Creating Grief Support Spaces

You know, life is hard. Well…I know you know life is hard…but let me say it anyways. Life is hard and, at one point or another, each and every person walking the face of this Earth will experience a significant loss.

7.4 billion people x however many losses they experience = a lot of loss.

Looking at it from a different angle, according to the World Health Organization in 2012 56 million people died worldwide. Let’s make a really conservative estimate that, on average, each person who dies leaves behind 5 people who grieve them.

56 million people x 5 = 280 million people experiencing their own individual grief.

280 million people trying to figure out how to live a life redefined by death.

280 million unique expressions of grief.

Litsa and I abide by the philosophy that grief is different for everyone. Here are the reasons why:

  1. We all come to grief from different points with different life experiences and carrying different loads.
  2. One can usually assume that the person who died had a unique relationship with each individual person who grieves them.
  3. No two people are the same.

We’ve made similar points on WYG a hundred times, like here and here, so why are we circling back?

Recently an Internet passer-by told us that we should know our place and not get carried away developing different ways to offer online grief support because one-on-one therapy and group counseling is the gold standard for grief.  This person felt it was irresponsible to offer online options to help people develop the tools that they self-identify as being useful (I’m paraphrasing here) because they are vulnerable and should be directed to free hospice counseling and groups if they need support.

This isn’t the first time (and I am sure it won’t be the last) that we felt like we had to say,

“We get that you don’t get us. We get that we’re not for everyone. We get that what we do is a little unorthodox by some standards.”

We’re used to saying these types of things. We’re used to asking people to try to believe that ‘different’ doesn’t have to equal ‘bad’ and that ‘new’ doesn’t have to replace ‘tried and true’.

We get it. We cut our teeth in the field of grief and bereavement, providing in person support and psychoeducation to grieving individuals. This work taught us so much. Honestly, way more than either of our graduate school educations could have. Through working directly with people, providing bereavement aftercare, running groups, workshops, and therapy, we experienced the value of in-person support first hand. However we also learned that grief support can never, and should never, be conceptualized as one-sized-fits all and to keep an open mind about the many forms that “coping” and “healing” can take.

Also, if we’re being realistic, we have to look beyond tried and true because (1) many people will never be open to seeing a therapist or support group (2) many people don’t have the resources to attend sessions on a consistent basis (3) many people will try these things and have unsatisfactory experiences and (4) many people will want tools and education to supplement the support they receive in-person. While the experience of finding the perfect grief therapist or support group is transformative for some, for others tools like writing, art, advocacy, memorialization, and continued bonds bring the most healing.

When prominent grief theorist, Dr. Kenneth Doka, was asked , “How do you even know if grief counseling or a support group or some other type of intervention is necessary to begin with?”, he responded by saying…

“… the truth is that most people—and studies vary between 80% to 90%—probably do pretty well without any formal intervention or may just need what we would call grief counseling in the sense of just some validation that says, “No, it’s understandable. No, you’re doing okay”.

He goes on to say that, for that 80-90%, reading grief books is often helpful, because it, “…provides that basic validation. It provides some good psychoeducation. It may provide some ideas for coping and certainly says that most people get through this.” You can read more here, and his sentiments are consistent with many others that we won’t share in the interest of time.

In reality, many people grieve somewhere in the space between “I’m handing thing on my own” and “I’m going to a therapist or a support group”. And although innovative and creative resources come along everyday, many people grieving in this space will find that things like validation, psychoeducation, ideas for coping, and support are hard to find.

So as you may have guessed, and as I’m sure we’ve said too many times to count, this is why we started What’s Your Grief.  We left the traditional world of in-person grief support to exist in the wild west of online grief support because we wanted to expand beyond tried and true. Our tagline is ‘Grief support for the rest of us’ and by ‘the rest of us’ we basically mean anyone who’s ever felt left high and dry by the grief resources available to them (it’s really a very broad definition).

We know our readers will come and go (that’s the point, isn’t it?), but while you’re sitting in this space with us, for however long or short that may be, we want to make your time worthwhile. We also want you to know that we believe there is no right way to grieve; there are very few wrong ways to cope; and everyone deserves to have quality grief support and psychoeducation. We are two voices and a small community of grief friends (that’s you!) trying to help make the space between a little more livable. If we’re not cutting it yet, we’re sorry, but we’ll keep trying! And by the way, we’re not alone here. There are many pioneers in the space between and we are always ready and willing to point you in their direction if you tell us what you’re looking for.

