By Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

If you have access to a computer with an Internet connection, you have at your fingertips a wealth of grief information, comfort and support. The Open to Hope website offers an extensive array of resources.

Other websites offer online chat rooms, discussion forums and message boards, where you can join a virtual support group, connecting with and sharing your experiences with others whose losses are similar to your own. The online Grief Healing Discussion Groups that I monitor and moderate is an example of such a site.

Selecting from over a dozen individual forums, mourners with similar losses can network, mourn together and support one another in their own safe, healing place. Forums range from general issues of bereavement to specific types of loss, including that of a spouse or partner, a parent, child, or sibling, and even a cherished pet.

The service is available to everyone at no cost, at any hour of the day or night, seven days a week. It is safe and confidential; membership is free and simply requires registration with a unique user name and secret password of one’s own choosing. Forums are moderated by a professional bereavement counselor, and individual messages are monitored for appropriateness.

Members participate when they wish and are able to, not at a set time, which can be an advantage for those whose schedules won’t permit their attending an in-person support group. Participation can be especially helpful on anniversary dates, celebration days and holidays.

When one member posts a message, anyone can respond with love and caring to the thoughts and feelings of an individual, and other readers can benefit from the information shared. Whether reading or posting and responding to messages, participants come to a greater understanding of each other’s grief and loss, as everyone becomes more caring, accepting and tolerant of one another.

One benefit is that those members who post have an ongoing, written record of all the responses they’ve received, as well as access to all the other messages and responses posted on the site. By comparing more recent posts with older ones, individuals can track their own progress over time. New members witness the growth and positive transformation that occurs among more seasoned members, which gives them hope for their own future.

In addition, such a service:

Enables you to be interactive at a time when it is difficult to interact in normally social ways.

Allows you to express feelings, ask questions and get responses in a reasonable amount of time, usually within a matter of hours.

Gives you practical information about the grieving process in general.

Enables greater understanding of your own reactions to a particular loss.

Assists in resolution of your grief.

Enables sharing of your experiences and discussion of your feelings, without fear of being judged.

Reassures you that what you’re going through is normal, that you are not alone, and that other mourners know your pain, even if friends and family do not understand.

Offers nourishment and protection in a safe environment that awakens the natural healing process.

Informs, directs, and gives you access to other valuable resources, links to grief-related articles, stories, poems, inspirational writings, pamphlets, magazines, books, videos, sites, centers, organizations, remembrance pages and memorial sites.

Provides information to help you be more supportive of friends, neighbors, family members and others who are also in mourning.

Before you decide to participate in any online grief forum or message board, you are wise to consider these precautions:

Investigate before you participate. Notice whether the service is sponsored by a reputable organization, and learn whether the moderators are qualified to offer information and support.

Read about the moderators to learn about their background, education, and training. Make sure they have experience in facilitating groups and knowledge about the normal grief process. Read some posts written by the moderators to get a sense of their approach to grieving people.

Make certain that the group or forum you select is made up of mourners with whom you can identify. Read some of the posts in a give forum to decide if you can relate to the people gathered there.

Look for a statement of the group’s purpose and its “ground rules.” These should appear on the site’s main (or “home”) page.

Look for an option that enables you to report to the moderator(s) any post that you find objectionable.

Use your own good judgment and common sense. If something doesn’t feel right, if you don’t feel safe, accepted or understood, trust your instincts, leave immediately and find another group.

© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

Reach Marty through her websites, http://www.griefhealing.com and http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com.  She blogs weekly at Grief Healing  and can be found on Twitter, LinkedInFacebook and Pinterest.

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Marty Tousley

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 [email protected] or through her Web sites, at GriefHealing.com, GriefHealingBlog.com, and GriefHealingDiscussionGroups.com.

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