After the Last Bereavement Gathering

Butterfly on ZinniaAs I left the parking lot half an hour after the last meeting of Standing in Our New Lives—a four-week bereavement support group for women who have lost their spouses or partners—group participants spoke quietly outside in the parking lot in groups of two. Four weeks wasn’t quite enough for these women who weren’t finished telling stories, weeping, laughing, and gathering hope.  I joyfully drove away knowing our meetings had eased grief and helped women move into their unknown futures.

Why do I facilitate bereavement support groups? Why did I agree to continue with two support groups a year for women who have lost spouses or partners? Because people need a place of safety and protection where they can speak of the person they loved and share tears, despair, and new plans. We need a place to be unguarded with our longing and the struggles of life on our own.

DSC05953-001I am reassured about my own continuing grief as I hear these women’s stories and struggles. They remind me there is no time limit on mourning and longing for someone you love. These women, from their fifties to nineties, with recent raw grief or a little more distance on their loss, opened their hearts to each other and to me. They trusted each other with stories and memories that others cannot bear to hear. In their trust, my own broken heart opened to give and receive love, to feel the suffering that is universal in life. These women reminded me that we are not alone and that we are fortunate to have had loving relationships, even if we had to let them go.

There is something inspiring and beautiful in a heart wide open, a face softened and unwilling to pretend, a mouth with no pressure to say, “I’m all right.” I’m grateful to help provide a safe haven where bereaved can speak, listen, and grow.


Elaine Mansfield

Elaine Mansfield

You may enjoy another article Gifts of the Heart: Volunteering at Hospice. In October, Elaine, a long-time bereavement volunteer and group leader, will facilitate a new four-week series of Standing in Our New Lives: A Bereavement Group for Women Moving Forward After the Death of a Spouse or Partner (recently or a long time ago). The group meets Oct. 8, 15, 22, & 29, 2013, 2:30 – 4:00 P.M. This Hospicare group meets at Lifelong, 119 West Court St., Ithaca, NY. For detailed information, visit the events section of the Hospicare website. To discuss or join the group, contact Elaine at or 607 592 4354 or Donna George ( or 607-272-0212) by October 1. This article was first published in the Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County e-newsletter.

  1. Here’s what jumped out at me, “a face softened and unwilling to pretend, a mouth with no pressure to say, “I’m all right.” “-
    See more at:

    • Thanks for reading and responding, Patti. Most of us feel pressure to pretend we’re OK for our family, co-workers, community, or even friends who can’t understand the duration or depth of our grief. As a culture, we persist with the illusion that if we think the right way or eat the right diet or make tons of money, we won’t be side-swiped by crisis and catastrophe. I’m grateful to offer a safe place for other women to express grief, but it’s also important for me to say, “It’s been over five years since my husband died, and this morning I woke up longing for my old life with him. Yes, I keep going. Yes, I’ve create a good new life, but my heart still bleeds.”

  2. I love that you run these groups for women finding new lives for themselves after losing a partner. It must feel so great to be there with them and for them as they make their ways through territory you’ve been treading over for five years.

    • Robin, it’s good for me and for participants. I’ve liked every group and had challenges with every one. It’s a good way to turn my grief to something useful–along with writing. Thanks for commenting. You know how much it means.

  3. love you, mama elaine!!!

  4. These women are so blessed to have you as a group leader and friend; it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing, and as you said, isn’t it lovely that as you’re helping others, they are also helping you…

    I went to several grief classes/groups, and the one I found most helpful was unfortunately only one night – it was specifically for daughters mourning mothers. There was something particularly soothing about sharing with other women who had lost their mothers, and I’m sure the same goes for women who have lost their life partners. That common thread truly binds us…

    • Thank you so much, Ann. I hope I can live up to your expectations, but in fact, I bring in poetry and questions and themes and create a quiet space, and the group unfolds according to the participants. I always benefit, too, because even though it’s been five years since Vic died, I’m still working through my loss. In groups, I do a little monitoring to make sure everyone has equal time to share, but there are so many stories, images, memories, and concerns and many women have their own favorite poems or books to share.

      I agree it helps when everyone has a similar loss. The first group I attended as a participant, there were five who had lost parents and five who had lost spouses. The hospice bereavement counselors divided us into two groups. All participants agreed that it worked best to talk with people who had a similar loss–we could truly empathize with each other. As you say, “the common thread truly binds us.”

  5. Elaine,

    You are a guiding light for a hurting world. A kind face with understanding eyes…a person who has been there. This line stands out for me out of all the others: “We need a place to be unguarded with our longing and the struggles of life on our own.”

    I’m sharing to FB now.

    So looking forward to you guesting blogging over on my blog next.


    • What an affirming thing to say, Kathleen. We all need a haven where we can talk about our sadness and struggles–and we especially need this in grief. And, I imagine, when an Air Force husband flies a dangerous mission or is overseas far from home, it helps the wives left behind to gather and discuss their worries and loneliness. Thanks for sharing my post at FB and Twitter. You are wonderfully supportive of other writers, and I’m glad you’ve found an agent to find a publisher for your second book. I look forward to doing a guest blog at your site, too. It’s exciting to get my work out to a wider circle.

      Best to you and thanks for your support and encouragement.


  6. Just shared this on Twitter.

  7. SuSuch a beautiful and personal description of what goes on in a grief support group! Thank you for this, dear Elaine, and thank you for “being there” for the bereaved in such an important way. I’ve added a link to your post at the base of my own, “Grief Support Groups: What Are The Benefits?”

    • Marty, thank you for your kind words and for linking to my post on bereavement groups. I’d love to include photos of the groups in my pieces, but we have an important and essential confidentiality policy, so I used flower images instead. The women were all beautiful buds hoping to open to life again. Makes me happy when my work feels helpful to you because I find your work so helpful to me and others.

  8. Elaine, I love this piece. And good for you for helping those who grieve. I am planning to start leading bereavement support groups for women in mid-January…and I am looking forward to doing that. Your piece inspired me. Thank you, Mary

    • How wonderful, Mary. You have so much to offer. I look forward to hearing more. That particular group inspired me. It just ran itself. Each group is different, different size, different ages, different time since husband died, different backgrounds. It’s alwaya interesting and sometimes a challenge. Always powerful and worthwhile.

  9. Yes how beautifully you have written of your own pain of loss and of opening your broken heart to others to share in mutual pain. What a gift you give in your simplicity, sincerity and kindness. So happy to read your blog and know that you are out there.

    • Carol, thank you for reading my blog and commenting with your kind, encouraging thoughts. For me, sharing pain and struggles lightens the burden and brings hope for everyone, so I receive as much as I give in bereavement groups. It is a pleasure to make deep, honest contact with others.

Leave a Reply