Shine On LGBTQIA+ Bereavement Support Group is a new emotional peer support group that I have set up under the services on offer within my private practice Joel Korn Psychotherapy. I am taking a decade of learning from setting up emotional support groups around dealing with difficult feelings, bereavement and living with chronic conditions, to bring you Shine On.
I realise within our London community there is bereavement support, but this often overlooks the needs of our LGBTQIA+ community and the sense of isolation or loneliness that grief leaves us with, these needs are only partially met in one-to-one therapy. From my work with clients, I know they sometimes feel that the grief label is plastered on their forehead and they sense their peers are saying, ‘oh no, there’s Joe with their grief again’, or ‘can’t Joe just shake it off and get on with their lives’. The answer is that it may take that family member or friend a long time to feel themselves again after the grief, there should be no rush to get over those we have loved and lost.
Out of my original friendship group of twenty-one people, I am one of three friends left behind from the HIV epidemic. Unfortunately, those of us that remain, have lost touch over the years and have dealt with the loss very differently. I received my own diagnosis after the epidemic but still live with survivors’ guilt. When I walk through the streets of London, I sometimes see their ghosts walking beside me or speaking to me. I know that the older generation in my family died without really knowing who I was or what I did professionally with my life, so when they died, I felt that double sense of loss. I took a decision a long time ago that I would not let my experience of grief consume me. I would pour their love, memory and warmth into the work with my clients, to help them deal with their everyday. It may sound odd, but I love working with palliative care and bereavement, as it provides me a sense of healing and lets me leave my mark on the world to come. I also witness more acceptance and personal growth when working with these endings and beginnings of a new chapter after the loss.
As LGBTQIA+ folk we may not have been able to share our identity with those we have lost, so the sense of loss may feel greater. We have lived through tragedy together even if we consciously have not done so. Even if we are ‘out’ to those we consider important in our lives, we have faced the cycle of loss before as those around us may have taken their time to accept and come to terms with who we have always been. There may be a double sense of loss when we lose our loved ones or close friends, as they may have become our logical family.
We know from projects such as Open Doors and Terrence Higgins Trust that our ageing community needs are not always well served. Old age homes or retirement villages may not be set up to understand the needs of ageing same sex couples. In our old age some people may have to return into the closet, sadly, in order to keep themselves safe. Having to explain to your new acquaintances why you are now single in your 60s or 70s after being a same sex marriage or relationship can be a distressing position to be in when you may not have chosen to live in an old age home or retirement village. We may have also had to become the carer to our parents or those that are ageing in our community to families that may have rejected us years before, because of our gender or sexuality.
Grief is a universal experience and does not only affect us in our old age, grief has no age limit. My hope is that Shine Bereavement Support Group is somewhere where members can rebuild their lives and support network after the loss they have experienced. My hope is that Shine On is not a monthly group, that participants are able to make plans and meet each other outside the group. I am offering Shine-On on a sliding scale between £5 – £15 to attend, depending what you can afford.
Let’s make the memories of those you have lost shine on with love for years to come, I look forward to welcoming you to Shine On!