If Wednesday’s inaugural meeting of Cayman’s first support group for the recently bereaved didn’t go quite as hoped, it was none the less a critical success.
‘It didn’t really go at all,’ said John Borgwardt, manger of Cayman Hospice Care, a non-profit organisation dedicated to caring for the terminally ill.
‘We had a couple of people lined up, got a couple of phone calls, but it’s something new and people are a little tentative. It will take some time.’
Mr. Borgwardt, a former funeral director and lifelong student of the psychology of grief and bereavement, is a certified death educator, and founded Cayman’s Hospice Care’s grief-support group as an extension of the hospice’s traditional programmes.
‘Palliative nursing care is our core service. We also do day care, though, where cancer patients come in and we have a discussion group about how people are feeling, how they are coping.
‘We also do bereavement services, but much of that has been done by nurses, so [the new group] is part of our continuous commitment to families who have loved ones that are dying or have recently died.’
Sensitive, if straightforward, about the issues surrounding death and grief, Mr. Borgwardt said it was difficult for most people to discuss death and that the group would need ‘to build a level of trust in the community’ to gain people’s confidence.
‘It’s difficult to talk about because death is, in many ways, one of the last taboos, and talking to a third party other than family can be hard.’
It is an odd anomaly, though, that it is sometimes easier to talk to a third party than those more intimate. Much depends on the length of the bereavement.
Some of the most original contemporary thinking about death was by author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whose 1969 On Death and Dying was a landmark.
Ms. Kubler-Ross said people passed through five stages when confronted with death and dying, the final one being acceptance.
‘Grief is not on a timetable, and we try to help families heal and complete the relationship with the person dying or who has died,’ Mr. Borgwardt.
‘We encourage people to talk openly, and while not everyone is able to, that is our goal. It’s a process.’
The role of the church in Cayman, he said, was a very significant and very strong source of support for people, helping them come to terms with loss.
Each grief-support group lasts approximately six weeks and has a maximum of eight people.
‘I have worked in places with ongoing programmes, but six weeks is generally effective as a time to do education and for people to identify and understand what their feelings are.
‘We give people permission to grieve, so they know that grief and bereavement are normal reactions to a very abnormal situation.’
He said that he hoped to gain support for the group, spreading the word through the community and that, when people felt a need for it, the grief-support would be ready.
‘We hold (people’s) hands and help them through.’