Cora Bloomer’s husband, John, died in December. Before his death, Harden Hospice in Newton helped John and his family deal with the end of life issues that accompany terminal illness.
Through Harden Hospice, Cora Bloomer met Amy Claassen, a bereavement counselor who works for Harden.
“John lost many family members to cancer,” Bloomer said. “It haunted him and our whole family. I thought long ago that having a support group to turn to after losing someone would be a good thing not just for us, but for the community.”
She talked to Claassen about it and Claassen encouraged her to pursue the project and offered to serve as moderator if Bloomer could get a group together.
The first meeting was canceled because of a snowstorm, but the group has met once a month since then.
“Attendance has been about five to seven men and women at each meeting,” Claassen said. “The benefits of having a small group include members feeling an intimacy and safety with one another. But a large group can offer good things as well, such as more people to share a wider variety of experiences.
“When people gather to share a common bond, the size of the group is not the primary factor,” she said.
Claassen said she begins a new group with a six-session curriculum that is “mostly” followed.
“Sometimes a session will take on a life of its own and the group will want more discussion. Or perhaps we’ll get a newcomer or two and we need to backtrack a bit. And we certainly can go beyond the six sessions. Groups are usually somewhat fluid. The group will often decide how long the group will go on,” she said.
“It is important for all the members to understand and abide by some ground rules. Everyone deserves confidentiality and respect. There always is space for one to be one’s self. No one ever has to share anything they don’t want to share,” she said. “Anything that is a group issue is more beneficial because there is more input and there are more ideas for resolution.
“But if the group is really not serving one member there are other options available,” she said. “I can meet privately with that individual or perhaps recommend another counselor.”
Claassen also noted that sometimes if a session is repeated for the benefit of a newcomer, some of the other group members hearing it for the second time will find themselves in a “different place.”
“The message didn’t resonate during the first go around, but by the time they hear it again, it may make better sense,” she added.
Claassen said she was happy to have gotten to know the Bloomer family and was glad to help establish the grief-counseling group.
“I’m grateful to have a chance to participate in the Peabody community and have a presence here,” she said.
Pat Hunnell also is a member of the Peabody group. During a several-year span in the 1970s, she lost her husband and four sons.
“Cora thought long ago that the community needed something like this,” she said. “I thought she was right. So many of our Christian Church members are alone — widows and widowers — and I know it helps to have someone to talk to when you are grieving.”
Hunnell said she joined the group because she thought she might be of help to some who experienced recent loss.
“I thought maybe I could help someone else,” she said. “The loss never leaves you. It is always there whether it’s a song or a smell, or just the way the sky looks, it can jump right back into your life. It never leaves. Things don’t necessarily get better, but they do get to be different and you can learn to live in a positive way and not be buried by your grief.”
Bloomer said she would like to see more Peabody people use the group to come to grips with other kinds of loss, not just death.
“People suffer through all sorts of problems. Loss can be bankruptcy, empty nest syndrome, divorce, loss of a job, anything where something is gone and the person has trouble moving on,” she said. “Talking it over with people who are dealing with the same feelings is helpful. There are a lot of emotions to walk through. I have been surprised at how much it helps to share with others.”
Hunnell agreed and said she would like to see more people participate because everyone needs to know they really are not alone.
“Everyone needs to realize that eventually loss and grief come to all of us,” she said. “If nothing else this is a chance to see something in people you may never have seen before. Or perhaps it is a chance to make a new friend — if that’s what we get out of it, that’s good too.”
The grief-counseling group meets from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the First Christian Church in Peabody. There is no charge to participate.