Saint John's new Grief Cafe aims to break through loneliness

·3 min read
The grief cafe takes place Wednesdays from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. (Lane Harrison/CBC - image credit)
The grief cafe takes place Wednesdays from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. (Lane Harrison/CBC - image credit)

Sometimes it's the small everyday moments that help bring people together.

It's something Katarina Presti, a licensed counselling therapist, has seen happen at the cafe she runs.

Located amid tall trees overlooking Drury Cove,  the Grief Cafe is a place where Saint Johners can come to find comfort while they grieve.

"You could say, 'Well, I take a triple triple,' and they say, 'My husband was the same way,'" said Presti. "And then it just blossoms into, you know, 'How did he die? How long were you married? Do you have children? What was your favourite place to be together?'"

The Compassionate Grief Centre, a non-profit charity Road that provides programs and services for those experiencing loss, recently added the cafe.

It provides a weekly drop-in space where people can come to have a coffee, talk with a professional counsellor and speak to other people who are on their own grief journey.

'Being together in that loneliness'

"We live in a death-denying society," said Sandy Maxwell, the chief governance officer of the Compassionate Grief Centre. "So none of us are prepared to lose somebody that we love and what that's going to feel like."

She said people to feel as though they're the only ones going through the experience of grief.

Presti said the connection between people struggling with the loss of a loved one can form quickly.

"I noticed with this Grief Cafe, people coming in and being emotional with each other, like visibly and audibly being emotional with each other. And just saying, you know, 'The house is so quiet, and nights are the hardest,'" she said. "And sharing, being together in that loneliness."

Lane Harrison/CBC
Lane Harrison/CBC

Dealing with grief through understanding

The program was made possible with the help of a grant from the federal government's New Horizons for Seniors Program, said Maxwell. The centre received $25,000, the largest possible grant provided by the program.

But Presti said they've had participants of all ages, as young as someone in their mid-thirties. Typically, about half a dozen people attend the cafe, she said. But, she expects numbers to increase in the fall with fewer people away on vacation.

"I think there's a difference between being heard, and being understood. And when they come here, all ages, all genders, everyone's safe, and everyone's understood," she said.

Maxwell said most people want to help a person in pain overcome those feelings, but that often isn't helpful for those who are grieving.

As a counsellor, Presti said it's important to embrace and explore the difficult feelings that come with loss. If someone begins to cry, this means sitting with them through that experience as opposed to telling them everything will be alright.

"Just experiencing that raw emotion, that raw pain, that raw fear, all these complex things that come with grief. And sure you're hearing them, but you're feeling that with them," she said.

Part of this exploration and understanding involves remembrance. Presti will ask people questions like: How did you feel when you were sitting next to them in the hospital? What was their favourite meal? What were their last words to you?

"I think the key to understanding someone is being willing to walk in their shoes with them," she said.

The cafe takes place on Wednesdays from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m at the Compassionate Grief Centre on Drury Cove Road.

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