Grief Support Group to Begin in Calais

by Lura Jackson


The loss of a loved one can be a life-altering occurrence that requires navigating through potentially profound and long-lasting grief. Survivors may have a wide range of responses and feelings, not all of which are familiar. Being able to talk about grief with others who can compassionately relate by virtue of their own experience is a powerful tool of healing. To meet the need of community members affected by grief, Washington County’s first grief support group is preparing to launch in April in Calais.

The group was formed from a collaboration of individuals and organizations. One of the individuals involved is Anthony Giard, funeral celebrant of Mays Funeral Home and graduate student in a clinical mental health program. “Through the work at the funeral home, we realized that there are no grief support groups in all of Washington County right now,” Giard said. He explained that the funeral home contacted Down East Hospice Volunteers [DEHV] to discuss potential options. A plan began to emerge when he connected with Pam Helmstadter, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, in the course of his studies, and the lack of a grief support group again came into focus.

“As a practicing counselor in Calais, I find myself meeting frequently with people who are struggling with the pain of losing loved ones,” Helmstadter shared. She notes that people who are grieving often feel alone and isolated, and emphasized the need for social connection during those times.

“Connecting with other grieving people helps to normalize the grief process. It helps for people to see others that are experiencing the same things they are going through,” Giard said. He explained that previous approaches such as Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief are no longer used in clinical work because they have been determined to make people feel even less normal in an otherwise challenging time. “People don’t stage through grief, people walk through grief in a very individual and complex way.”

Along with Don Green of DEHV, Giard and Helmstadter worked out the details of the group, which will be held twice a month for two hours a session. Unlike a formal grief counseling group, it will not seek to clinically diagnose or treat bereavement; instead, the goal is to provide social support along with psychoeducational techniques for coping with grief.

The open structure allows for flexibility for participants, who do not need to register. Instead, anyone who is in need is invited to drop in to a session, or to attend consistently as long as they need to. There is no cost whatsoever to participants.

During each meeting, “There will be a time for people to share. We’ll have a topic related to grief and different strategies related to grief, and in closing we will discuss that topic with everybody,” Giard outlined. Participants in the meetings will be able to “share their grief story” to express themselves and their personal struggles. Doing so, and receiving affirmation that their journey is unique, enables participants to honor themselves and their emotions, opening the pathway to psychological healing.

Along with sharing their stories, participants will be guided through various relaxation and coping techniques such as mindful breathing and yoga, which Giard refers to as “things to use to get through those moments of acute stress” associated with grieving and loss.

At present, Mays Funeral Home is sponsoring the grief support group, but additional sponsors are being sought to help share the costs of the program, including providing materials and refreshments to participants.

The first meeting of the grief support group will be held on April 5th from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Calais United Methodist Church at 849 Main Street. It will continue to be held on the first and third Thursdays of each month as long as participants continue to come. “As long as there’s a need, we hope to keep this going,” Giard said.

For more information, contact Giard at 454-3141 or Helmstadter at 454-0407.