Group Sharing Protocol

The goals of the grief support group are, together, to learn about grief, to become aware of our individual experiences of grief, and to explore ways to co-travel with what has happened. The purpose of the sharing protocol is to help us do so in safe ways.


For the safety and privacy of all, the identities of those who attend and the content of what is shared must remain confidential.

Please take no photographs or screenshots and make no recordings of any kind, of anyone, or of anything during the session.


The primary need of people who are grieving is to express themselves. They need to feel seen, heard, and understood without interruption, suggestion, or judgment. Since we won’t have time for all to speak at length, the primary support we can give each other is to listen silently.

Structured sharing

To focus on our goals in the brief time we have together, we engage in structured sharing rather than open discussion.

  1. Check-in. Approximately 10 minutes: A one-minute check-in for each person to share as they wish while other participants listen silently. Participants are welcome to pass rather than share.
  2. Facilitation. Approximately 40 minutes: Participants may volunteer to process concerns with the facilitator. The focus is not on what happened, nor on how others are doing, but on how you are doing. Over a series of meetings, all who wish to process will have a turn. The facilitator may ask participants for quick, round-robin sharing during this portion of the meeting. Passing is always an option.
  3. Check-out. With approximately 10 minutes left in the meeting, the facilitator will ask participants to pause, reflect, then take turning sharing the insights they have gained.

“Advice, without invitation, can feel like criticism.”
– David Kessler, Grief Educator Certification course


We will work together to address challenges common to groups.

  1. Commenting on other people’s sharing.
  2. Giving unsolicited advice.
  3. Using “we-statements” (inclusion without permission) or “you-statements” (intrusion without permission), instead of “I-statements.”
  4. Neglecting to preface a question with “Are you open to a clarifying question?” before asking it.
  5. Making an invalidating statement or offering a platitude. (For examples, please see 64 of the Worst Things Ever Said to a Griever.)
  6. Trying to help people feel, think, see, or do differently – all beyond one’s control or even right to tinker with – rather than becoming aware of one’s own inner experience and assisting oneself. (Please see Worst Traits of People Who Try to Help People in Grief listed at the bottom of that linked page.)
  7. Understandably avoiding pain and sadness by  recounting what happened – thus retraumatizing oneself and one’s listeners – or lamenting how one’s partner or loved ones are handling what happened, rather than gently and kindly approaching the reality of one’s own sorrow.

To have your pain witnessed
To express your feelings
To release the burden of guilt
To be free of old wounds
To integrate the pain and the loss
To find meaning in life after loss
– The “Six Needs of the Grieving” from work by David Kessler

Using a sharing protocol such as this has pros and cons.


  • All participants get a short turn to express themselves without interruption.
  • Participants get indirectly heard through silent listening.
  • A few processing volunteers get directly heard and get personalized support.
  • Observers get to see genuinely addressing grief and grieving modeled.
  • All get a final, short turn to express themselves and get indirectly heard.


  • As with all groups, not all who wish for individual time will receive it.
  • Speaking into silence, without receiving evidence of having been heard through acknowledgement, mirroring or reflecting, may result in some anxiety, similar to how a baby becomes distressed when a caregiver is unresponsive.

The trade-off is that many people are uncomfortable with the feelings of others, have good intentions, but are unskilled at hearing and may respond in ways that are hurtful. Sharing into silence has both personal and social benefits and costs.

. . . . .

Researchers differentiate between grief and grieving. Grief is considered the feeling/emotion experienced from loss and absence. It is born of the love, bond, connection, and sense of belonging with the loved one. Grieving is considered the process of the heart, mind, and brain adapting to the loss, of learning to live and carry on in the person’s absence.

Complex, anguished, yearning feeling associated with love, attachment, bonding, connection, belonging.

Process of the heart, mind, and brain adjusting and adapting to the absence.

Common thoughts in the form of self-judgment and self-criticism based on unconscious beliefs and rules that intensify grief and prolong grieving:
“I should be handling this better.”
“I should be doing better.”
“I’m not handling this right.”
“I’m not handling this well enough.”
“I should have said/done this.”
“I shouldn’t have said/done that.”

This is why the advice to “Get over it” or “Move on” is profoundly misguided. If grief is equated to one’s love, one never wants to get over that. If grieving is a process, it can’t be mandated. The human brain learns well, but with assistance and time, not on command.

People who are experiencing grief and are grieving may, inadvertently, intensify their pain by using an unconscious thinking process that leads to a sense of no escape, and feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, and despair.

If people can become aware of their thoughts and sort them into two categories, this may provide some relief.

1. Is this thought factual, realistic, and helpful?

If so, it goes into one category.

2. Is this thought an interpretation I am making based on beliefs and rules I hold about how I, others and the world should be, and about what should or shouldn’t be or have happened? Am I thinking I should be handling this better and doing better? Am I using dire vocabulary to describe this situation? Am I faulting or blaming myself for factors over which I had no control? Am I attributing 100% responsibility to myself, others, or institutions when it’s possible that reality is complex and portions of responsibility might be attributable to many factors?

If so, I can become aware of how understandable my thoughts and words might be, how self-critical many of them are, and how they increase the intensity of my pain. I can feel compassion for myself, realize I have given these thoughts due time, and put them in another category.

As painful and brutal as they are, might there be some aspects of reality I will just need to acknowledge, about which I will feel so deeply sad, no matter how ardently I wish things had gone otherwise?

Becoming aware of one’s thoughts, sorting them, and giving one’s attention to the factual, realistic, and helpful thoughts can provide some relief from the already deeply difficult experience of grief and grieving. Paradoxically, consciously sorting one’s thoughts can offer a small sense of autonomy and personal power in the midst of situations and hardships that seem – or are – out of control.

“We are who we most are in times of crisis.”
Elissa Schappell

With questions, please contact Anne Giles.

Image: iStock

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