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More listening, fewer platitudes
Grieving with others who get it

 Jim and Lynne Eppes lost their daughter, Marie, to cancer in 2006. Since then, grief support group meetings have become a place where they can share their feelings--and where no one tries to fix their pain.
ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 11/29/2009

BY EDIE GROSS

Jim and Lynne Eppes lost their daughter, Marie, to cancer at the end of July 2006.

About a month later, the Stafford County couple were invited to a grief support group sponsored by Mary Washington Hospice.

Neither thought they needed the help. Jim went anyway. Lynne did not.

"In some ways, I'm a very private person. I wasn't comfortable. I wasn't able to deal with it," said Lynne, who would wait another two years before joining the support group at her husband's urging.

What she found was the freedom to grieve in her own way alongside others who understood the magnitude of her loss.

Nobody squirmed uncomfortably when she talked about Marie, an oncology nurse who was 26 when she died.

No one offered the meaningless platitudes so many others had in the wake of her daughter's death.

No one tried to convince her everything would be OK. They simply listened.

"Nobody tells me what I should think. Nobody fixes anything for me. I have to deal with that myself," said Lynne, who attends the group's Thursday meetings with Jim. "But we respect each other's feelings. The Kleenex is always there."

THE NEED TO HEAL

Joy is easy to share, and even anger generally has a clear target. But grief, one of the rawest human emotions, is often expressed in private.

The temptation to hide it or even ignore it all together is strong, perhaps because it makes us so vulnerable.

But experts say the act of confronting that grief and sharing it with others can heal a person mentally, emotionally and even physically.

"I'm a big fan of groups. It normalizes the grief process for the people there," said Julie Cicero, a licensed clinical social worker in Washington state.

She joined the profession and authored "Waking Up Alone: Grief and Healing" after losing her husband in a snowmobiling accident in 2001.

"Even if you have a great support system around you, people who haven't been there just don't get it," Cicero said. "You generally get two reactions. You get people who run from you because they think it's catchable, whatever you have, and the other ones are the ones who are trying to fix it. That doesn't work either.

"Really, you just need someone to be present with you."


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Mary Washington Hospice offers free grief support groups geared toward adults who've lost a parent, spouse or partner, sibling or child. For more information, call Diane Ebenal at 540/741-2377 or Gloria Lloyd at 540/741-7850 or visit medicorp .org/hospice.mgi on the Web. Hospice Support Care conducts free support programs for adults, children and teens and even a grief camp called Camp Rainbow for youngsters.

"What it's really about is providing peer support. It's about letting kids know they're not alone," said Carol Ellia, the bereavement program coordinator for children and teens. The group's Web site (hospicesupportcare.org) also lists other local bereavement resources. For more information, call 540/361-7071.

The Grief Recovery Institute features a host of resources on its Web site, grief.net, designed to help people cope with all sorts of loss, ranging from the death of a loved one to changes in finances and health.