The most difficult reality we face as a group is the death of a group member. It is difficult because the loss of someone we have come to care about causes deep grief. And it is difficult because it brings us face-to-face with the reality of our own mortality.
We believe that it is critical to do the hard work of helping the group talk directly about the death of a group member. As a group you will want to honor the person who died by sharing some of what they meant to you. And you will want to talk about your feelings of gratitude for the person and your experiences of grief as you say good-bye to them. We have found that this kind of sharing can produce a mixture of tears and laughter. It becomes a celebration of the person who died and of our friendships with them.
One reason it is critical to talk together as a group about the death of a group member is that it is a way of valuing the life of the person who died. We need an opportunity to talk about how important the person was to us and to review the ways in which they enriched our lives. This can be a very positive experience as a group. It is good to remember ways the person made you laugh or ways they particularly touched you or cared for you. This helps people face the reality of the death and begin grieving. It helps people celebrate the person’s life. And it helps people realize that should they die, they also will be remembered and missed.
Another reason it is critical to talk about someone’s death is that it is the purpose of the group to talk about reality, no matter how sad or fearful. When we do not talk about reality directly, the message people receive is either that reality is too awful to talk about or that we don’t have the personal resources we need to address this reality. When we do talk, it gives the group strength and a deeper bonding to know that they can do this hard work of grieving together.
Finally, the death of a group member will stir up people’s worse fears and deepest emotions. If we are to function as a true support to each other, we need to talk together about these fears and feelings.
The script below provides a structure you can use to facilitate a group discussion after a group member dies. It may need to be adapted to fit well with your faith community. So, use it as a guideline. We keep a box of kleenex in our supplies and pass it around at all our meetings, but it is especially needed at this special kind of meeting.
Death is the ultimate act of living. It is an event to be paid attention to and respected. Together we live with cancer. And together we face death. The Bible calls death the ‘final enemy.’ It is an enemy that Jesus destroyed, making death a beginning rather than an ending. Take whatever time you need as a group to look and listen and learn from death. Take whatever time you need to say ‘thank you,’ and ‘good-bye’ to your friend who died.
Group Discussion After The Death of A Group Member
Tonight we need to do the difficult but important work of acknowledging the death of ____________________ (person’s name). For those of you who did not know _____________ (person’s name), he/she__________________________(give some history of the person’s history with the group and about when they died.)
We want to talk about this together as a group for two reasons. First, we will miss this friend. We need to grieve our loss together. And secondly, when anyone we know dies it increases our fears about our own mortality.
It would be good for us to talk about_________________(person’s name) for awhile. Share whatever comes to mind about him/her. Things he/she said, ways he/she touched your life or ministered to you. Things you enjoyed and now will miss about______________________(person’s name).
(Allow time for people to share. You may need to allow time for silences especially during this sharing time as people reflect about the person and about their feelings about the person’s death.)
It would also be good for us to talk about our fears. As we face the reality of death it creates real fears for us. What added fear or anxiety have you been aware of since hearing of_____________(person’s name) death?
(Again, allow time for silence and discussion.)
We also need to reaffirm our hope.
- First, we need to be reminded of our hope in life after death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25). Jesus also said, “I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2,3). And David wrote, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6).
Does anyone have any thoughts that they would like to share about how God’s goodness and mercy extends beyond a life-time?
- We also need to reaffirm our current hope for today. God continues to give each of us life today. We do well to affirm that gift, to receive that gift and to celebrate the life God continues to give us.
One way to reaffirm our continued gift of life is to continue to support each other and to pray for each other.
How can we pray for each other this week?