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Finding support despite social separation

Church partners with Samaritan for virtual grief support group.

Grief can be an isolating experience, but now, more so than ever, that sense of isolation has gone from emotional to physical as the nation continues to practice social distancing. 

The First United Methodist Church of Moorestown (FUMC) and Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice have teamed up to let those impacted by loss know they’re not alone.

This month, the pair launched a Zoom grief support group. It began with a New to Grief session and will be followed by a six-week program called Sharing in Grief and Hope. 

First United Pastor HeyYoung Horton said early in the pandemic, one of her church members lost his mother. In speaking with him, she learned his grief was exacerbated by the fact that the family couldn’t hold a proper memorial service because of guidelines on social distancing. 

The member told Horton that his friends who had also lost loved ones were in the same grief-stricken state, and he wondered if there was a way they could have an electronic support group. Horton was initially hesitant because while she’s offered grief support before, she’s not trained on the subject. So the member suggested a partnership with Samaritan Hospice. 

Joan Ordille, supervisor of Samaritan Center for Grief Support, said FUMC’s request came at a time when Samaritan was getting its own support groups up and running, so it was willing and eager to collaborate when Horton reached out. 

The group will help mourners explore their “loss experience,” according to Ordille. The primary focus is on emotions — specifically how people cope with loss. Given the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are fewer opportunities for mourning rituals, so the group will provide opportunities for people to memorialize their loved ones.

Horton said the group’s focus is giving people a place to meet and share their concerns. There’s no cure for grief, but giving people a place to release their hurt helps, she added. 

“Grief, in my experience, as [you] share and express more, there is healing,” the pastor explained. “Even though we are quarantined, they have a place to come and express their sorrows and somebody is listening.” 

Ordille said at any time, mutual support is incredibly important to the healing process. While she hopes the support group will get back to in-person meetings, in the meantime, virtual support can help combat feelings of isolation. 

“Nobody understands what a grieving person is going through like another grieving person,” noted. 

The group is currently closed to new members. Ordille said that is by design, because there’s a building of relationships and trust that happens over the course of a support group, and when new members continuously join later on, that sense of trust can be disrupted for members.

Samaritan offers an array of other ongoing support programs. To learn more, visit samaritannj.com. 


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