Finally, to make a long story longer, we just want you to know about the few spaces we’ve managed to construct here in the void. We’ve created the following spaces (or platforms if you prefer) based on what we’ve observed and been told by people who are grieving and grief professionals (so keep the feedback coming).

The old stuff

What’s Your Grief: That’s where you are right now. We have over 400 articles on grief. If we don’t have what you’re looking for, let us know.

Social media: We’re on most social media sites. You can find our most active SM communities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Podcast:  If you don’t love reading, that’s okay. Our podcast offers grief support for those who like to listen. Full disclosure, we interrupt each other a lot and make a lot of stupid jokes. Hopefully you find that endearing.

Photogrief:  PhotoGrief is a labor of love and we need your submissions!

Print resources:  Print materials are really valuable resources for organizations to be able to give out as a part of their in-person support.  For that reason we continue to grow our library of grief print resources. (FYI these print materials cost money which recoups our printing costs and allows us to keep eating so we can keep all the other free stuff happening)

The new stuff

Grief in six words: We were blown away by the six word stories shared with us by our readers (seriously, blown away).  We were so sad there wasn’t one easy place for people to post them or for others to be able to read them (seriously, so sad). So we made a space and we’re calling it Grief in Six Words. We’re still working out some of the glitches but…drum roll please…it is LIVE! Go check it out and add your story.

The WYG School: Something we’ve mentioned before but which has evolved since, are the interactive eCourses focused on education and constructive coping that we’ve begun to develop. So far we’ve created a whopping three courses, all around very specific topics like photography, journaling, and parenting while grieving. But the excitement around these courses gave rise to the idea of starting an online grief school where people can learn and, in some cases, connect with others. Our goal with the school is to offer interactive and self-guided courses for people experiencing grief and grief support professionals. As we’ve said, our intention for these courses is to ofter psychoeducation, coping tools, and with some courses, an interactive support community.  Pie-in-the-sky, someday we’d like to host teachers with expertise beyond our own who can run their own courses. Our mission above all else is to create a reliable and trusted space (in the space between). FYI this one costs money as well so that we can continue to run the school, keep the other free content at WYG up and running, and to continue to grow!

The New-Old Stuff

The WYG Bookclub: we were running this over on facebook and, as wonderful as our nearly 300 members were, the facebook platform just wasn’t working for us. So, we have relocated the WYG bookclub to the WYG forum. We are reading and discussing 12 grief books in 12 months so if you want to join just send us an email!

The future

There it is, an overview of WYG. If you have a good name to sum up this WYG umbrella of stuff, let us know. Seriously. It’s just a start; something for those who want it.  And for those who don’t, that’s okay, but tell us what you do want. What kind of support do you need? I can’t promise we can provide it, but I can promise that’s we’ll listen.

Leave a comments or send an email to [email protected]

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April 12, 2017

17 responses on "Creating Grief Support Spaces"

  1. i lost my 47 year brother, 17 days later my husbands grandma passed away , 5 months later my 42 yr cousin passed away then 2 months later my uncle passed away. within 7 months we lost 4 so important people i our family. i truly feel like im falling apart. ive tried so hard to stay strong for my children but i dont know how much longer i can .

  2. HI…i dont know if im on the correct sight,but my husband if 17 years is in horrible condition in the hospital…he had a second spinal fusion, he is bipolar and addict and he has hep c..i am also dealing with his wealthy family for mediacal power of attorney. He had the surgery last week ,but has not made a recovery due to all these problems…he wasnt eating or drinking,but when i went in he did drink a smoothie for me. I am deeply depressed because the Dr.says he could just pass away because of not eating or drinking and it is very challenging to get his mind back…can anyone help me…please!

    • Hi Daisy, how is your husband now? I just saw this message. You are on the right site if you’re looking for a supportive place, filled with informative articles to help those affected by death, grief, anticipating grief and everything in between. Send you warm regards from me.

  3. I lost my Grandmother in July 2016. My Uncle is in charge of her estate. His adopted sister lived with my Grandmother most of her life. I have asked her and my Uncle for some of her clothes and shoes. His sister keeps saying next week,next week. Every time I go over to her home to visit and I sat in the living room next to the bed room she will go into the bed room and sat, or go in there and lock the door when she comes out like I’m gonna steal something. I am hurt by this. What should I say or do?

  4. The variety on your site is what makes it superb. I love your thought-provoking articles. I am one who is not doing the grief therapist or support group options. At some point, I might do the individual therapist route, but I really want to find one who has also lost a (young adult) child. Next month it will be 5 1/2 years since I lost my son.

    Keep up the wonderful work!

