The Profundity In A Word

Death. No one word in the English language may stir so many strong emotions. Now imagine yourself being older, elderly. Your spouse, your partner in life, your best friend and confidant, dies. You are alone. The scene is a large room in a senior citizens' activity center. The empty chairs start to fill with elderly people. They have all lost a spouse. They are alone. Anxious. Bereaved. Hopeless. Scared. They are attending a bereavement group for the first time. The session starts.

Based on my work in group therapy with the elderly, I have observed a number of healing and curative factors. These curative factors are: the installation of hope, acceptance, a decrease in social isolation, finding of a new identity and meaning in life, support, catharsis, amelioration of fears, education, assistance in processing and dealing with painful or intense feelings, and an opportunity to help others (Cohen, 2000). Individuals who have lost a spouse often feel hopeless that they can return to a life of happiness and joy. They may even feel hopeless that they will ever just stop feeling sad all the time. We will look at specific interventions in bereavement groups that exemplify the installation of hope.


The population for this group was elderly individuals in the community who had all lost a spouse. These techniques could also be extended to younger bereaved spouses and perhaps other bereaved groups.


Mix the more recently bereaved with individuals who are further along in the bereavement process.

One particularly effective intervention in the installation of hope is to have bereavement groups that are mixed among people who are more recently bereaved and those who are further along in the bereavement process (Roy and Sumpter, 1983). Those who are more recently bereaved can see how those further along are finding happiness and joy again in life. They can also see how those further along are able to talk about the death and their loved one without the intense overwhelming emotions that are often present in the earlier stages of bereavement. Asking specific guided questions of those further along can highlight the possibility of hope to those less further along.

Identification by group members who are further along in the bereavement process with those more recently bereaved.

It is quite helpful to encourage group members who are further along in the bereavement process to disclose and identify how they can relate to what an individual who is more recently bereaved is experiencing. They can be encouraged to explain how they used to act/ feel the same way, but through time and the help of the group they have come to learn to accept and effectively interact with the vicissitudes of life and find happiness and joy again. It also is of great help to hear that the intense feelings of sadness will dissipate with time this intervention process can also be an effective intervention for those who are further along, by helping them to see how far they have gone in the bereavement process and giving them hope that they can still go further.

Use stories and poems that encourage hope and a new future.

Having group members bring in stories and poems they have read or to write stories about hope and a new future can help to install hope in other members. One such poem, whose author is unknown, follows (in edited format):

I'm tired of gloom; I'm tired of pain; I want to rejoin The world again.

Today I will try To smile once more. Death disappeared And left my door.

I'll pick myself up And try again; I'll make the effort To function again.

It won't be easy As 1 well know, But I won't give up The change made me grow.

The pain in my heart Will remain for a while But yesterday's gone Today I will smile.

Learn to do new tasks, things your spouse did, or to engage in new behaviors.

Asking the individual questions, such as what he or she always wanted to do but never had time for, or what he or she wanted to do but were never able to do because of his or her situation/spouse, can help the individual to look at ways to find new things in life.

Having group members encourage individuals to try new things that may be scary or different can be quite beneficial. It is not uncommon to find that group members may benefit from trying new behaviors together. For example, two bereaved women decided to take a cruise together because each was too fearful to go alone.

Asking a bereaved group member to explain some things his or her spouse used to always do that they would like to learn leads to a detailed explanation. This can then help them to see that they learned how to do the task just by observing their spouse do it so many times.

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