Support offered to help lessen the holiday blues

POULSBO — When Elvis sang “Blue Christmas,” he was likely talking about a break-up, not a death.

But the analogy is just as real for many folks each holiday season, commented Martha & Mary Chaplain Ernie McCluskey. The season of light for some can be a very sad time for others due to the loss of a loved one.

“What magnifies the holidays is it’s an extended family gathering time and that loved one was likely part of those gatherings when they were alive,” McCluskey said. “When they see other people having a good time, there’s a bitterness to that.”

But the fact is, having a blue holiday isn’t the end of the world. Actually, it may be a healthy thing for someone who has experienced a loss because it means they’re allowing themselves to grieve — something that Americans don’t do well.

“You may be walking down the street one day and a tear will come to your eye and it’s normal to expect these feelings,” McCluskey explained. “It may be two years or five years. Every loss is an individual thing.”

“It’s very popular to say, ‘Let go of your grief’ or ‘Let go of your loved one,’ but losing someone is a life changing event and not one you just get over,” added Lora Lehner of Martha & Mary.

Together, Lehner and McCluskey are exploring the issues of grief and mourning through a new support group at Martha & Mary. They recently completed their first nine-week session and are preparing for another, which will begin in February. They’re now looking for community members interested in working through grief to participate in the group.

“Being trained in this, we feel we want to grow the bereavement training as a service we offer to the community,” McCluskey said.

The nine-week support group will be based on the writings of Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo. Both McCluskey and Lehner have attended training workshops at the internationally-recognized center and said they feel Wolfelt’s approach to the topic of mourning is one of the best they’ve seen.

“Rather than looking at grief from a clinical perspective, he’s advocating companioning people through their grief — walking beside them,” Lehner explained.

“His whole thesis in a nutshell is you don’t have to have a master’s in grief counseling to companion people,” McCluskey said.

Companioning is a term used often in Wolfelt’s teachings and in the new support group at Martha & Mary. Basically, those who are grieving are urged to find someone with whom they can grieve, including sharing their feelings. Initially, support group members learn to companion through interaction with Lehner and McCluskey, then they are encouraged to find other companions in their own lives or within the group.

“That has really worked out for a couple of participants we had in our first group,” McCluskey commented.

The only cost of taking part in the sessions is the purchase of one of Wolfelt’s books and a workbook. Participants are given homework outside the nine sessions that includes readings and work in the workbook and other small projects.

“How engaged a person becomes in the group and participates is how much they’ll get out of the group overall,” Lehner said.

The first bereavement support group at Martha & Mary had six participants. Lehner and McCluskey said they’d like to have a few more but will take no more than 12.

“You want it small enough so people can connect and have time to share,” Lehner explained.

But the pair does ask that those interested in participating give them a call in order to be screened. Lehner said the idea is to put together a very homogeneous group of mourners in order for every participant to feel comfortable. For instance, some people’s losses may be too recent or tragic to participate. For others, ongoing groups or individual therapy may be a better choice.

“What we’re looking for is a safe place for people to come and express their feelings and know that no matter what they say and how they say it, they’ll be supported and understood,” Lehner explained.

Those for whom the upcoming support group may not be a viable option will be referred to a better choice, Lehner added.

Next Issue: What’s wrong with the way Americans grieve?


Martha & Marry Bereavement Group

Nine week session begins Feb. 7. For information or to request to be part of this group, call (360) 394-4014 or (360) 394-4020. Classes are:

• Week one: The Necessity to Mourn. The beginning of our journey and your participation

• Week two: Common myths about grief and mourning. Insights to help you through the process.

• Week three: My grief is unique. We are different people with different feelings.

• Week four: What might I expect? The experience of head, heart and spirit.

• Week five: Am I going crazy? Understanding the myriad of mixed feelings.

• Week six: Reconciliation as healing. How your personal resources work for you.

• Week seven: How am I doing? Measuring your progress.

• Week eight: Taking care of yourself. Self responsibilities and the road to healing.

• Week nine: Do I need additional help? The ongoing journey.

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