Peer Grief Helper Profile
By Kerry J. Bickford, Newsletter Editor
When Jeanne Flynn’s son, Brian, died in May of 2015, “life came to a screeching halt.” After 10 long years of “hopelessness” and a “living hell on earth,” Brian had finally hit rock bottom. Then, one short month later, her husband and Brian’s father, Arthur, died of cancer. This shook Jeanne to the core, reaching deeply into a place where she began to question her faith and her life’s purpose over the next year.
Jeanne’s story is a familiar one to the other peer helpers who facilitate a growing number of support groups across the state. A year after Brian’s death, she and her parish priest decided they wanted to do something for bereaved people and families who were reaching out for help, and thus began her journey as a peer grief support group facilitator.
“Who better to share with than someone else who has suffered a similar loss?” asks Jeanne. “Friends are important, but if they haven’t walked in your shoes, they don’t really get it.”
Jeanne describes the peer support model by emphasizing that “We are not professionals. There is great comfort in being able to speak openly and hear others do the same without fear of stigma or judgment.”
Jeanne describes her roles — as someone who has experienced a substance-use death and as a group leader — as a dual advantage. “My feet are firmly planted in their shoes,” she says, adding that she has lived through many of the things people describe in the support group.
The big picture, says Jeanne, is that “we are still alive. Why? I’m trying to make sense out of it all by being there for others … and giving them a purpose.”
Brian is at the very center of Jeanne’s inspiration, and she sees his continued presence everywhere as she helps others who have suffered the loss of a loved one. He is still playing baseball with his Cape Cod Baseball League “brothers” and a pick-up game of basketball with his lifelong friends. He is there smiling and swimming with his daughters and cheering at every milestone they pass. His memory lives on in the hearts of those who loved him and in his mother’s mission of helping other grieving families like her own.
Says Jeanne, “I’m getting back as much as I give.”
The Consoling Partners/Addiction Loss peer grief support meets the third Wednesday of every month from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Corpus Christi Parish Center, 324 Quaker Meeting House Road, East Sandwich, MA.
A number of peer support groups for grief after a substance-use death in Massachusetts are meeting by Internet video connection because of the COVID-19 restrictions: Find out more on the SADOD Grief Support Group Directory.