Of the many things we know about death, foremost is its inevitability. Or, as John Donne put it poetically: "It comes equally to us all and makes us all equal when it comes." Those left to mourn, however, tend to feel alone in their grief. While grief is universal, it is also very much misunderstood.

Ernie Woodhall watches as candles are lit. Such activities can provide a healthy way of dealing with loss. (Mary Cardle photo)

There is no uniform response to loss. Someone who has cared for a dying person for a long time not only suffers the loss of that individual; there is also the loss of the caring activity that has been the dominant activity for some time. The unexpected loss of someone due to an accident, or an unexpected sudden heart attack, however, creates a different sense of loss.

Ours is a society that tends to be uncomfortable with talk about deep feelings. Initially, people who are grieving are surrounded—by friends, loved ones, pastors. If grieving appears to last for a long time, or the mourner expresses great pain or sorrow, even loving family and devoted friends may become uncomfortable. Perhaps to rid themselves of their own discomfort or emotion, they urge the mourner to `move on'.

Twenty years ago, Anglicans in Mission provided a grant to this Diocese which enabled the Hospice Program Unit, staffed by social worker Mary Ellen de Grace, to focus for two years on care of the dying and the bereaved. This evolved into a focus on bereavement support; they produced a series of interactive programs for Knowledge Network on bereavement and bereavement support and the need for such support to be based in the community.

They developed the first community-based program in Burquitlam; soon there were programs developing in Kerrisdale and on the North Shore. The Lower Mainland Grief Recovery Society was established in order to manage these programs and support the creation of others in an efficient and cost-effective way. The Society provides training and carries out police checks for program facilitators. Since the creation of the Society in 1990, there have also been programs in Richmond and in Vancouver's West End.

While the Society's work has its roots in the Diocese of New Westminster, its programs are not faith-based programs, nor solely by and for church people. Programs consists of small groups that meet once a week—often in a church facility— for six sessions, with a follow-up session shortly after. The programs are aimed specifically at those who have suffered the death of a loved one, assisting them to understand their grief and to acquire the tools to rebuild their lives. Participation costs are kept low so that access is available to all. Everything shared in a group remains strictly private.

Seasonal gatherings are held in early December, and all participants from that community that year are invited to have a bit of a party and to learn ways of doing things a bit differently during this first Christmas after the loved one's death.

Now is a good time for parishes to ensure that parishioners and visitors to their parish are aware of this service, that church pamphlet displays include copies of "Rebuilding the lives of the bereaved", which describes the work of the Lower Mainland Grief Recovery Society and that programs that will be offered in your community are advertised on your noticeboards. For pamphlets, to offer support (financial and other), or to inquire about registering for a program, call (604) 643-9637.