Grief is messy — ‘Circle of Hope’ understands

The support group doesn’t put a time limit on bereavement


It is often said that there are seven stages of grief — but those who have lost a loved one know the process isn’t nearly so neat or linear. Circle of Hope, a Lynbrook-based bereavement support group organized by Our Lady of Peace, is here to support people going through that messy, natural process.

“It’s okay feeling what you’re feeling now,” Angela Mendola, the social worker who leads the group, said to the ten members of the group during a recent meeting. “You’re not going crazy — you’re experiencing grief.”

The group, which meets on Fridays at 12:30 p.m. in the meeting room of the Lynbrook Public Library, is made up of people all in different circumstances. Some have lost spouses, or parents or children; some are years into their healing journey, while for others it's only been a few months; their losses have been due to sickness, or accidents, or age. The common thing that joins them is that they’re all experiencing grief, and they recognize the healing power of talking about it.

“I couldn’t wait to come here today, because I haven't been here in two weeks,” said Laura, who has been coming to the group for four months. “I couldn't wait to get back to the group to talk to everybody, and just …”

“Know that you’re not alone,” Faye, who has been coming for 18 months, said in understanding. 

Mendola handed out a sheet with a list of common feelings during grief. She asked which of them surface most often for people.

“All of the above,” Faye said, and was met with a room full of laughter.

The ability to be vulnerable in an understanding community has been indispensable to the members’ healing process. Elsa, who has been a member for two years, originally felt like a support group wasn’t for her. But now, having been a member, she said she would tell others to try it. 

“It’s a recharging thing,” Elsa said. “You can come and unload, and get enough support and strength and get through until next Friday.”

Grief has a funny way of sneaking up on you in the least expected times — when you have to change emergency contacts, or check off the “widowed” box at the doctor’s office, or find a new answer to ‘how many kids do you have?’

Mendola has been running bereavement support groups for six years, but gained a new understanding of grief when her husband died three years ago. She shared how her husband had built Adirondack chairs for her, but they wore down over time. When she had no choice but to throw them out, she found herself crying over them on the curb. 

“It sounds silly, but it’s real,” Mendola said. “It’s what we experience. I wouldn’t tell my neighbors all that stuff, but I’m able to share it with you guys.”

People don’t need to explain themselves at Circle of Hope — the other members already understand.

“People don’t get it,” said Peter, who joined the group after losing his daughter. “And when people don’t get it, it’s hard to deal with. You don’t even try to explain sometimes — there’s no point in it.

Which is why it’s good for us to come here. You can speak their names, and talk about it.”

Most bereavement support groups are highly specific — some are only for widows, while others are only for people who have lost someone to an overdose, while still others are only for people in a certain age range. They all had one feature in common: they’d run for only 6-8 weeks.

“You need to realize there’s no time limit,” Peter said. “Nobody can say ‘well in six months, one year, it should be okay.’”

“When people feel that, ‘move on, get over it,’ that’s not what we’re saying here,” Mendola said. “We’re saying ‘it’s happening, and we know it.' And it’s okay — it’s something you’ve got to do.”

Circle of Hope understands that grief is a long process. It meets its members where they are in the process, and to create an environment where people can honestly share what they’re going through without fear of judgment.

“You can vent,” said Louise, who has been a member for two years. “Nobody judges you. You can say what you want, because we’re all going through the same thing.”

The group is open and honest in their discussions. Brain fog, managing others’ expectations, and the difficulty of finding new purpose are all talked about candidly and met with understanding and empathy. 

“Nobody knows what we have here,” a member said. “It’s irreplaceable.”

Those interested in joining a bereavement support group can contact Sister Barbara from Our Lady of Peace at (516) 599-7448.