Grief support is available in more ways than ever
You can now access grief support whenever and wherever — in person, online, even via text
By Sharon Van Epps
Grief is a common human experience, but mourning the death of a loved one can feel very isolating. Grief support groups try to bridge the gap by connecting you with others who are also mourning a loss. But not everyone feels comfortable sharing their emotions in front of others. That’s why finding the right format to receive grief support is as important as seeking it in the first place.
Finding the right grief support for you
Up until recent years, most grief support came in the format of local, in-person groups held in churches or community centers. Although those still exist, mourners now have more options available to them. Let’s explore the range of options, starting with the conventional and ending with the modern methods.
In-person grief support groups
Support groups exist for almost every type of bereavement, from parents who’ve lost a child to survivors struggling with bereavement guilt. Choosing a support group that speaks directly to your experience can prove essential to your healing. No matter what your situation is, most likely a support group is available to meet your specific needs and help you negotiate the stages of grief.
Institutions involved in end-of-life care, such as hospitals, hospice providers, and funeral homes, often host bereavement groups for little or no cost or can recommend options in your area. Many nonprofit organizations, such as Grief Share, also facilitate free support groups. Look for a group with a trained facilitator, and feel free to reach out to that person with questions before your first meeting. If you’ve joined a group but don’t feel that it’s helping you move forward, try another, or consider different avenues of in-person support, like one-on-one grief counseling.
In-person grief support with a modern twist
The Dinner Party is an organization focused on fostering community among individuals experiencing significant loss for the first time. Affiliate groups, known as tables, gather in members’ homes for potluck meals and candid conversation. Trained grief counselors don’t attend, so The Dinner Party should not be seen as a substitute for therapy. However, the program can introduce you to potential new friends who can relate to your grief and encourage you on your journey toward healing. Groups meet in more than 100 cities around the world. If The Dinner Party hasn’t reached your community yet, the organization can help you establish a local table.
Grief support a call away
Busy schedules and physical challenges can make attending an in-person group unfeasible. But with technology, you can access support anytime from home. If you’re in distress and need to speak to someone right away, the Crisis Call Center provides free, anonymous, and confidential support via their hotline, 24 hours a day.
Senior citizens and people with disabilities can access trained counselors by calling the 24-hour, toll-free Friendship Line, which is sponsored by the Institute on Aging in San Francisco. It is the only accredited crisis line in the country for people aged 60 years and older and adults living with disabilities.
Grief support at your fingertips
If you’re not in crisis but would like to chat with a friendly volunteer, many organizations staff mental health warm lines to provide supportive conversation on a less urgent basis via phone and instant messages on the internet.
For those who prefer texting, the Crisis Call Center also responds to text messages 24/7. The Crisis Text Line is a separate messaging service, where trained counselors are available to listen, empathize, and make mental health referrals whenever you need assistance.
If you don’t need help in real time, some organizations, like GriefNet, organize email support groups, where members sign up to join the group and then exchange encouraging emails.
Grief counseling by video
If you’d like to meet directly with a grief specialist in your home, video makes remote, one-on-one counseling with a psychologist or therapist possible. Psychology Today maintains a national database of credentialed professionals, including therapists who provide video counseling. The Virtual Therapist Network and Better Help exclusively list practitioners who work remotely. Use either database to identify counselors who accept your insurance, take sliding scale payments, or speak your language of choice.
More social online grief support
Other online sources of grief support and encouragement include social media, virtual groups, community message boards, and discussion forums. If you’re active on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, a search for #grief or #griefsupport will lead to recovery tips, inspirational quotes, and honest expressions of struggle, sadness, and hope from individuals. You can simply read social media posts as an observer, or comment and share using your own name or a screen name. But remember, anything you post to social media should be considered public, regardless of your personal privacy setting.
If you’d like more discreet options that allow for deeper engagement, online support groups may be for you. Grief Anonymous hosts 20 different online groups through Facebook. Only approved group members can see what you post, but you’ll need a Facebook account to join.
Online message boards can be great places to ask a question and get feedback from multiple people, but they’re less technologically sophisticated and interactive than grief forums, which function more like a community. Typically, forums allow you to read and comment on posts, share your own content, and exchange private and/or instant messages with other members through the host’s platform. Message board posts are almost always public but require you to register to contribute content. Some forums are public, while others have content visible to members only, but to participate fully in either format, registration is required. You’ll need to sign up with your own name, but you can choose a screen name to preserve your privacy, if you wish.
How to stay safe online
No matter what form of grief support you decide to try, trust your gut when it comes to safety. If a particular group, website, or individual makes you feel upset or uneasy, explore alternatives. Most importantly, practice caution online. Stick to secure websites that require registration and moderator approval to participate. Never share personal information online, including your full name, address, passwords, or any financial data. Although many sites providing grief support are run by nonprofits and welcome donations, a reputable site will never require you to pay a fee. Be aware that con artists have been known to infiltrate grief groups, looking to prey on vulnerable people. Report any suspicious accounts or unusual activity to the moderator or website owner.
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