The death of a loved one is hard. Living with that loss in the months and years that follow can be just as difficult.
That’s where Bereaved Families of Ontario comes in. It provides peer grief and bereavement support to families and individuals in Waterloo Region and Wellington County.
Living With Loss is an open, drop-in group for adults who are grieving the death of a loved one. The grief support program is located in Westmount Memorial Celebration Centre, located at 1001 Ottawa St. S. in Kitchener. It’s a safe space for people who are grieving to connect, share stories, talk about their loved ones and learn coping strategies from people who have been there too. It is a peer support program, which means the group is facilitated by volunteers are bereaved themselves.
Each group focuses on a different topic or theme that the group explores. Since it is a drop-in group, people are welcome to come as often or as little as they would like and they aren’t required to register. The Living with Loss group program is offered twice a month in Kitchener and Cambridge and once a month in Guelph and Mount Forest.
Jaime Bickerton, of Bereaved Families of Ontario — Midwestern Region, says the staff works hard to provide the right kind of service and support for individuals.
“At Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region, we don’t currently offer one-on-one support for the Living With Loss program,” Bickerton said. “We occasionally offer it for our eight-week programs for parents grieving the death of an infant and parents grieving the death of a child when there is a gap between groups and if volunteer facilitators are available to fulfill this role.”
Participants in Living with Loss must be 18 or older. All they need to do is show up. Registration isn’t required. Sometimes people attend based on the topic, or how they are feeling that day.
The program is a safe place for those who want to share their stories, but if they don’t feel like it, they don’t have to share. If participants want to sit and just listen, that’s OK. It’s a huge step just walking through the door, Bickerton said. Facilitators try to make people feel comfortable and welcome, as do other group members. The staff’s and program’s goal in the community is to support everyone who attends.
“Feeling nervous is absolutely normal, particularly for people who haven’t attended a support group in the past,” Bickerton says. “Being scared is also completely normal. It can be really difficult to share your emotions with a group of people you don’t know. Grief is also stigmatized . . . that can lead to people who have experienced a death to feel even more isolated in their grief,” said Bickerton.
According to the Government of Canada, the death or illness of a significant other, friend or family member can lead to depression. The Depression Hurts website states that those going through depression are vulnerable to substance abuse. Sometimes those who deal with depression believe that alcohol, drugs or gambling are a great way to self-manage their symptoms.
Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region tries to do everything it can to ensure these programs are well known in schools and workplaces, so that anyone dealing with any type of grief can have a safe and helpful resource they can attend to, Bickerton said.
“As a small not-for-profit, we only have two staff. Raising awareness about our programming is always a challenge. Being able to connect with schools and workplaces, so they are aware of this resource either for themselves, students or co-workers, is extremely valuable.”