Bozeman group to host free grief support class

Compassus will offer a nine-week grief course to anyone within a 60-mile radius

BOZEMAN—Compassus, an organization that bought out Rocky Mountain Hospice in Bozeman several years ago, will again be offering its semi-annual grief support group. The group held its first meeting Tuesday, September 18, and will continue weekly through November 13.

The Tennessee-based organization offers hospice and palliative services around the country, focusing particularly on patients whose physicians believe they have less than six months of life remaining, as well as their families.

Cindy Pipinich is a certified social worker with Compassus and has been spearheading these grief support groups for several years. Pipinich works with families who have lost loved ones on an individual basis, but says the group is one of her favorite projects.

“My goal is when it’s all over, that that group of people continue to rely on each other in the future,” she says of the group. “And I know that happens. It’s really powerful.”

Generally, the people who attend the sessions have lost a close loved one relatively recently; the group sessions are a way to connect with others in a similar situation. While the attendance of the group is often fluid for the first week or two, Pipinich says it’s a closed group for the most part. It’s important for the members of the group to remain as consistent as possible over the nine weeks in order to develop those kinds of therapeutic relationships.

“It’s probably one of the most helpful things for people who are grieving to be with other people who know what that’s like and who are feeling the same things,” says Pipinich. “It allows them to come together and share in the grieving process, and it offers consistent fellowship and support.”

That process, she says, is often misrepresented. Many people think of grief as a series of stages people go through, as if checking those boxes off as quickly as possible would mean they were back to normal. Pipinich says that’s not the case.

“We as a society don’t often appreciate how that process works,” she says. “Grief is actually a very fluid experience, and anybody can be years down the road and have something trigger a grief response. The bottom line is that the emotions can come and go, and you may not even experience every stage at all.”

The model presenting grief as a series of stages was initially put forward by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, but its application to grief was not its initial purpose.

In reality, the stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—were designed to be applied to patients who had received a terminal diagnosis, and only later was it co-opted to apply to grief. Pipinich says a more accurate representation would be to view grief as a process rather than a series of steps.

“People in the midst of the grief process often feel like there’s something wrong with them,” she says. “It’s often says that it’s more of an adjustment process than a pathology: there’s nothing wrong with you. Just realizing how universal that experience can be is helpful.”

 Pipinich hopes word of Compassus’s resources will catch on in the Madison Valley. Compassus serves everyone within a 60-mile radius of Bozeman, but she fears people who may benefit from the group may not want to drive into Bozeman to access it.

“We serve such a wide area, I hope people will utilize it,” she says. “I get to watch it time after time, seeing them feeling so isolated and alone, to realizing there’s nothing wrong with them. It is such a valuable model.”

The semi-annual group draws groups of anywhere from three to 12 people, but Pipinich says usually six to eight is the magic number. Having an intimate put sufficiently large group allows participants to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and feelings and recognize that they aren’t alone in what they’re going through.

For those who wish to attend, the group is free to attend, and materials are supplied. Meetings are every Tuesday from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Compassus office in Bozeman at 301 Edelweiss Drive, Suite 6, and will continue through November 13. 

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