Human connection. Support.

Those are among the two most important things individuals are seeking now during the coronavirus outbreak, when individuals are staying at home and keeping distance from friends and family.

To help those facing challenges in a variety of areas, the New Milford Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice is now offering virtual support groups.

“It’s a wonderful safe place to share what people are going through,” said Catherine Vlasto, LCSW and Hospice social worker.

“For people to know they’re not alone is important,” Vlasto continued. “They have a shared experience and can gain support.”

Three support groups, and a new COVID-19 grief support group are available via Zoom.

The groups are open to all individuals, regardless of residency.

A caregivers support group is held the first and third Tuesday of each month from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

A Living Without a Partner bereavement support group is offered the send and fourth Tuesday of each month from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

A Remembrances bereavement support group is held the first and third Thursday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The new six-week COVID-19 grief support group will kick off May 7 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Vlasto said VNA staff began exploring ways to offer support a few weeks into the pandemic.

“We realized (the pandemic) was for a much longer term” and people needed support, she said.

“We didn’t’ want to take away any important aspect of our agency out,” Vlasto said, citing the need to move to virtual support groups.

Transitioning to an online format has taken time. Not everyone who attends the support groups or is joining a group is comfortable with an online format.

“But we overcame the learning curve,” Vlasto said, noting attendees have been talked through the process of logging into the app.

“It’s good I can walk them through it to get them on,” she said.

Sheryl Dominguez of Wingdale, N.Y., said the virtual bereavement support group is helpful.

“It’s worked out quite well,” she said. “A lot of people are alone and it helps to be able to touch base with everybody that we knew before.”

Cathy Masi of Roxbury said “there’s nothing like the real thing, but (the virtual support group) is a wonderful substitute rather than having nothing.”

“It’s good to see familiar faces, hear familiar voices and just connect,” said Masi, who attends the bereavement group.

The new COVID grief support group is expected to play an important role in the lives of many families.

“People are grieving, and the worst thing has already happened,” Vlasto said. “They lost their loved one. But they’re dealing with the situation in a different way.”

Many family members have not been able to see or visit their loved one before they died.

“For COVID families, their loved one’s death is more public,” Vlasto said. “For those people who have died, for their families, their survivors have a place to say it just didn’t happen in the news, it happened to me.”

Bob O’Keefe, LCSW, facilitates the bereavement group at the VNA. He has held two virtual groups so far.

“It’s going very well,” O’Keefe said, noting the group averages about 10 people, most of whom have been regulars or used to attend and have returned.

“I think people are basically on their own” these days, O’Keefe said. “They have no place to go, no people to see. This is a safe way to talk to people in a group and have input as to how they’re dealing with it.”

“This is a safe place to come, a safe place to cry, a safe place to just talk about whatever is affecting you - loss,” the facilitator said.

Support from other attendees is important.

“It’s about being there for one another,” he said.

Masi said she has enjoyed watching “how people have transitioned from not being able to say ‘my husband died” to coming to the group and smiling.”

Having the support of others and knowing that are terms for the emotions one feels is reassuring, she noted.

Vlasto, who is the facilitator of the caregivers and living without a partner groups, described the caregivers group as a “lifeline” for many caregivers.

Caregivers tend to be a spouse or an adult of an aging parent. They don’t get a break, even when there is a “plague, virus or no virus,” Vlasto explained.

Those who attend the group share about their experiences and learn ways to be the best caregiver they can be.

With COVID on everyone’s mind, discussions about how thinking and routines have changed are being held.

For more information and registration, call 860-354-2216 or email cvlasto@newmilfordvna.org.