THE ELLA FOUNDATION and Hospice Savannah have partnered for a new support group that uses the strengths of both organizations.
The Forgotten Victims Support Group is an eight-week group beginning Aug. 22 designed for people affected by traumatic loss.
Part grief education, part support network, the group is limited to 15 participants to ensure the intimacy of the group dynamic.
Charity Lee, the founder and executive director of the ELLA Foundation, knows about grief firsthand—her 13 year-old son Paris murdered her four year-old daughter Ella in 2007. With Ella gone and Paris in prison, Lee lost both her children in one day. The grief she felt after was nearly insurmountable.
“I tried to commit suicide twice when my daughter died,” shares Lee. “And this wasn’t in the immediate aftermath, this was a year to three years afterwards. If a crime is horrific enough, you’re not only dealing with grief but you’re also dealing with PTSD or major depression.”
Today, Lee’s strength allows her to tell her story, but it took a long time and a lot of work to get there. Programs like the Forgotten Victims Support Group are designed to strengthen and support victims of grief.
It’s crucial to understand what grief is and how it affects you.
“Grief is way more than just because someone dies,” explains Betsy Kammerud, Hospice Savannah’s Full Circle Grief and Loss Manager. “If someone is incarcerated, or you lose your job or your house or your dog dies. It’s a loss. We’re walking around in this world with so many people who don’t even recognize that the reason they’re feeling like this is because they’ve experienced losses and they’re not talking about it.”
Grief can affect people in a multitude of ways, from depression and anxiety to not sleeping and loss of productivity.
“Grief is a major draw on productivity in this country—your focus has gone,” says Kammerud. “Then you’re even more stressed and beating up on yourself, and that’s not what anybody needs when they’re going through grief.”
Even though so many people grieve, there’s still a societal stigma against expressing it. As Kammerud explains, anger is a more socially acceptable emotion, but true power lies in your ability to be vulnerable.
“It takes a great amount of courage to be vulnerable. People think of vulnerability as a negative thing, and it’s not,” says Kammerud. “It’s amazing, and it takes a lot of courage and you’re very brave if you’re willing to be vulnerable in front of people you don’t know and sometimes even more so in front of people you do know.”
“Expressing pain authentically often feels like you’re powerless in the immediate moment,” adds Lee, “but like Betsy said, and what I’ve learned from my personal experience, when you’re vulnerable you become authentic and then when you become authentic is when you can really find your true power. Because in order to know what your strengths are, you must recognize your weaknesses.”
A group like Forgotten Victims is an important resource for grieving people.
“Grief is a process, they’re not steps—nothing is linear, but most people have the tools to deal with it, particularly if they come get some extra support,” says Kammerud. “This is a normal process; it’s not a disorder, not a disease.”
The group features a one-week grace period, so registration will end Aug. 29.
Though the program lasts only eight weeks, both Hospice Savannah and the ELLA Foundation hold regular programming to continue helping people heal.
“When the program ends for this group, there are classes offered here and at ELLA that if participants want to continue in their journey of learning and getting support, they can go into those programs also,” says Lee. “It’s not like they hit eight weeks and we’re like, ‘See ya later! You’re on your own now.’”