21 September 2017

Growing Through

Finding the help and support to deal with loss.

The pain of losing someone, whether through death or family breakdown can be a lonely and isolating experience. Although it is a very personal journey, it is not one that needs to be taken alone. There is help and support available through the grief support groups endorsed by ‘Growing Through’. Grief is like a long dark tunnel that people have great difficulty navigating. The invaluable help that is offered through ‘GriefShare’, ‘DivorceCare’ (adult groups), ‘Pot of Gold’ and ‘Rays: Shedding Light on Life’ (Children’s/teenage support groups), are like having a map that guides both adults and young people through that turbulent journey.

I began that journey some 17 years ago when my husband died very suddenly at the age of 30. My daughters were two and six years of age at the time. I can wholeheartedly say that although it was a devastating and painful experience, it also turned out to be the most incredible journey of my life. God took me on an unexpected, most amazing path that completely transformed me.

Only if you have known grief yourself can you fully appreciate the time and personal investment it takes to come through it. Sometimes even those closest to us want to rush us through this process to ‘normalise’ life again so they can move on. Grief is not something on which people want you to dwell, nor do they know how to deal with it comfortably. Because healing isn’t done in a tangible ‘quick fix’ way that can be easily demonstrated, churches often avoid this kind of ministry. It’s a slow process and in this instantaneous world, people expect to see the results quickly.

Initially I dealt with my grief in a very destructive way – without God. I was angry with God and tried to obtain relief and comfort through spiritualist churches and mediums, which further confused, complicated and hindered my grief. Through lack of resources and no fault of their own, there was ‘no spiritual help’ with my grief from the conventional church at that time. So many of my questions needed Biblical truth and intervention. Through this exploration, I learnt that grief is a spiritual journey.

From experience, I know that during a time when you feel vulnerable and are searching for answers to tough questions, it is vital to have the right spiritual support. A broken heart is very much a spiritual tearing of the soul and has been compared to ‘open heart surgery without analgesia.’ Only the touch of the Divine Physician can heal such a deep wound. Secular sources can be helpful, but heal “only superficially” (Jeremiah 8:11, 20 NAS).

I have coordinated GriefShare and DivorceCare for eight years and can endorse that grief support should undoubtedly come from the church. They are 13-week support groups consisting of DVD based programs dealing with grief related topics, followed by discussions led by trained facilitators. Renowned teachers, who have also known grief through death or family breakdown and therefore can speak with great conviction and clarity to give hope in the midst of the pain, provide the teaching portrayed in the DVDs.

Thankfully, there are many GriefShare and DivorceCare groups run by dedicated, incredible people throughout the province. However, there is little to no grief support for children or teenagers from a spiritual perspective. Many think that small people have small problems. Fortunately, what is so unique to ‘Growing Through’ are the children and teenage grief support groups, ‘Pot of Gold’ and ‘Rays: Shedding Light on Life.‘

Also 13 weeks in duration, these Biblically based support groups teach young people coping mechanisms to deal with the changes in their lives. Learning is accomplished through a variety of methods including crafts, games, storytelling, puppetry, songs and journal work. They are led by facilitators trained by ‘Growing Through’ to provide a safe setting in which children can talk through their feelings and worries with peers who are experiencing similar situations. Over the past six years I have witnessed first-hand the difference these groups have made in children’s lives which is reflected in the following parental comment:

“‘Pot of Gold’ has transformed our lives at home. It not only has given my child much more confidence and ability to speak out, but has also helped me, as a parent learn about the impact of relationship breakdown on children. It has also challenged me to address the negative impact I had in the way I saw things, and so directly provoking me to deal with things in a more positive way.”

The impact of loss on a child, whether through death or divorce, is quite profound. It can take a child up to ten years to process a significant loss in their family. This is primarily due to their lack of emotional maturity, cognitive skills and understanding to be able to verbalise and deal with feelings on such a deep level. This was reflected in my children’s grief, which is why I am so passionate about instilling much needed support in our local communities.

The consequences of repressed or unresolved grief can result in children and young people having social, emotional, psychological and educational difficulties that can be long lasting. There are support groups for children throughout the province dealing with bereavement through death, although none that portray Biblical context in their programs or the healing love of God. To my knowledge, there are no groups that offer support for children/teenagers who are bereaved through family breakdown. We at ‘Growing Through,’ aim to bridge this significant gap and bring healing to the family as a whole in their loss.

This gap can be filled by the existing adult support groups throughout Northern Ireland by extending their programs for the needs of young people. Anyone who feels called or challenged by this proposition please get in touch with me through my details below. As the Northern Ireland representative for ‘Growing Through,’ it is my role not only to promote these groups, but also to train people to establish them in their own churches and communities.

Until recently, the group in Carrickfergus was the only group in Northern Ireland. To my delight, we have recently trained a great team of people in Ballyclare Family Focus, who start their first course on 27th January. I am so excited by this development as the more groups that are trained, the more young people that are helped.

Presently, I am working in my full time job and devoting one day a week to ‘Growing Through.’ I believe God’s will for me is to work full time in this ministry and live by faith. I am anxious for financial sponsorship to develop enough to free up more time to enable me to become more proactive in promoting the work of ‘Growing Through’. I find myself having to ‘hold back,’ conscious not to undertake too many opportunities to set up groups even though the demand is there.

The grieving process is a long and difficult journey that can challenge and affect every aspect of your life. ‘Growing Through’ provides support and help through God’s word to rebuild and restructure the broken pieces during this time. I hope to bring the healing power of Christ into both adult and children’s lives through helping support groups to spread throughout the province. If you can help me towards that end through prayer, financial sponsorship, or hosting a support group in your church please email me (marygault@hotmail.co.uk). For further information about ‘Growing Through’ please refer to our website, growingthrough.org.

Mary Gault

Northern Ireland Representative // Growing Through