TRINITY — Inside a small office with cream-colored walls and light classical music playing in the background, seven women are gathered in a circle to share intimate moments from their lives.
Some talked about the deaths of loved ones, some divorce, some of cancer diagnoses. One woman didn’t speak at all.
What they had in common, however, was a desire to connect through a universal feeling, grief.
“Everybody grieves,” said Grace Terry, founder of Grief Resolution Resources of Tampa. “Whatever setting a person might be providing professional health in, chances are the people we are wanting to help have had traumatic losses, and those aren’t always related to death.”
This meeting was the first of its kind in West Pasco. Called a “Grief Cafe,” Terry modeled her therapeutic group sessions after “death cafes” in Europe, which help people talk about and come to terms with death. She started her first cafe in Tampa last July and has done nearly 50 of them in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties since then.
Terry has been in social work and related education for nearly 30 years, but a series of traumatic events in 1984 left her grief-stricken and lost. She lost her job, was divorced by her husband and her mother died in a car accident in just a few short months.
She was floored by the outpouring of support from friends, neighbors and strangers, and their kindness inspired her to pay it forward.
“With some time and lots of support, I was able to create a new normal for myself,” Terry said. “With some stability, sanity and serenity in my life, I felt very strongly about learning more [about grief] and sharing the kindness and comfort that had been given to me.”
Grief Cafe participants form a circle and introduce themselves, giving as much or as little information as they feel comfortable sharing. To break the ice and encourage dialogue, Terry starts by passing out a list of 17 “misunderstandings and false statements” about grieving, cultivated over her career working in private practice, mental health services, geriatric care settings and substance abuse treatment centers.
One of those, number seven, is “time heals all wounds.”
“You always hear this,” Terry said. “Time alone does not heal all wounds. It takes time, talk and tears.”
Although the stories of loss vary from cafe to cafe, Terry emphasizes that tears and laughter are perfectly acceptable and nothing to be embarrassed by. It’s also ok not to talk, but instead to quietly listen.
“We do all we can to let it be a no-stress, no-pressure situation,” Terry said. “It’s a relaxed conversation, with beverages and light refreshments, and is for people who want to know more about helping grief for personal reasons, professional reasons or both.”
Grace teaches others how to become Certified Grief Services Providers or Certified Grief Management Specialists through the East Coast Coordinator for the American Grief Academy and Grief Resolution Resources. Her first class has graduated and is holding grief cafes. .
“A gentlemen I met recently asked me: ‘Aren’t you creating competition for yourself?’ I said: well, no, because there are plenty of broken hearts to go around and if there were 50 of me, we couldn’t do all there is to be done. I’d be thrilled if I could wave a magic wand and transfer the knowledge to anyone who has ever wanted it,” said Terry about teaching others to host grief cafes.
The format has been received more positively and enthusiastically than any other Terry has used in 25 years She attributes this to the relaxed environment and lack of a lengthy time commitment.
The next Grief Cafe will be held 6-7:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 at the Growth & Recovery Counseling Center, 7747 Mitchell Blvd., Suite B, Trinity. The event is free, but a $5 donation is welcomed. Each cafe is limited to 10 people, so make reservations with Joy Davis, a licensed clinical social worker, at (727) 267-6247.
For more information about Grace Terry, visit http://www.grace-terry.com.