Starting a Support Group in a Small Town

Question from a Reader: Do you have any ideas/resources for starting a parent support group? I live in a very small town. We have recently had several of our young people pass away, including my own son who was killed in an auto accident on Mother’s Day of this year.  I have no idea how to go about starting something like this nor how to manage it. The closest mental health resources we have are an hour’s drive away. Any suggestions would be welcome.

My response: I’m so sorry to learn of the tragic accident that took the life of your son—and on Mother’s Day of all days. How horrible that must be for you—I simply cannot imagine.  My heart goes out to you.

I commend you for wanting to start a support group in your town, and I certainly understand your desire to do so. If you’re like most of us, however, since this happened barely two months ago, you’ve hardly had time to emerge from the initial shock and numbness of your loss, much less to be ready to take on such a big project.

You might consider contacting The Compassionate Friends for help, but even that organization requires that at least 18 months have passed before a parent, grandparent or adult sibling is considered ready to start a local chapter.

While there is nothing magical about allowing 12 or 18 months to go by following the death of a loved one, most experts agree that it is best that we allow ourselves that first year to experience the first four seasons of our grief—one year of all those “firsts” (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or any other special days) without our loved one’s physical presence in our lives—and at least that much time to learn to work on and to process our loss before we are ready and able to volunteer to work with other bereaved individuals.

That is not to say that there cannot be valid exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course, and as you consider proceeding with your desire to start a support group in your town (especially since you have no other local sources for grief support), these are the books I would recommend:

Support Group Manual: A Session-by-Session Guide by Harriet Sarnoff-Schiff

The Understanding Your Grief Support Group Guide: Starting and Leading a Grief Support Group by Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD

Death and Grief: Healing through Group Support by Harold Ivan Smith

Guiding People through Grief: How to Start and Lead Bereavement Support Groups by William G. Hoy

You might also find this article helpful: Bereaved Mom ‘Saved’ by Looking Outward, Helping Others

I hope this information proves useful to you, and please know that you have my deepest sympathy for your loss.

© 2011 by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

Reach Marty through her Web sites, http://www.griefhealing.com and http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com, or her Blog, http://griefhealingblog.com/

Marty Tousley

More Articles Written by Marty

As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved daughter herself, Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC has focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and for ten years served as moderator for its innovative online grief support forums. She obtained sole ownership of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups in October, 2013, where she continues to serve as moderator. A frequent contributor to health care journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, and Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. She has written a number of booklets for Hospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses for Self-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss. With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Group at Hospice of the Valley and to the Ontario Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada. Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine. Marty’s Grief Healing website and blog offer information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal. She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, as a Distance Credentialed Counselor by the Center for Credentialing and Education, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association. Marty and her husband Michael have two grown sons and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Scottsdale, AZ and Sarasota, FL, and enjoy their summers in Traverse City, MI. Marty welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at tousleym@aol.com or through her Web sites, at GriefHealing.com, GriefHealingBlog.com, and GriefHealingDiscussionGroups.com.

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  • Such sage advice, Marty. It’s even hard to go to a support group in that first year when I felt I could barely breathe even though I did. I would gently suggest that this dear mother meet one or two of these moms for tea or coffee or ask them over just to share. Nothing formal, just be together and weep. Together they might decide how to put it together with a little more structure.

    I founded and facilitate a “Mothers Finding Meaning Again” support group in the Phila. suburbs that I began 2 and 1/2 years ago but my Katie has been gone many more years. We have 19 moms in our group now. And as you said, Marty, Compassionate Friends is a wonderful organization to comfort a parents breaking heart. What makes my group different is that it is for mothers. Of course I’m happy to help anyone to start one if they feel they would like to. If you see my website you will see that there are pages devoted to some children and I’m always honored to post anyone’s child. It’s the least I can do.

    If this mother puts the word out, the mothers will find her. Local libraries are usually happy to spread the healing words as would be a local newspaper, church or synagogue.

    Kindly,
    Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP

  • Mike Ingram says:

    Marty,

    I know your pain. My son was killed by a wrong way drunken driver on Thanksgiving day, 11/25/2010. I do attend a The Compassionate Friends group and find it helpful.

    Unfortunately, the group does not meet in my town. I want to start something in town. While the Compassionate Friends group is helpful, I know of many (unfortunately) who will not travel to the towns where the groups meet.

    My pain has been 8 months and while I understand why Compassionate Friends does not someone so close to the event to lead a group, I find helping others helps me. I am currently looking for a place to have a more local meeting while still attending Compassionate Friends.

    Mike