GUELPH – The holiday season can be a difficult time for many people, especially those dealing with grief or loss.
Guelph’s Lakeside Church, through its Griefwalk program, is offering free support for people dealing with grief.
The program, created in 2010, is comprised of a number of support groups that meet weekly throughout the year. These support groups include: bereavement loss support groups, healing with horses, companion support, grief counselling referrals, educational seminars, and unemployment support.
Currently, the program’s services are being delivered virtually.
Griefwalk program director Elizabeth Lengyel said the program has recently tripled in size, which she believes is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m seeing more suffering this year than any other year,” Lengyel told the Advertiser. She added the pandemic has caused an “extra layer” of grief.
“When someone dies, we can’t even have a funeral the way we used to have it. We have 10 people at funerals, and people can’t even hug each other. It’s just added this other dimension of grief.”
Griefwalk is currently offering an online small group program that lasts for eight consecutive weeks.
“When we’re doing it online, we have more groups, with fewer people, because when you’re online you really need to build that connection with people,” Lengyel said.
“There are two components of healing: one is learning what they’re going through, the other is through peer-to-peer dialogue and sharing. That helps people heal.”
Lengyel said the first thing she does when someone joins the program is meet with them to learn about their story.
“If (the grief) is fresh, we usually offer them one-on-one companioning first. That’s if they aren’t ready for a group and need to focus on what they’re going through.”
Lengyel said the program has different groups for people experiencing different types of loss, including child loss, mixed loss, widows, suicide loss, and drug overdose.
“Every week we teach them about their emotions, we teach them about their dimensions of grief, we teach them mindfulness, and then we keep in touch with them afterwards,” Lengyel said.
“When you lose somebody you love, it changes your whole life. It’s like you built a structure out of Lego blocks, and all the blocks came tumbling down. Your blocks are all the same, but you’ve got to build something new. So, at Griefwalk, we try to help people figure out what that new is going to look like.”
Lengyel said the program also teaches people strategies around nutrition.
“When we lose loved ones, people either don’t eat, or we eat too much, or we eat really bad foods, which is not good for our grief. So, when we meet in person, we always serve healthy hors d’oeuvres. Many people come back and say they’re now eating properly again.”
The Griefwalk program is available for free throughout the year, but Lengyel said more people tend to join around the holidays.
“There’s a shift that happens. At Christmas, you’re watching everybody happy, and you’re not happy, and you’re not sure how to do it.”
Lengyel also shared some strategies for people who are dealing with grief and loss during the holiday season.
Lengyel said it is important for people to begin by simply talking about their grief.
“Allow yourself to express your feelings of grief,” she said. “Ignoring it won’t make the pain go away. Talking about it openly and honestly often helps you feel better.”
Lengyel also said it is important for people to be tolerant of their own physical and psychological limits.
“When we have feelings of loss, we are often fatigued,” she said.
“Low energy levels will naturally slow you down. Listen to what your mind and body are telling you. Lower your personal expectations about what you can and cannot do during the festive season.”
Additionally, Lengyel said it is important for people to do what is right for them during the holidays.
“Decide what you can and can’t do so you don’t become overwhelmed,” she said. “Well-intended friends and family can try to prescribe what they see as good for you during the holidays. But it’s important for you to focus on what you want to do.”
Lengyel also shared advice for people with friends who are dealing with grief.
“If you’ve got somebody that you’re inviting over that’s got grief, remember that when you invite them, you are inviting their grief. And so, just listen to them. Give them a hug. Be patient with them.”
Lengyel also said if people are feeling overwhelmed during the holidays, they can call the help line at 1-800-273-Talk (8255).