Leaning on One Another: Grief Support Groups

Every heart beats with love for those who mean the most to us. That is why when we lose that loved one, the pain is indescribable. Coping with that pain is not the same for every person, as every loss is unique in its own way.  Here at the Beth El Mausoleum in Boca Raton, Florida we have met with families who have suffered all sorts of losses…some expected…some unexpected….some due to illness, others natural causes and some due to truly tragic events. Nonetheless the shock and the mourning and grieving period that follows can be a difficult road to navigate on your own. You may experience grief as a mental, physical, social or emotional reaction.

The loss of a spouse….of a parent…of a sibling…of a child…or even of a close friend leaves the mourners dealing with their sorrow in many different ways. That is why there is no better place than the safe environment of a grief support group where one can tell his or her  story and express their feelings freely.

A SAFE NON-JUDGMENTAL ENVIRONMENT FOR GRIEF SUPPORT

A bereavement support group provides a non-judgmental place of encouragement, compassion, empathy and connection that comes from being with people who have the mutual experience of a recent loss. There is invaluable emotional support, validation and education accessible when it is needed the most.  

Support groups are as near as your local synagogue or church, and of course there are a plethora of other organizations that offer specific grief support. For example, for the loss of a child, here in Florida, there is the National Alliance for Grieving Children, a website providing a list of many different grief support options.

There is also the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association that is a good resource for finding grief counseling services around the state. There are support groups dedicated to family members who have lost loved ones to suicide or homicides. No matter the situation, there is something not only here in Florida but everywhere, so no one has to go it alone.

TEMPLE BETH EL OF BOCA RATON BEREAVEMENT GROUP

The Beth El Mausoleum is very pleased to share that we have an on-site resource to refer our families who need grief counseling and support.  Temple Beth El of Boca Raton bereavement group in conjunction with the  (JFS) was to meet in person once a week at our Schaefer Family Campus.  When the pandemic came upon us, the meetings went virtual on Zoom, very successfully, but there is the hope of returning to in-person meetings one day soon.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to Jaclyn Tureff, LCSW, Director of Community Outreach at the Ruth & Norman Rales JFS. As a licensed clinical social worker, Jaclyn oversees all support programs run by her team and she is the leader of the Bereavement Group  at Temple Beth El of Boca Raton.

Beth El Mausoleum:

Tell us about the support groups in our community that you oversee for Jewish Family Services.

Jaclyn Tureff, LCSW:

We currently have 4 different groups in the community, with an average of 15- 20 people in each group. For the most part those attending are widows and widowers, but we do have some people who have lost parents or siblings. Most are older individuals, 65 and older – the youngest person is about 50. They are all free and open to the whole community.

Beth El Mausoleum:

Tell us about the bereavement group experience at Temple Beth El that you have been running for the past year:

Jaclyn Tureff, LCSW:

We are a warm and welcoming group, and we always try to have a topic which will vary from week to week. In the beginning everyone got to know one another; those who wanted to share what happened to their loved one did so – others just like to listen, and we understand that as well. It is very relaxed, we are there to support each other. If a new member joins us, we are there to hear whatever they want to share as they become acclimated with the rest of the group. Although attendance varies, a person usually comes for support for the first 6 months to a year after a loss.

As time goes on, the topic can vary depending upon what the members of the group are feeling each week. I generally begin by asking them to “tell me how your week went.” Some may respond that “I had a great week” others may say “it was harder this week.” The reasons could be anything from the fact that it was a special occasion such as their late spouse’s birthday, or it was their birthday or a holiday they are spending for the first time without their loved one.

The nice thing about a bereavement group is some people might be a little new to this and some people might be a couple of months to a year out – so they also get guidance from each other. When someone brings up a topic, another member of the group might say “well this helped me during my first holiday without my loved one.” It is lovely that they can offer personal suggestions to one another. We also talk about self-help and support books that I or others have read, these are also good resources.

Beth El Mausoleum:

Tell us about how the pandemic has changed the dynamics of the group interactions.

Jaclyn Tureff, LCSW:

Finding support is very important this year especially. People are not only grieving the loss of a loved one, but they are grieving the loss of their everyday life in so many ways–reaching out to family and friends and letting people know how you’re feeling is important -not to feel as if you’re burdening anyone – your friends really are there to help – whether it is the Temple or JFS – we have a lot of resources to offer people in the community to help them –that people may not be aware of.

