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Bereaved Families offering virtual support groups for grieving individuals

In this 'Following Up' feature, we check in with Jaime Bickerton of Bereaved Families of Ontario Midwest Region - an organization offering online grief support
Bereaved Families Jaime
Carly Kowalik, Jaime Bickerton and Melina Pearson of Bereaved Families (Supplied photo from Jaime Bickerton)

Over the last few weeks, everything about our daily lives has changed. As people struggle to find a new normal in their routine, there are others struggling with the loss of a loved one.

As this uncertain world evolves every day, that grief never changes.

Jaime Bickerton is the executive director at Bereaved Families Midwest Region and said it was crucial to keep the lines of communication open to the individuals and families they support.

To help people stay connected, Bereaved Families have pivoted to online support for those grieving the loss of a loved one.

“Our main priority is making sure that grieving families and people who have had loved ones die still have an opportunity to feel connected and get that sense of community," Bickerton said. “Grief is an isolating experience on its own, and then when we’re forcing people to stay apart right now, it just adds to everything that you’re going through."

In a typical week, BFO Midwest would be busy preparing for their spring sessions and processing their final intakes for groups in April. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve closed their office in Kitchener, but remain online to offer help remotely to individuals and families who need them.

Bereaved Families Living with Loss support sessions have shifted online where participants use Zoom to video conference with care facilitators and participants in real-time. Bickerton admitted the online aspect differs from the in-person support, but the core of the support sessions remain the same.

“Recognizing that people just need a space to connect, we’re not going to worry about activities and themes,” Bickerton said. “It’s just creating that opportunity for them to be in a safe space and connect with others who are experiencing the same things.”

All the uncertainty and uneasiness surrounding everyday activities is enough to overwhelm anyone, and Scott Berinato of the Harvard Business Review summarized it best by saying: “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief.”

But for anyone dealing with the death of someone close, they’re processing everyday grief on top of the grief of losing a loved one.

“There’s just a lot of grief in general going around in terms of loss of routine, loss of jobs, loss of the why of life that we’re used to living,” Bickerton said. “I think people are probably naturally experiencing grief right now, they just don’t recognize it.”

Whether you’re dealing with grief yourself, or you have someone in your life who could use some reassurance, Bickerton suggests keeping open dialogue with others is a great way to feel connected during this isolating time.

“Everybody is just craving that connection right now, and people who are grieving are going to be especially wanting that," Bickerton said. “It’s time to put the discomfort about having those conversations away and be brave and check in on the people who need a bit of extra support right now.”

As with any loss, it's difficult to find the right words or actions to comfort someone grieving the loss of a loved one. As individuals struggle to take care of their own mental health amid this pandemic, Bickerton recommends checking in with friends and family to provide some comfort and reassurance.

“I think people over-complicate it and they put too much pressure on themselves to say the right thing," Bickerton said. “Right now, I don’t think there is the right thing to say. It say be as simple as: ‘I’m thinking of you today and I hope you’re okay.’"

“At least then, that person knows you’ve thought about them and taken a moment out of your day to make sure they’re okay.”
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