  5. Eleanor and Litsa, there’s not enough words to express how much WYG has helped me navigate my grief. My only regret is that I didn’t find WYG back in the early, raw days of grief. Because I don’t want to be judged and I don’t always trust people I will never be open to seeing a therapist or support group. One of the best things about WYG (and there are many ! ) is that there’s no judgment. There are also no grief rules. The first time I came here it was like I had found my ‘grief home’ and I knew that I was in a safe place. I don’t post as many comments as I would like to (sometimes I’m speechless) but I do come here often and read. Your articles are spot-on and the two of you are wonderful people for giving so much of yourselves and giving us a space to ‘just be’. Thank you.

  6. Wow.. someone is judging us for the way we grieve? As my kid says, “Don’t judge me.” This site has given me so much support. As soon as I read ‘The Grief of an Overdose Death,’ I knew found a place to help me grieve the overdose death of my 22 year old son. I needed to hear, “No, you’re OK.”
    And yes, I tried a grief counselor and the first thing she wanted to talk about was how my son could start using drugs at 12 years old in middle class america. Instantly my guilt and shame at being a “bad mom” rose it’s ugly head. I was out of there before the session was over.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Oh Barbara, I am so so sorry that you had that experience with a grief counselor. We just facilitated a training on Wednesday (in honor of Overdose Awareness Day) for professional who are supporting those grieving substance losses. This is no excuse for what your counselor said, but in the training a number of professionals shared how personally shocking the substance use epidemic has been for them and, as a result, even with all their professional training they still find themselves at a loss as to how to respond. Unfortunately, Substance Use Disorders are something that are still so misunderstood and there are so many misconceptions that it leads to so many insensitive comments. Hmmm . . . we should possibly write a post about this in the context of overdose and suicide losses, because that is where we seem to hear most of the stories like the one you shared. Please know, should you ever need support from a therapist in the future about your grief or anything else in your life, that I am sure you could find someone much more understanding. As we have said before, sometimes finding a therapist is a bit like dating. That can be so difficult when you are already struggling and just want some help, but finding someone who is a good fit can be so meaningful.

      Thank you so much for your kind words about out site – I am so glad it has been a support to you. Letting people know they are okay and not going crazy (like so many people feel!) was pretty much our top goal in creating this space, so it is always good to hear that is coming through 🙂 Take care.

  7. I have met many people who refuse to do a “grief group” for fear of crying/sharing w/people they don’t know. I’m sure they eventually find out the people they may know are not necessarily the best or most patient in listening to our fears/sadness/grief. Those folks have moved one with their lives. Thanks for all you do. I find your group a wonderful complement to a weekly “hospice” group I attend!!! Love this site.

    • I never went to grief group I just kept doing what I had to do for me & my daughter but now after so many years without dealing with it I realize it didn’t go away and I do need grief counseling but I don’t know where to go

      • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

        Hi Lisa – it is never too late to get counseling after a loss! I sent you an email, so if you reply to that and let me know what area you are in we can point you in the direction of some counseling resources.

  8. Poo on anyone who says your site is the wrong way to get help with grief. One on one help is not just out of reach for some, but not available 24/7 and when does the crazy grief monster show up? Frequently, during the night, on the weekend, etc… I personally thank you frequently and suggest it to many.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Aw, thanks Sylvia. And don’t worry, we try not to take naysayers to heart – we know in doing things that are new and different that not everyone will see value in them. It’s okay though, because we know so many people do. We believe wholeheartedly in the spaces we create but, since not everyone does, we figured it made sense to have a post that explained why we believe it!!

  9. Hi Eleanor and Litsa,

    I think you know already how big a fan I am of your work. Using research is always helpful isn’t, and if it doesn’t exist creating your own? Like, what research says about those those people who are unlikely to reach out for some form of face to face therapy. If someone challenges you, prove them wrong!

    Wish you grow from success to success!

    • Can I ask ur personal opinion am I so devasted by my husbands death at 36 urs old that I’m still hurting or am I using it as a crutch to never feel that pain that way again

      • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

        Lisa, it would be impossible to answer that question without knowing you and talking in depth. But please know for many people it isn’t one or the other, sometimes it is a bit of both. It is not uncommon to build ‘walls’ after a devastating loss to protect yourself from being hurt again. Often that happens because of the ongoing hurt and sometimes because of not having built ways to cope that can allow you to be open. Talking to a therapist is the best way to assess some of those things and work on ways to cope. This question is actually a great topic for a post – I just added it to our future post topic list 🙂 Take care and, as I said in my other comment, I emailed you so if you email us back we can point you in the direction of some therapy resources.

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