Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

After a loss, the Jewish Pavilion's Grief Support Group helps people to heal


Rabbi Maurice Kaprow

A few years ago, Howie Appel lost his wife of almost 40 years to cancer. About a year before that, Jane Edelstein lost her mother.

Grief is such a personal, individual experience, and no two people go through the process of bereavement in precisely the same way. But at different times and in different ways, Appel and Edelstein found help and comfort from the same source: a grief support group that is run by VITAS Healthcare in partnership with The Jewish Pavilion.

Appel was still reeling from the raw pain of loss when he participated in the group in 2016, just a short time after his wife passed away at age 62. "My world was falling apart piece by piece," he recalled. He had been a Pavilion volunteer, and Executive Director Nancy Ludin encouraged him to take part.

He wasn't sure it would help, but he went anyway.

The group, led by Rabbi Maurice Kaprow, runs for six weekly sessions twice a year, in winter and summer, with groups of generally between five and 10 participants. Jewish Family Services Orlando also hosts twice-yearly groups in spring and fall, and the combined four programs a year mean that Central Florida Jews who have experienced a loss don't have to wait when they are ready for a program, said Ludin. She advises that for most people, the best time to attend the group is between six months and a year following a loss.

The free Pavilion programs meet at a seniors' facility so that seniors are better able to participate as well as any other member of the Jewish community who has the need.

Rabbi Kaprow, a longtime member of Central Florida's Jewish community, is a chaplain for VITAS Healthcare, a local hospice organization that is a partner with the Pavilion and JFS to facilitate the grief support groups. Ludin reached out to Rabbi Kaprow and VITAS a few years ago because, she said, "we received a lot of calls from people who were grieving and wanted to know where they could go for a good program, and we didn't have any place to recommend with a Jewish perspective on grief and where participants could be with other Jews."

And being with others who shared both a similar experience and point of view was part of what made the Grief Support Group so valuable to Appel. So was the fact that the others in his group had more distance from their losses and "sort of took me under their wings," he said. Group members reassured him that the worst was over, but at first that was hard for him to believe. "I had to learn to accept the fact that it would get easier for me," he said.

In the meantime, he said, as he struggled with the deep pain of his loss, "they gave me their warm vibes, and that was very important for me."

Edelstein also was led to the Grief Support Group, in the winter of 2014, through her connection with The Jewish Pavilion, and she also was initially very doubtful that it would be of help. She had been deeply mourning her mother's loss for several months. "My grief felt really personal and like it really wouldn't be helpful to me to talk to strangers about it," she said.

But then she reconsidered. "I thought, why not go anyway? Can't hurt."

And like Appel, Edelstein also found that her participation in the group helped her far more than she had anticipated.

"I found it extremely helpful to sit and listen to other people talk about what they were experiencing," she said. "That was not on my radar at all. I hadn't given any thought to other people's loss at that point. And it was very helpful to feel like part of the human race-that other people were going through this as well. And rather than feel threatening to me, that no one else could possibly feel my depth of pain, it felt comforting."

And more than comforting, it gave her a sense of purpose at a dark time in her life: "to be there with, and for, other people."

In the weekly sessions, Rabbi Kaprow intersperses Jewish wisdom on bereavement and insights into the customs and rituals associated with mourning when relevant to the discussion. He uses the guidelines in a facilitator's manual as a springboard for discussions that hone in on group members' memories of their loved ones and their experiences and thoughts as they process their feelings about their loss. He begins sessions by checking in with everyone, asking how their week went.

"It's a participating group. It's not me lecturing. It's them interacting and talking," said Rabbi Kaprow, who recently wrapped up the summer session. "We give people strategies on how to deal with grief."

One of the first topics of discussion with a newly formed group is common myths surrounding grief, Rabbi Kaprow said. One such myth is that it takes a year to get over a loss. "The truth is, it doesn't take a year. Some people it can take less, some people it can take much more."

Also, he said, people grieve differently depending on the kind of loss-spouse, parent, friend, child-and also on the individual. Therefore, he said, how he approaches them depends on the individual, and he underlines a message that is simple and comforting: "There's no right or wrong way to grieve."

Neither Appel nor Edelstein had known Rabbi Kaprow before participating, but both credit his warm and empathetic way with their groups as a strong support for them in a difficult time.

Edelstein saw him as a "very effective facilitator," saying, "I found him respectful of people and a good listener, and he never forced people to talk."

Appel felt a strong bond with Rabbi Kaprow in that the rabbi had also lost his wife not very long before. "He empathized with me quite a bit and we just sat and talked sometimes, and it was very nice," Appel said, adding, "He was just phenomenal."

Appel said he also called the rabbi a few times between sessions, "just to vent with him." Just knowing that Rabbi Kaprow would offer his support was a comfort. "He gave me the impression that if I needed him, he was there for me, and that for me was very meaningful."

Rabbi Kaprow sees such continued availability as essential to his role. "If you start something, you can't just drop it," he said. "You have an obligation to the individual to see it through."

After the six weeks of meetings are over, the support doesn't just end there. About a month later, Rabbi Kaprow reconvenes the group to check in with everyone and see how things are going.

And some of the relationships that are forged over members' shared bond of loss may continue long after that. Appel stays in touch with some group members and recently received a greeting card with well wishes from one of them.

Howie Appel

Edelstein made very close friendships with two members of her group that continue today, a development she did not look for but regards as a lucky side benefit of her participation.

For people in mourning who may be hesitating to join a support group because they doubt it would do them any good, both Appel and Edelstein would encourage them to try it.

"It was a very positive experience and it was also very different than what I anticipated," said Edelstein. "My hope would be that other people, if they don't want to go, may somehow have that same sense of 'why not?' In retrospect, that was a healthy attitude I had."

For more information on the Jewish Grief Support Groups, call The Jewish Pavilion at 407-678-9363.


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