September 17, 2013

After the Last Bereavement Gathering

Butterfly on ZinniaAfter the last meeting of our four-week bereavement support group, participants talk in groups of two or three in the parking lot. We said our formal goodbye 30 minutes ago, but they’re still laughing, weeping, and sharing experiences.

The group isn’t finished telling stories and gathering hope. We’re hungry for more and make plans to meet again. I drive away, grateful to know our meetings eased grief and helped participants face unknown futures.

Why do I facilitate bereavement support groups for women who’ve lost spouses or partners, even as I deal with personal grief and hearing loss? I do it because grievers needs a place of safety and protection to speak of the person we love.  We need to talk about what we’ve felt and seen,  share tears, despair, and hope.

We need a place to be unguarded with our longing and the struggles of life on our own.

DSC05953-001I’m reassured about my own grief as I hear these women’s stories. They remind me there is no time limit on mourning and longing for someone you love. They’re between 50 and 90, with recent raw grief or more distance on their loss, and they bravely open their hearts to each other and to me. They trust each other with wounds and memories others cannot bear to hear.

In their trust, my own broken heart opens to give and receive love, to feel the universal suffering that’s part of life and deep connection. We remind each other that we are not alone in grief.

I love the beauty of a heart wide open, a face softened and unwilling to pretend, a soft 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 new wings.


In 2014, a year after writing this blog, my hearing became unreliable and unruly with Meniere’s Disease. With great sadness I stepped back from leading groups while continuing other kinds of volunteer work at Hospicare. Along with giving talks, I’ve been able to continue leading grief rituals. In 2019 with renewed hearing after a cochlear implant, I look forward to new possibilities.

For an article about creating ritual to soothe grief, see How to Create a Sacred Grief Ritual Many Years after a Loss. You may enjoy another article Gifts of the Heart: Volunteering at Hospice. This article was first published in the Hospicare and Palliative Care Services newsletter.


  1. September 22, 2013 at 10:48 pm



    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.

    1. September 23, 2013 at 6:43 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      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.

  2. September 22, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    Mary Friedel-Hunt MA LCSW


    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

    1. September 22, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      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.

  3. September 20, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Marty Tousley (@GriefHealing)


    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?”

    1. September 20, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      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.

  4. September 19, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Kathleen M. Rodgers


    Just shared this on Twitter.

  5. September 19, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Kathleen M. Rodgers



    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.


    1. September 20, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      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. September 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Ann N


    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…

    1. September 20, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      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.”

  7. September 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm



    love you, mama elaine!!!

    1. September 19, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      You are the best, sweet Liz.

  8. September 18, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Robin Botie


    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.

    1. September 18, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      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.

  9. September 17, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Patti Hall


    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:

    1. September 18, 2013 at 7:49 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      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.”

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