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Support group helps those who have lost loved ones to homicide grieve

Two people hold hands at an event to raise awareness about gun violence in Lynchburg, Va. (Alessandra Young | WSET)
Two people hold hands at an event to raise awareness about gun violence in Lynchburg, Va. (Alessandra Young | WSET)
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A local support group is available to help those who have lost a loved one to homicide through the grieving process.

Its called the Appomattox County Homicide Survivor Regional Support Group.

It is a 10-week program held over Zoom and will begin in March.

The facilitator of the group and licensed professional counselor, Joy Bagby, says members are guided through a workbook and they learn to become more resilient and manage their grief in healthier ways.

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"We try to reduce the intense anger and help them to channel that anger more productively. We try to help them cope in ways that feel good to them and to remember their loved ones in a way that makes them smile instead of in a way that makes them feel enraged and hurt," Bagby said.

This will be the third year of the program. Bagby said she has seen members find comfort in each other and the skills they learn in the group.

"It has been very touching to see how these group members come together and find a connection with each other," Bagby said. "They share a common grief and loss that's very specific to their population, a population which is underserved unfortunately and so this has just been an amazing resource for these people."

According to Dina Blythe, Homicide Support Group Coordinator with the Virginia Victim Assistance network, the group began state-wide in 2019 after a survey was put out to victim-witness partners around the state asking about gaps in services. She said the response was that there needed to be more resources for homicide survivors.

The group started in Appomattox in early March 2020, but due to the pandemic, they decided to press pause on meeting and then eventually continue the program over Zoom. Mary Anne Freshwater, Director of the Appomattox County Victim Witness Assistance Program, said they've learned that conducting the group through Zoom is very effective.

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"Utilizing the Zoom platform, you know, you can sit in the comfort of your own chair in your living room, with you know, your pictures of your loved ones around you, and join everyone," Freshwater said.

Bagby said this also allows them to reach other counties beyond Appomattox.

"That way, transportation is not as much of an issue, people can stay in the comfort of their own homes or their office and participate in the meeting," Bagby said.

According to Kate Hanger, the Executive Director of the Virginia Victim Assistance Network, the program is an intimate process.

"This is not what you normally would think of as a support group of, you know, a larger group of people, the group facilitators do everything that they can to make sure that when you show up for group you feel supported, and you feel seen, and you feel like your participation is part of this group dynamic and not that it's going to get lost among a larger group of people," Hanger said.

Bagby said the ideal number for the group is typically five to seven people.

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"Losing someone in a violent way is particularly difficult to process. So when it is an intimate group setting like this, they find comfort and peace with each other, and knowing that there are others who understand them better than, you know, maybe their friends and co-workers and peers can understand," Bagby said.

Hanger said the program is 100% free for participants. She said The Homicide Survivor Support Group Program is one of the Virginia Victims Assistance Network's programs and the group is funded by the Federal Victims of Crime Act grant.

Mary Anne Freshwater, Director of the Appomattox County Victim Witness Assistance Program said this group has been one of the most rewarding programs she has been a part of both professionally and personally.

"There's really no words for me to describe the trauma and the depth of the pain that families go through and it's a lifetime of pain," Freshwater said. "So for the, for the Department of Criminal Justice, to see that need and to see the value in having homicide support groups across the state, and from Virginia Victim Assistance Network to see the value and it be a top priority, It just, there's really just no words, It's just, it's wonderful."

The program is open to Appomattox and other surrounding counties, including Amherst, Campbell, Prince Edward, Buckingham, the City of Lynchburg and others.

Sessions will be held every Monday beginning on March 7 and ending on May 9.

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If you are interested in joining, you can contact Mary Anne Freshwater with the Appomattox County Victim Witness Program at 434-352-7791 or Dina Blythe at 757-617-9814.

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