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A grip on your grief

Social worker Charles Walker leads a twice-monthly adult grief support group at Silverdale’s United Methodist Church sponsored by Hospice of Kitsap County. Though Walker will offer coping strategies when appropriate, much of his work involves just listening. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Social worker Charles Walker leads a twice-monthly adult grief support group at Silverdale’s United Methodist Church sponsored by Hospice of Kitsap County. Though Walker will offer coping strategies when appropriate, much of his work involves just listening.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Three women sit on a well-worn couch in a meeting room of a local church. They try to make sense of the external and internal chaos that comes with loss.

There is anger, sadness, emptiness, and hints of laughter as the women — strangers at the beginning of the 90-minute session — share their universal, yet isolating experience.

“Grief comes upon us. We can’t plan when it’s going to happen and make time for it. Sometimes it happens at inopportune times,” said Charles Walker, MSW who conducts the twice-monthly adult grief group in Silverdale sponsored by Hospice.

The women mourn the death of two men whose healthy stride was broken when terminal illness outpaced them. Both men died at home within months of the initial diagnosis and within months of each other.

Nancy grieves for her father who died in May. Paula and her mother cope with the loss of a father and husband who died in July.

The women describe circumstances leading to their loved one’s death. With occasional rudder adjustments from Walker, they navigate through the emotional waves that at times crash over them unexpectedly.

A recent trip to the Bon Marche brought Paula to tears when she unintentionally walked into the men’s clothing section. The thought of not buying her dad a Christmas gift this year overwhelmed her. She left the store.

Hospice offers grief support groups to adults and children. These services are open to anyone and are provided free of charge. (See side story.)

Hospice’s Collaborative School Based Bereavement Program offers children in grades 5-12 eight-weeks of counseling. Hospice also provides bereavement services for the families of patients for a year or more.

This is Paula’s first visit to the Silverdale group. She attended another group and felt her grief was far newer than the rest of the members whose wounds had had years to heal.

“They were on step 10 where as I was on step zero,” she said.

This meeting in early November is Nancy’s third time with the group.

“It’s nice to go someplace where you don’t feel like you’re crazy,” Nancy said.

Walker asks questions occasionally and offers some coping strategies. But for the most part he listens.

“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve,” he said.

As facilitator, he has seen people at sessions just sit and cry. But as time and the grief process continue, it eventually becomes easier for the person to talk about the loss.

“They try to prepare you, but there’s nothing to prepare you for the fact they’re gone.” Nancy said.

Walker, without sounding preachy, suggests the knowledge that we can keep loved ones alive in our minds and hearts could provide some comfort.

Upsetting, however, are the approaching holidays where there will be an empty chair at the table marking the indescribable emptiness felt by family members. The women contemplate skipping the feasts and festivities.

“Whatever you want to decide is what you ought to do,” Walker said.

Grief has also sent awkward ripples out to the womens’ friends and acquaintances.

“People don’t talk to you the way they used to or they avoid you because they don’t know what to say,” Nancy said.

“People are well intentioned. We want to say the helpful thing, we just don’t know what that is,” Walker said.

The session seems shorter than 90 minutes, but a lot of ground has been covered.

“I feel like we’ve come here for the same reason,” Nancy said.

Paula too felt encouraged.

“It’s a safe place to talk if I want to talk,” she said. “It may not be for everyone but it’s a start.”

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