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Finding support for grief together

Duluthian Barb Titus remembers wishing she could meet someone who knew what she's going through after the death of one of her 2-year-old twins, Patrick, in 1995.

"I would say to my mom, if I could just see someone who has been through this and could smile, maybe I would know that there could be joy again in my life," she said.

Today, Titus serves as this person. She is a volunteer co-facilitator for the monthly miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss parent grief support group at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Grief Support Services.

This group is one of six free grief support groups offered. The support groups meet once a month at different days and times and are open to anyone grieving.

"We find that people that are grieving often feel isolated and being among others who have had similar losses helps them feel connected. They feel encouraged and it's a place for them to come and learn and be heard," said St. Mary's bereavement specialist Kristine Dwyer. "This is a safe space to express their grief and find some healing."

Titus has led a grief support group since 2001 and she's only missed half a dozen sessions in the 15 years. She says it's been beneficial to her own healing.

"It's a real honor to have people be willing to share their lives with you. It is because it's something so very intimate to let people know how you really feel. In a grief group, you can be who you are and what you feel," Titus said.

Titus isn't the only volunteer group leader who has found healing through the groups. Julie Eckman has co-facilitated the older child parent grief support group for 20 years after the accidental death of her 13-year-old daughter, Inger.

"It's been the perfect way for me to continue to seek some understanding for myself and to provide real empathy to other parents," Eckman said.

In the past 20 years, Eckman has seen some changes to her group. There's no commitment to come for a certain period of time, so people come and go often. Eckman noticed people tend to return for additional support around their deceased child's birthday or death date. She has also noticed the group grow more diverse in gender.

"I think our culture has given men permission to grieve and openly share their feelings in the past decade," Eckman said. "At first it was mostly just mothers coming and now more men and fathers have started coming a few years ago. Now this group has changed into half and half and sometimes even more fathers than mothers."

Dwyer encourages people to wait six weeks after a death to begin attending group meetings because until then, they usually aren't prepared to talk about it. Even after that time period, no one is compelled to speak at a meeting.

"You don't have to talk if you don't want to. There's one woman in the group right now who cannot say a word yet. All she can do is be present and listen. And that's respected and honored and she's getting support just by being there," Eckman said.

What's the most important thing Titus has gained from her service as a group leader?

"Seeing people at various stages of grief is what stands out to me," Titus said. "Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own grief that we don't realize that the feelings we are having and expressing are really common among people who experience grief. You realize you're not alone in this and that maybe you can survive this."

Grief support group sessions last approximately an hour and a half and meet once a month (except the senior citizen group which meets twice a month) in the Grief Support Center's 2E classroom (2216) by the chapel on the second floor of Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center, 407 E. Third St. For more information call (218) 786-4402 or check the website.

Grief support groups

All groups held in St. Mary's 2E classroom, room 2216

Adult grief

Third Tuesday of each month

7-8:30 p.m.

Young widow/widower grief

Second Wednesday of each month

7-8:30 p.m.

Parent grief (miscarriages, stillbirth and infant loss)

Second Tuesday of each month

7-8:30 p.m.

Parent grief (young child, adolescent or adult child)

Fourth Tuesday of each month

7-8:30 p.m.

Senior citizen grief and loss

Second and fourth Wednesday of each month

10-11:30 a.m.

Suicide family members support group (for adults 18 and older who have lost a family member to suicide)

Third Monday of each month

7-8:30 p.m.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176