I encourage them to share their contact information and build relationships outside of the group. One group worked with the Jewish National Fund and planted trees during Tu B’Shvat in memory of their loved ones. I hope the trees are planted together. 

Now that most of the members are all vaccinated, they are getting together outdoors in a park for a socially distant picnic this week. We will have the group session on Zoom in the morning and then they will head to the picnic.

Beth El Mausoleum:

How does attending the bereavement group also offer participants other outlets to pursue to help them overcome their grief?

Jaclyn Tureff, LCSW:

A distinct benefit of joining a bereavement group is all the suggestions we can offer in the community that could keep them from the feelings of loneliness and depression that can set in after a loss.  For example, the Shirley & Barton Weisman Delray Community Center is providing weekly virtual programming. You can take tours of cities and museums, join virtual groups of interest and play games. 

Another lovely program is at The Morikami Museum here in Boca Raton. The Stroll for Well-Being Therapeutic Garden Walking program offers participants to immerse themselves in the natural beauty, peace and serenity of the gardens. Everyone that has experienced it has told the group that they loved it.

According to the Morikami Museum, “The benefits of therapeutic garden walks are: reduced feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fear and loneliness, and greater feelings of acceptance, optimism and joy.”

Beth El Mausoleum:

In your opinion, what is the difference between mourning and grief?

Jaclyn Tureff, LCSW:

My personal opinion is that mourning is more current, you mourn first, and then grief sticks with you. Grief is a part of your life… you learn to live with it… you build your life around it and you continue your life. In the mourning period – you are sitting Shiva, it is still fresh – I don’t like to say it’s time to move on…because I don’t think you ever move on…but you take that grief with you and you have your good days and your bad days, but you continue to live your life.

Beth El Mausoleum:

What do you recommend we tell our families visiting the Beth El Mausoleum at their time of loss, to encourage them to give the bereavement group a try?

Jaclyn Tureff, LCSW:

If someone is hesitant to join the group – you have nothing to lose – come try it out and see. You aren’t obligated if you don’t want to continue. At least now you’ll know you are now not alone going through this. If this isn’t for you, we have other resources we can offer, whether it is in individual counseling, crisis counseling, etc. to help someone that is struggling with their loss.

TESTIMONIALS FROM TEMPLE BETH EL BEREAVEMENT GROUP PARTICIPANTS

“On June 22, 2019 we had a great day filled with routine, laughter and the unspoken bond that we had shared for so many years. And the next morning, life changed. Chuck was in ICU and ten days later he passed on. As I sat in my apartment thinking about the life we had built, with memories surrounding me, I thought of Temple Beth El and how important the temple was to us. We had enjoyed so much there together …Shabbat, Lunch and Learn, volunteering and other activities.  I wondered, how would it be to be there without Chuck?

“Although I was not sure I could actually talk about my loss at an in person group with strangers, I did go to the first meeting over a year ago and continue to attend as many as I can, even over Zoom. All of the JFS facilitators have been remarkable and there are so many discoveries I have made through the interaction with the incredible friends I have met. I have learned that the fears, the fog brain, the loneliness, and the utter devastation that I felt, were very similar to everyone in the group. Most importantly, I have learned how to go from 46 years of ‘we’ to now growing into becoming ‘me. ’I am so grateful to have the support of the program and the other participants as I move forward in my life”

“My husband of 56 years passed away [this past January.]. Since my children and family do not live in the Florida area, I sought help from Jewish family services and was directed to a group meeting at Temple Beth El.  I believe that these group meetings have played a very important role in my learning to cope with the loss of my husband. All of the facilitators, Elissa, Jenna, Ariel and Jaclyn are professional and caring and are invaluable for those of us dealing with the grieving process. The opportunity to meet twice a week with people who are experiencing the same loss as you are and also have guidance from a professional is a blessing. This program is life changing and a gift to those of us that need it.”

We thank Jaclyn Tureff for her insightful information about our bereavement group.

Our caring Beth El clergy as well as Beth El Mausoleum Director, Mike Sirowitz  always suggest to families who have chosen the Beth El Mausoleum as the final resting place for their loved one, to consider joining the free bereavement support group. We are grateful to have it on our sacred grounds, welcoming temple members and non-members. In addition to grief support groups, becoming a member of a synagogue community like Temple Beth El and attending services or programs with friends, is a comfort and can truly be a lifeline during a difficult time.