or her own actions.
  • Group members do not have to be members of the congregation, but they do have to agree to abide by these ground rules and respect the spiritual nature of the group.

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Grief Support Group Meeting Agenda

ENTER. Light conversation until everyone arrives.

LIGHT CHALICE

MEDITATION – Opening meditation read by a group member

NAMING – My name is _________________ and I am living with grief.

SHARING – about 5 uninterrupted minutes for each person

CROSS-TALK between group members.

BENEDICTION:

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
and the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
You are not alone.

by Wayne Arnason

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Opening Meditation for Grief Support Group

(Speaking slowly and gently)

Close your eyes and let yourself become aware of your body in your chair and your feet on the floor. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice your body expanding and relaxing as you breathe in and out.

(Pause)

For now, let go of the thoughts coming in, of your attention being drawn to other things and tasks that need to be done. There is no place that you have to go right now, nothing that you have to do. Let yourself be right here with yourself.

(Pause)

As you keep your attention on your breath, notice any sensations in your body – – any tension, any emotions, any thoughts or images, sounds or movements, being aware of them as they come and go. Just allow yourself to experience whatever is happening inside of you right now.

(Pause)

As you keep your attention on what is happening inside yourself, there might be, there in that space, a need or desire, something that wants to be expressed. Notice whatever feels important to you right now. Bring forth what would be most helpful, most true. There might be an “I want” or “I need” or “I want to be heard”. This might be a part of you that is rarely shared, rarely exposed, even to yourself. I invite you to speak from that place tonight if it feels safe to you…

(Pause)

In a moment we will be moving our attention from inside ourselves back to the group. Please take your time as you complete your experience of being with yourself. Taking your time, let us know you are finished by opening your eyes when you are ready.

(By Pam Cordano)

Back to TopOperating a Grief Support Group in a Congregation
These are materials that can be used to start and run a peer-support Grief Support Group in a congregational setting. They have been successfully used by Rev. Barbara Meyers to set up such a group.

Characteristics of the support group

This is a peer-support group. Leadership is not by a mental health professional.
The group meets 2 times a month.
The group is open to anyone experiencing grief. One enters the group by talking to the facilitator to make sure it is appropriate for their situation. After speaking to the facilitator, the person may join the group at the next meeting.
The leadership of the group can be either clergy or lay members. If laity are to run the group, it is desirable that the leadership is shared by 2 or three people. For lay leaders, there is oversight by supervising clergy.
Leading the group consists of:

Send Letter to Potential Grief Support Group Member to each person who asks about the group. If they want more information, send them the whole packet.
Calling people to remind them before each group meeting. The evening before is best.
At the first meeting:
Explain the Grief Support Group Meeting Agenda and Grief Support Group Purpose and Ground Rules for the benefit of new people. And, keep to the agenda, to demonstrate that it will be followed.
Leader(s) should be the first people to share their stories, to model self-disclosure for the other group members
Making sure that the agenda for the meeting and the rules for the group are being followed. In particular:
Use the chalice and the Opening Meditation for Grief Support Group
Make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak uninterrupted
If there are interruptions, gently remind people of the agenda. A few words of appropriate comment is OK, but any more should be discouraged. Say something like: “We’re listening to Mary.”
Don’t let the conversation drift off to something not having anything to do with the meeting. This can happen easily. A gentle reminder usually works.
If someone has shared something particularly painful, try and see that the group responds to it during the cross-talk.
Say the benediction, holding hands.
Follow up on people who don’t come to the meetings when expected. Make sure they aren’t isolating themselves, or in serious trouble with their grief.
If there are problematic situations, discuss with the appropriate minister
Oversight
Oversight by a minister should be done if the group is led by the laity. Oversight consists of:

Periodic (possibly monthly, or every two months) having a meeting to see how things are going and if there are any problems
If there are problems, help the leaders to resolve them, possibly bringing them to attention of the pastoral care team if appropriate.
Group Continuity
Make sure that the grief support group has leaders. When leaders feel it is time to move on, they should help to recruit their replacement. The leaders should preferably be former group members who know how it operates.

Referenced Materials:
Letter to Potential Grief Support Group Member

Grief Support Group Purpose and Ground Rules

Grief Support Group Meeting Agenda

Opening Meditation for Grief Support Group

Letter to Potential Grief Support Group Member
To: Potential Member of the Congregational Grief Support Group

We have established some ground rules, logistics and meeting format for the Congregation’s Grief Support Group so that we can clearly articulate to members and potential members the specifics of running the group. This letter communicates these to potential members.

