Patricia Kennedy holds weekly grief support group Thursdays at 7 p.m.
By Michael BRUER
The arrival of the holiday season brings with it great joy, celebration and laughter. Friends and family gather around to share in each other’s company, enjoy the delicacies of the season, and make memories to last a lifetime. But not all are in high spirits during these times. The loss of a loved one, the trials and tribulations of a divorce, and even the eminent loss of a close friend or family member can weigh heavily on minds and hearts. That’s when Patricia Kennedy steps in.
A private practice therapist for nearly 15 years and a grief counselor for more than 10, Kennedy offers a weekly grief support group at the La Crescenta Center for Spiritual Living on Thursdays at 7 p.m. There, at 4845 Dunsmore Ave., she be found engaging with clients to help them “find their own inner strength,” as she describes.
The same positive images and memories of the holiday season that are stirred up around this time of year – laughter, revelry and a general state of celebration and jubilation – become elements of sadness and regret for some.
“They bring up the memories more intensely,” said Kennedy. “People struggling with depression and loss of a loved one see other people celebrating the holidays – it’s right in front of them during the season – and it reminds them of what is not there now, and those feelings are aroused much more intensely than the rest of the year.”
Prospective grief support group members can anticipate learning a myriad of effective strategies to help them cope with their loss and with their life changes. Kennedy seeks to help her clients recognize that they are having normal reactions.
“It is important that they see that the grieving process is a normal one, that they are normalizing the method of effectively coping,” she said. “This is not an easy procedure by any means; it’s painful, but it will get better.”
In her experience, Kennedy has encountered a variety of responses from clients over the years. She finds that it helps for them to realize that this is a normal process, one that they will be able to pass through, including all the stages – anger, sadness, confusion, guilt – and to know that other people have gone through it before them. “Especially with these support groups, they find out that other people are having these experiences and they are not alone,” she said.
Kennedy stressed that the grief support groups are not entirely sad, that attendees enjoy each other’s stories and recollections of happy memories, too.
“We laugh a lot, the sharing within the groups is very touching, and frequently we are laughing and sharing stories, stories that lift the spirit,” she said.
The Thursday night grief support group welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds. Kennedy is careful to point out that death occurs at any point in someone’s life, and that sometimes the loss has not yet occurred – prompting clients to feel the need for comfort and a renewal of their inner strength.
The issues that Kennedy’s clients are battling are varied, and loss of a loved one is just one of the many areas of struggle. She notes that changes in a job are common, whether it is the loss of a job or a shift in employment. Many struggle to maintain their identity, creating tremendous upheaval. Living in Los Angeles, Kennedy has also worked with many clients who are presented with unexpected losses: children left without their parents, spouses left without their spouse, changes in health status such as an accident that changes their ability to function in the world as they used to.
As she describes, “Each person is unique, and they acquire particular tools to help them deal with feelings. What is useful for them depends on the person; some people like to write, others meditate, but ultimately I am here to help them discover their own inner strength.”
For those people who are unable to make Kennedy’s grief support group, she advises, “Talk with friends you trust during the holiday season and take care of yourself – as far as your needs are concerned, keep yourself in places where you feel okay and safe, whether that is among friends or not. Sometimes it’s not the best idea to go out to big parties or put yourself out there to all the events of the season. For many, it might be better just to stay with one friend, with what makes them feel most comfortable.”
The clients are not the only ones that benefit from the sessions. Kennedy receives good from her work as well.
“I’ve always felt great fulfillment just being with the clients, whether it’s a group or an individual. Listening to them and helping them find their own strength. The dignity of the human spirit is present in these sessions, and the resilience of the people I encounter – it pleases me to help them get in touch with what is already inside of them, their own strength.”
Finally, for those who have trepidations about the experience of a grief group, Kennedy wishes to dispel any false assumptions or misconceptions.
“Sometimes people are afraid when they hear of a grief support group; however, the objective is to change the focus and perspective of the life they have now, and remember the good memory of the one that is gone.
“It is key to remember that they will always carry the memory of their lost one with them, and take those memories with them into their new life.”
There is no cost to attend but love offerings are welcome.
For more information, visit the La Crescenta Spiritual Center for Learning website:
www.lacrescentacsl.org or call (818) 249-1045.