By Jasmine Willis
GENESEO — Anyone who has suffered loss is welcome to come to the new grief support groups available this month.
Manilla Owen reached out to this local reporter to shed some light on the recent grief counseling that has progressed since the pandemic. Serena Kniffin, Livingston County Hospice Services coordinator has worked with these kinds of support groups for 17 years. She is now working with Owen in creating a new group that is appealing a more diverse crowd.
They are now offering grief support for young widows and widowers starting April 7 at 6:30 p.m. It will be held at St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church located at 5015 Lakeville Rd. in Geneseo. These will go on the first Thursday of every month. You don’t need to live in Livingston County to apply. The groups are completely free to the public. There is no need to register beforehand. The past groups have served Nunda, Hornell, Dansville, Geneseo, Mount Morris, Wayland, Avon and more.
The past group called Journeys is still available to anyone who has suffered loss on the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. It is located at the same place.
“We realized we had a need to help out the younger families. We wanted to start a group that helps out the younger widows and widowers. They have experienced loss and need to figure out how to go back to work and deal with the kids. People who grieve have a lot of needs,” Owen said. “I am going to lead this group since I know what it feels like to lose a spouse when you are young. I lost my husband 15 years ago when I had a seven-year-old at home. I lost a whole income and had to get childcare. I can reassure a young person on what to do in this situation. I have been through it myself. When something like this happens to you there is no way of knowing what is normal in grief. You have a piece of that grief that is going to last a lifetime.”
Owen said the first two years of grieving is a long process. It takes a lot to prepare someone on what to do when they lose a spouse or a loved one.
“It is a big change in your life. It takes time to understand that you are alone. When you are used to doing everything with your spouse and now you have to do these things alone. You have to renegotiate your social life,” she said. “We want people to know they have a support group to come too, and they don’t have to be in Livingston. We will accept people no matter where they live. You can come from anywhere to get a person to talk to you that knows what it feels like. We have walked the same journey as you and we want to help.”
Owen said the support groups will help with someone who has just experienced loss, is going through loss, or lost someone 20 years ago. There is no time limit on grief.
“Everyone can come as needed. They are not obligated to come to every meeting. The church has been very good to us to let us have these meetings at no cost,” she said. “We are here to mentor someone who is grieving and trying to figure out their world after a loss.”
Owen said that the pandemic has caused a lot more grief in the younger crowd.
“I have seen a lot of deaths in the younger people since Covid-19 has started. It has robbed the lives of people in their 50s and 60s. I know everyone likes to get political about the pandemic, but in all this fighting we are forgetting about the grief. There are over 800,000 families that have experienced loss. At this point no one has gotten out of this pandemic without facing some kind of loss from Covid-19. We all know someone who has died from it. I feel like this county has been touched deeply by it. Covid is now a big part of our lives. It has created layers of grief. You have the pandemic itself, the political part of it, loss of work, loss of loved ones, loss of education and this all creates multiple layers of grief. It has been really hard on families. We don’t need people telling us to get over it.”
Kniffin said she is glad to get back on track with the support groups. She is excited to be starting a new group for the younger crowd.
“We think the more resources and options that are available to people the better. When we talk about younger people, we are leaving that open to how they chose to identify themselves. We don’t want to exclude anyone from coming to these groups. We will leave them open to anyone who shows up,” she said. “We won’t commit to any length of time on these groups. We are going to see how well they are received by the public. We may find that there is a strong need for people in their 40s. We may find there is more of a need for people in their 60s.”
Kniffin said she is leaving it open to anyone who has experienced loss.
“I have been offering support groups for many years. I am pleased that Manilla will be helping out with the new group this year. We typically like to get a couple of us involved in the group to be there for anyone who shows up. We are very grateful to the members at St. Timothy’s for allowing us to use their space. We have always had a great relationship with them,” she said. “I have done a lot of social work. I enjoy stepping into their world, and being able to make a difference. That is what is rewarding about what we offer. We are there to support them with whatever they need.”
Kniffin said the group is talking about expanding more in the future if there is a need. They are always looking to what is best for the grieving community.
“People find others in the group that are going through exactly what they are experiencing. They find friendships and relationships that last a lifetime. This is the power of the group process. It tells everyone who comes that they are not alone. The people who come to group are the ones who make it what it is. The energy of that space is created by who shows up. We had a couple who met in group; one had lost a parent and the other had lost a spouse. These two forged a bond during group and got married because of it. It is sweet stories like this one that make it all worth it.”