Health: Neighbors Share Strategies For Dealing With The Loss Of A Spouse

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Aging , Health , Mental Health


SOUTH CHATHAM — It’s a reality that’s often too painful to contemplate. But each day, people find themselves having lost their husband or wife, dealing with a range of emotions, confusing feelings and practical challenges.

GriefShare, an international faith-based program designed to help people dealing with the death of a spouse, is holding a one-day workshop in South Chatham Saturday.

“The thing with grief is that you have to go through the process. You can’t go around it,” said Sandy Burgio, who leads the local GriefShare group with her husband, John. The session is free and open to anyone; for more information, call Burgio at 201-207-3752 or register online at GriefShare offers a 13-week program that provides participants with more intensive support. The most recent session in Chatham was very well attended, and another session will be held again next summer. The one-day workshop is designed to introduce people to the program and help them begin to understand the grieving process.

“It is a really safe harbor where they can feel supported, understood, comforted, and it’s completely confidential,” Burgio said. “Nothing leaves the room.” During the full 13-week program, it sometimes takes participants several weeks to feel comfortable sharing the details of their loss, she said.

The Oct. 8 session, which runs from 10 a.m. to noon at the South Chatham Community Church, acknowledges that everyone experiences grief differently. The danger, Burgio said, is when people try to bypass grieving entirely. Keeping a stiff upper lip can work in the short term, but people who don’t allow themselves to mourn their loved ones may “find themselves stuck in grief years later,” she said. The goal of Griefshare is to give people a sense of hope through fellowship and faith.

“This is Christian-based, but it’s open to anybody of any faith who’s grieving,” Burgio said. Would-be participants should not be deterred because they have a different belief system. “The most important thing is to know that they would be in a community of people whose main common thread is just that they’re grieving,” she said.

Participants will watch a video hosted by counselors who have also experienced the loss of a spouse, and will then take part in an open discussion.

“Everybody shares how that particular video impacted them, or anything else they might want to share about it,” Burgio said. When she and her husband facilitate the discussion, they’re not there to tell people how to grieve.

“We’re not doctors,” she said. The act of sharing thoughts and experiences is, in itself, healing. At the end of the two-hour program, participants are given a workbook that offers practical advice and spiritual guidance for them to consider at home by themselves.

While the Chatham branch of GriefShare is active only in the summer, another group based in Osterville holds programs year-round and is expected to hold another one-day session near the holidays, when people often feel the loss of a loved one most acutely, Burgio said.

There is no correct way to grieve, experts say.

“You never judge somebody else’s grief,” Burgio noted. Dealing with the loss of a spouse or other loved one is an individual process. “What you share is that you’re all going through the journey together,” she said.