‘It’s a journey’

GriefShare director discusses support group

Cullman First Baptist Church is holding GriefShare meetings every Sunday through Nov. 20. (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Tuesday, Aug. 30, is National Grief Awareness Day, a day dedicated to reminding those suffering from grief of available coping methods and raising awareness of ways to be considerate of those experiencing grief.

In recognition of National Grief Awareness Day, The Cullman Tribune spoke with the director of one of several local GriefShare support groups.

Cullman First Baptist Church GriefShare Director Tammie Dunkling, who began leading the group three years ago after being mentored by the previous director and experiencing the loss of her father. Since she understands acutely the grief felt by those in the group, she said, she wanted to help them through those feelings.

However, she clarified, the facilitators are not counselors. One of the leaders of the group is a retired pastor and the other is a retired social worker.

Dunkling said, “We do not offer counseling. The GriefShare program comes with DVDs that you show, and the expert advice comes from each session that begins with about a 35-minute DVD that addresses an area regarding grief. Then there’s a group discussion.”

She said many of the seminar experts in the provided videos are faith-based clinicians.

“It is faith based. We try to emphasize that,” said Dunkling. “It’s not pushing a denomination for anyone to make a decision regarding their faith, but the counseling and such is from Christian authors and counselors, and we do use scripture – just verses for comfort and that kind of thing.”

The program is conducted over 13 weeks, with a specific topic addressed each week. Dunkling said that 15 people came to the first session held on Aug. 21. The last meeting will be Nov. 20.

“We usually pick up people along the way, and then some folks might come and decide they’re just not ready or it’s not what they thought it would be,” she said. “I think sometimes folks might believe that it is like counseling, and of course other folks are involved, so there’s a lot of discussion, but there’s never any pressure. Some folks don’t share a lot and then some share a lot.”

Even though each week addresses a different topic, the conversation is not closed off to any previous topics or differing conversations.

Dunkling said, “We believe that there are lots of steps, but we don’t think they’re ordered. We think grief is just a big ball of emotion. So, we do discuss stages of grief, but we’re kind of of the philosophy that everybody doesn’t follow in the same steps. Some folks never get angry. Some can’t get past their anger. So, we try to let folks know that it’s okay. Everybody is arriving at grief at a different point in their life and with a different person. It might be their spouse or partner or child. There’s not a set way that everybody is going to grieve.”

She said some members are open to sharing as much as they can while others prefer to remain silent. “Some folks are more private, and they just want to listen, but in doing this for the past few years, I haven’t found anybody that – by the end of the 13 weeks – wasn’t opening up and at least sharing that they have made progress.”

She continued, “We encourage folks to come four times –  to not make a decision about whether they are going to continue until the fourth visit because there is so much information and there’s so many overwhelming feelings. We don’t feel like you really get over grief. It’s a journey. So, we try to come alongside folks while they’re on this journey to help them to reach the milestones and be prepared for some of the things in the future because there are things that catch us off guard with grief.”

For more information about GriefShare, or to find a meeting near you, go to griefshare.org. The Cullman First Baptist Church group meets every Sunday from 3-5 p.m. For more information about those meetings, call 256-734-5632.

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