When you lose a spouse, you may feel shattered, alone, and without hope. You may also feel a need to connect with others who are going through a similar experience. It’s not surprising, then, that many newly widowed mourners seek out support groups in order to share their experiences with others who have experienced a similar loss.
For many years, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey has offered a wide variety of support groups, whether for bereaved spouses, families of people with Alzheimer’s disease, children of Holocaust survivors, or would-be parents who have suffered a pregnancy loss. The groups are not one size fits all — rather, they respond to the very real needs of the community.
That is why JFCSNNJ has started a bereavement group for people whose spouses have died of covid-19. While their grief may not be different from that of people whose spouses were lost to other conditions, the circumstances surrounding their deaths certainly were both shocking and sudden — factors that must be taken into account and shared with others who experienced the same nightmare.
Debbie Fox, the clinician who will facilitate the group, said she hopes to provide “a safe space for individuals who have suffered a significant loss as a result of the current pandemic and provide the opportunity for them to both receive and give support as they navigate this very painful grief in these very challenging times.
“I believe that their grief has much in common with a grief following any significant loss, but has added challenges due to likely having been unable to be with their loved one when he or she was dying and not having the comfort and support of traditional rituals of mourning,” she said.
As we have seen in recent issues of this newspaper, some families have marked these deaths with Zoom shivas or drive-by visits, but we have yet to know if the lasting effects of these accommodations will be sufficient to provide the comfort these mourners will need.
Clinical social worker Michele Wellikoff, who also is JFCSNNJ’s chief development officer, pointed out that people who lose loved ones to covid have gone through an isolating experience. First, they were not able to talk to doctors or visit their loved ones during their last days, and then they were deprived of the usual resources that help mourners grieve.
Ms. Wellikoff, who also has experience as a clinician leading groups, said that that while Zoom shivas provide mourners with “a little more privacy and the ability to be quiet,” they’re nevertheless missing out on the energy provided by the ability to cry openly.
According to Ms. Wellikoff, the support group is being formed “because there were a large number of people asking for it.” This will be in addition to one-on-one counseling, available through teletherapy. While the JFCS’s groups are usually limited to their own catchment area, “if anyone needs it, we’re happy to let them participate,” Ms. Wellikoff said.
These groups are somewhat similar to those offered in response to 9/11, but there are some differences. Then, people felt anger at the terrorists who were responsible for the carnage; “now, there is anger at the world.”
The group is scheduled to begin on Thursday, May 14, but people who are unable to participate on that day may begin the following week. It will be a closed group, and it will be free to participants.
JFCSNNJ, with locations in Teaneck, Fair Lawn, and Wayne, encompasses a large area — all of Bergen County and most of Passaic and North Hudson. Teaneck, in Bergen County, has been an epicenter of the pandemic.
For more information about the new bereavement group, or to register, call JFCS at (201) 837-9090 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.