PURPOSE AND GROUND RULES:

The purpose of the group is to provide a community of people who are living with grief. It is a safe place for people to be honest about their situation and its impact in their lives. It keeps people from feeling isolated, and helps them to feel cared about. It empowers people to face their grief and helps give validation that they are OK as a person despite their situation. It provides positive role models and encouragement that it is possible to feel better.
The format helps us embody our Unitarian Universalist principles of respect for every individual and will intentionally allow the spiritual nature of the group to help in healing.
Confidentiality – What is said in the group stays in the group. Who is in the group is confidential. Other than the group members, the only people who will know who is in the group are the parish minister.
This is a support group, not a therapy group.
To join the group, people need to be able to truthfully say, “I am living with grief.”
To remain in the group, people must agree to get professional help if the facilitator and the rest of the group think that they need a therapist. If their Doctor prescribes medication for handling their grief, they must agree to take it, or to work with their doctor to find a more effective medication. If their Doctor or therapist thinks they need to be hospitalized for their grief, they must agree to do so. The purpose of this ground rule is to ensure that the person is not using the group instead of professional help, if they need professional help.
Members agree that they will not try to fix any one else’s problem, just be honest about their own circumstances and what works for them.
Members are encouraged to tell their therapists that they are in the group.
The group is a self-help group where each group member and not the group as a whole, or the congregation is responsible for his or her own actions.
Group members do not have to be members of the congregation, but they do have to agree to abide by these ground rules and respect the spiritual nature of the group.

LOGISTICS:

The size of the group is from 7-12 members.
The group meets 2 times a month. Currently the schedule is to meet on [ex: the first and third Sunday afternoons at the church.]
The group is open to anyone experiencing grief. One enters the group by talking to the facilitator to make sure it is appropriate for their situation. After speaking to the facilitator, the person may join the group at the next meeting.
A person may leave the group at any time. If possible, they should say good-bye to the other group members before doing so, or get the facilitator to say good-bye for them.
MEETING FORMAT

The meeting begins with a chalice lighting. Following this, we have an opening meditation that helps the group draw together at the beginning.
Each member will begin by saying “My name is _______ and I am living with grief.” (filling in the blank with their first name)
Following introductions, each person has about 5 minutes to talk about what is happening in his or her life. This is done without interruption. We will establish a culture that no one goes way over his or her 5-minute time, so all will have a chance to speak.
When all members have completed their uninterrupted 5-minute times, we will have a period of time where there is “cross-talk” between group members on topics that people want to discuss together.
If a member is concerned about another member and thinks she/he needs to be in therapy, she/he can express concern in a loving way: ex: “I’m concerned about you. Have you talked to your therapist about this.”? Since the original covenant was that a member would seek therapy if the group thinks she/he should, this expressed concern in appropriate.
The meeting ends with a benediction, and the chalice being extinguished.
The meeting will take a maximum of 2 hours.
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Grief Support Group Purpose and Ground Rules
The purpose of the group is to provide a community of people who are living with grief. It is a safe place for people to be honest about their situation and its impact in their lives. It keeps people from feeling isolated, and helps them to feel cared about. It empowers people to face their grief and helps give validation that they are OK as a person despite their situation. It provides positive role models and encouragement that it is possible to feel better.
The format helps us embody our Unitarian Universalist principles of respect for every individual and will intentionally allow the spiritual nature of the group to help in healing.
Confidentiality – What is said in the group stays in the group. Who is in the group is confidential. Other than the group members, the only people who will know who is in the group are the parish minister.
This is a support group, not a therapy group.
To join the group, people need to be able to truthfully say, “I am living with grief.”
To remain in the group, people must agree to get professional help if the facilitator and the rest of the group think that they need a therapist. If their Doctor prescribes medication for handling their grief, they must agree to take it, or to work with their doctor to find a more effective medication. If their Doctor or therapist thinks they need to be hospitalized for their grief, they must agree to do so. The purpose of this ground rule is to ensure that the person is not using the group instead of professional help, if they need professional help.
Members agree that they will not try to fix any one else’s problem, just be honest about their own circumstances and what works for them.
Members are encouraged to tell their therapists that they are in the group.
The group is a self-help group where each group member and not the group as a whole, or the congregation is responsible for his or her own actions.
Group members do not have to be members of the congregation, but they do have to agree to abide by these ground rules and respect the spiritual nature of the group.
Back to Top

Grief Support Group Meeting Agenda
ENTER. Light conversation until everyone arrives.

LIGHT CHALICE

MEDITATION – Opening meditation read by a group member

NAMING – My name is _________________ and I am living with grief.

SHARING – about 5 uninterrupted minutes for each person

CROSS-TALK between group members.

BENEDICTION:

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
and the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
You are not alone.

by Wayne Arnason

Back to Top

Opening Meditation for Grief Support Group
(Speaking slowly and gently)

Close your eyes and let yourself become aware of your body in your chair and your feet on the floor. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice your body expanding and relaxing as you breathe in and out.

(Pause)

For now, let go of the thoughts coming in, of your attention being drawn to other things and tasks that need to be done. There is no place that you have to go right now, nothing that you have to do. Let yourself be right here with yourself.

(Pause)

As you keep your attention on your breath, notice any sensations in your body – – any tension, any emotions, any thoughts or images, sounds or movements, being aware of them as they come and go. Just allow yourself to experience whatever is happening inside of you right now.

(Pause)

As you keep your attention on what is happening inside yourself, there might be, there in that space, a need or desire, something that wants to be expressed. Notice whatever feels important to you right now. Bring forth what would be most helpful, most true. There might be an “I want” or “I need” or “I want to be heard”. This might be a part of you that is rarely shared, rarely exposed, even to yourself. I invite you to speak from that place tonight if it feels safe to you…

(Pause)

In a moment we will be moving our attention from inside ourselves back to the group. Please take your time as you complete your experience of being with yourself. Taking your time, let us know you are finished by opening your eyes when you are ready.

(By Pam Cordano)

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