Support groups for grieving tend to divide in several ways. The first is denominational versus non-denominational. The second, and more important distinction, is by the object of your grief, e.g., a child, parent, spouse, veteran, etc. I could not find a single site that would give you a list of support groups in your community; this is a feature we hope to add to AfterTalk as soon as we can. One place to start is in the AfterTalk Forums. Select a forum that matches your situation, e.g., “For Mothers who have lost a child,” and post an inquiry to the forum. Ask others with a loss like yours how they found a grief support group.
There are two primary types of organizations that offer group sessions; denominational and non-denominational. Before you go to the web, I suggest you have a discussion with your own clergy person. She or he is likely to be well informed about local support groups. If you are already seeing a therapist, ask them for advice. A third often overlooked source advice is your own local funeral director. She or he has had extensive experience in directing the bereaved to helpful resources, and is pleased to help you. Go to a local funeral director even if you didn’t use their services. For example, I live in upstate New York and my father died and was buried in Florida. I would have no hesitation about asking a local funeral director for advice. These people are most understanding. Finally, if you are grieving for someone who died in a hospital or hospice, ask the staff social workers. They are experts in this area, and are among the most compassionate, empathetic professionals you will ever deal with.
Under the Medicare Hospice Benefit, hospices provide bereavement support for at least a year to families of patients they have served. They also provide bereavement services to partners and close friends. Often, hospices provide this support to people in their community even if the death did not occur with hospice care.
First, here’s a tip about online searching. Try this line in your search engine (Google or Bing): type in this string of words without the quote marks, “support group bereavement grief grieving.” You will get about 273,000 results. Add your zip code to the string and you get down to around 14,000. The most useful result I came upon was through Psychology Today Magazine’s website. If you go to groups.psychologytoday.com and enter your zip code, you stand a chance of finding a grief support group. For a small town zip I found two grief groups; for a rural zip I found none.
Some websites offer zip code lookup tools for support groups. If you are interested in a Christian group, www.griefshare.com is a good choice. Using the same criteria as above, I found six choices within a half hour drive for the small town zip code, and one for the rural zip. All were based in churches.
If you are Jewish, visit your local JFS—Jewish Family Services—website and look for the Support Group tab. Catholics can often find listings like this on their Archdiocese website, or enter in your search engine (without quotes) “Catholic Family Services” and your zip code.
When you google the string I suggested above you will find that there are many sites that offer lists either specific to a kind of loss or a region. For example, if you live in Texas, the University of Texas Health Science Center website has a Community Bereavement Resources web page that reaches from the Rio Grande to Austin.
Often, websites for organizations that serve a specific kind of bereavement offer their own chapter support groups. For those who have lost children, CompassionateFriends.org offers its own support groups through its chapters. There’s a chapter locator on its website. I found two chapters within ten miles of the small town zip and twenty-eight miles away for the rural zip. Compassionate Friends meetings are held in churches and healthcare facilities. There appears to be no denominational bias. Another example of this is the American Society for Suicide Prevention. Its website, www.afsp.org , has a national search engine. Click on “Coping with Suicide,” then “Find Support,” then “Find a Support Group.” Then click your state in the left side list. In the middle panel you can narrow down the results to your community by putting your zip or town name in the search box. The results were: four for my small town zip code, and one for my rural zip code, all within a half hour drive.
To summarize, the best way for you to find local support groups is to ask people you know and trust—your clergy person, doctor, funeral director, social worker–and please don’t forget—friends and acquaintances you know who have suffered a similar loss. The next best is to sharpen your google skills or get help from a family member—the younger the better. You are welcome to post a query in the AfterTalk forums. You can then google whatever suggestions you receive so that you are informed before you call about signing up.
The most important thing to keep in mind is don’t be shy about asking for help with finding grief support groups. By asking friends, family, and the professionals listed above, you are giving each of them the chance to do a good deed, and that is a great kindness in itself.