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Dealing with Loss in a Peer Group

February 26, 2017

On November 29, 2016 there was a great turnout for the Peer Group Liaison meeting with twelve of our sixteen groups represented.  The theme for this meeting was dealing with loss in a peer group.

The discussion was initiated and facilitated by Carolyn Walter who is an expert in the field of loss, transition and transformation. Her discussion began with a review of loss as a natural part of the healing process leading to change, transition and also growth. She stressed the importance of and need for grieving as a natural response to loss. However, grieving can be painful, messy and temporarily debilitating. We are often frightened by our grief as it is a reminder that not all events are within our control.
The group was encouraged to think of all kinds of losses that might affect members of a peer  group. Liaisons shared the impact of members leaving a group, but also shared that it is important to note how they leave. Some women come a few times and just don’t continue, others are long time members who are ready to move on, others are not committed to the group and just show up periodically. With all of these group changes, questions that group members might have are: What is wrong with us? What could we have done differently? What does this mean for the future of our peer group?
This past year, three groups dealt with the death of a member.  With the death of a peer group member, concerns about our own death are stirred. It is helpful for the group to process how this death has affected both the group as a whole and each individual member, similarly and differently. The group might also consider sharing their memories of this member and understanding ways that this member has contributed or not contributed to the group. Angry feelings toward the death of a member are very difficult to recognize and process.
The liaisons brainstormed the range of emotions that group members might experience.  The list was long but varied depending on the situation. Some of those noted were sadness, anger, frustration, guilt, ambivalence, relief, shock, awkwardness, anxiety and longing.  We are often frightened by our intense emotional reactions to loss. Many of the liaisons shared how losses in their group affected the members, how they handled the loss, and the impact moving forward.  An overreaching theme was the need for the group to process the experience through discussion and recognize the impact of the loss.  The group can consider inviting their Partner from the PGAC to attend a meeting to help the group process their loss.

The PGAC shared a document which is now on the TTN Peer Group Resources webpage titled “When a Transition Peer Group Loses a Member”.  The contents of this document can help group members process their loss (accessible by TTN Members only).

To contact Carolyn Walter, email her at
Carolyn Walter, PhD, LCSW
Consultant on grief, loss and transitions. Co-author of Grief and Loss across the Lifespan (Springer, 2015); Author of The Loss of a Life Partner (Columbia U. Press, 2003)