When facing loss and the grieving process, feeling a sense of community is essential. Being grounded and cared for by those around us can make the profoundly complicated, painful time a bit easier. The people who surround us can help us to continue living, to maintain our health, and to find hope.
Unfortunately, at a time when we are experiencing loss across the world, the ability to connect with those around us is also threatened. Social distancing efforts make it so that we cannot fully be comforted by those around us. As Martha Evans Morris, LMSW, a social worker at Regional Hospice puts it, “you can’t literally cry on someone’s shoulder”. Without the simple solace of in-person human interaction, it becomes that much more difficult to go through the grief process.
In addition, being stuck at home means that we are denied even the consolation of routine. It is no longer possible to immerse ourselves in work, hobbies, friends, and entertainment. These activities, whether serving as meaningful pursuits or simply distractions from grief, are not currently available. As such, many people have ended up stuck at home, feeling isolated and trapped with their loss. There are very few avenues to shift the focus away, and so people across the world are forced to sit in their grief, to marinate in it. We are lacking the small respites that we would otherwise have access to, and so an already arduous time becomes overwhelming.
One constant during this time is Healing Hearts, a subdivision of Regional Hospice dedicated to grief support. Healing Hearts was originally founded as “The Children’s Program” with the intent of providing bereavement services for the young. Over time, it has expanded to include programming for adults who have been impacted by loss. Since then, there have been a variety of additional, more specific groups that have developed. These range from groups supporting the loss of a child, the loss of a sibling, and those who lost a loved one in hospice care.
Throughout its evolution, the comfort, routine, and community that Healing Hearts provides has not changed. As such, during this time of profound change, Healing Hearts has kept up in adapting to the new circumstances.
This is evident in the shift to virtual meetings. For adult groups, Healing Hearts has begun holding Zoom-based sessions in order to maintain social distancing while still allowing for healing and community. Cheryl Koeber, LCSW, ACHP-SW, Director of Counseling Services, explains that these group sessions still “bring you into a space where you can connect with others”, where talking about grief is not only okay, but encouraged. That space may now be virtual, but the catharsis that it provides is very real.
In a turbulent world, these meetings are a source of predictability. They provide a definite place and time where grieving is open, and routines that you can come to expect. Martha Evans Morris, a social worker and Healing Hearts facilitator explains that she has started having the participants light a candle at home at the start of every session. This gesture is symbolic of how it’s okay to be “cursing the darkness and still light a candle at the same time”. The idea is that grief and hope can coexist. This simple act is one that participants can expect and rely on.
Both Martha and Cheryl acknowledge that online meetings do not perfectly fill the place of in-person sessions. Some body language is missed, technological errors happen, and eye contact is more difficult. Video conferences can’t wholly replace the comfort of seeing others face-to-face. But at a time when so much is being suspended or altered, the groups provide some level of consistency and connection. As Cheryl explains, “At a time when there are very few human connections, we’re offering something in terms of process, community, and mutual understanding”.
Reporting and writing by Regional Hospice Youth Volunteer, Ekaterina Taylor-Yeremeeva