FOR those suffering the loss of a loved one, Christmas can be a time of sadness and darkness. One group who are trying to bring some light to those grieving are the Ennis-based STEM (Strength Through Every Meeting) support group.
The voluntary organisation has been providing group and individual counselling to people on low incomes since 1999. They are set to launch their next Bereavement Programme in Ennis at the end of this month. Also, in the run-up to Christmas, they will be holding a special candle-lighting ceremony in Ennis, where the lives of loved ones who have passed away can be celebrated and remembered.
Pauline Bradley is a therapist with STEM, whose counselling service is free and confidential and has helped hundreds of people throughout Clare over the years.
“The organisation was set up in recognition of the fact that prohibitive fees often involved in accessing counselling are a barrier to many people on low incomes,” she explained.
The service, which has received funding from the Family Support Agency and the National Lottery Grant Scheme, deals with all kinds of grief.
“Christmas is often a very bleak time for people suffering the loss of a loved one, especially as everyone seems wrapped up in the excitement and rush of festive preparations. A big thing we see with those dealing with bereavement is they can’t get enthused with it, everyone is rushing around and going out but someone who is bereaved might be just switched off from it, it’s a pressure they don’t need. That’s why it’s good for them to come to the group, a place where people think the same as you do,” she said.
Pauline said she is a great believer in the benefits of group therapy, although STEM also offers individual counselling. “When you’re in a group, you are bringing people together, everyone’s grief is different but you’re bringing people with similar experiences together. There is a connection that you get in a group and there is a huge therapeutic element to it. You meet people who are going through similar stresses,” she explained.
She said the group therapy is about “being real”. “What we see a lot is that within families, they want to be brave for one another, they want to buoy each other up. What happens is no one is being real, they don’t want to cry in front of their mother in case they would upset her. What you have is a family who are all side-stepping each other and not talking about the person they have lost,” she said.
“It’s a painful thing but after a while people just stop asking about the loss. It’s necessary that life has to go on but for someone who is bereaved, time has stopped. The group provides a real place for people to connect and talk about their experiences of loss without being worried about being a burden on anybody. People are frightened to fall to pieces because they don’t want to upset other people. But there is great mutual support within the group situation.”
An initial workshop will be held on Saturday, November 27 in Ennis, bringing together people who are suffering loss, in order to gain insight into and understanding of their grieving. The workshop will also help people with coping skills to move through the grieving process.
The group will be facilitated by two qualified and experienced therapists who aim to provide an atmosphere where participants feel safe to work through their feelings while having the support of others in the group.
After the initial workshop, participants will have the opportunity to avail of continued support sessions, one evening per week, running up to Christmas and continuing until the New Year.
Pauline explained that all grieving is an individual process and that the programme may not be suitable for the recently bereaved.
“Because of the process of grieving, during the initial stages you might not be totally in touch with your feelings. It’s unreal to begin with and it’s often when it starts to settle down that people need to talk. People can hold it together in the initial stages, going from the funeral and the month’s mind.
“It’s only after those ceremonial, ritualistic things are over that they are into the brass tacks of living their life without that other person. Other people might respond to a loss by throwing themselves into work, keeping busy and not grieving properly and that catches up on them later on. But every grief is different, it’s a very individualist process and there is definitely no rule of thumb,” she said.
The candle-lighting ceremony, which will be held in Ennis just before Christmas, offers a chance to celebrate the life of a lost loved one, along with helping the bereaved with the grieving process.
“This is hugely powerful in terms of honouring a person’s life. We are asking people to bring a picture of the person they have lost or a memento and a candle. We will talk about the person, talk about the loss and light the candle. It’s a ritualistic thing that we do, it’s not a religious thing. When the town is going crazy with shoppers, we will have a space that is very quiet and gentle. This ceremony is for anyone who has lost someone, you don’t have to belong to any group to take part,” said Pauline.
If you would like more details about STEM or would like to join one of the programmes or get involved with the candle-lighting ceremony, contact Pauline Bradley on 087 6383988 before next Thursday.