Why was my real-life support group so vital to my healing? Why do I push everyone toward finding one (they're not so easy to find, see Part 3). There were 10 ways my participation in group helped me cope with grief, energized me for dealing with my real life, and helped me forge a path ahead:
1. Time. Even if I spent just that one hour each week at group, I knew that I was working on “me.” It was almost the only time to refresh and talk with adults (other than about work). I got practice using babysitters (as did my child and the sitters), which came in really handy later when I was ready to date.
2. Validation. I can’t describe how powerful it is to find a whole group of strangers who share at least one thing with you, who say they feel your pain and mean it, and who really “get it.” Because my group included folks from 2 months to 4 years after loss, it provided me with hope: someday I’d feel better, or at least different. And when new people joined, I could see in vivid color how far I’d already come.
3. Information. Grieving’s complicated, and you probably don’t know much about it yet. In group, you may have a facilitator or peers who help you see that there is a process to grief or just to own the complicated set of feelings that surround us; who support you in finding out more; who suggest resources or even give you homework (I have never heard of homework, actually, but I did read a heck of a lot). And this information can set you free: did you know it’s pretty normal to feel horny when you’re grieving? What a relief to know you’re not crazy (see “2.”)
4. A safe, non-judgmental place. So, on the horniness. Are you going to talk to your married girlfriends about that (or will they start hiding their husbands)? (It’s happened to more than one person I know.) How about your minister? You’re among friends and you’d be surprised how many of you are sick of being the responsible one. Or who have great stories about their in-laws.
5. Surprises. I’ve only recently gotten over the shock of the first session when our facilitator told us:
- a. Most of his friends now are widowed.
- b. Many of them lead completely different lives than they did before, including changing careers.
- c. Most of them are happy.
- d. Many of them are in new relationships, some of them are blending new families.
- e. Many of them say they are doing better than they ever were when their spouse was alive.
- f. Some of them even say they wouldn’t want their dead spouse to come back. I couldn’t even imagine. I was sure he was crazy, months later after some of the gals and I became friends I remember saying, “No way, not me.” (Who would ever tell you this kind of thing? How would you verify it?)
6. The soap opera factor. An easy one. Wait till the guy joins whose entire life revolved around his wife, she died in a car accident, he’s facing foreclosure, he’s about to lose his job, his son (who he’s never really gotten along with, and who has a parole hearing tomorrow) has disappeared, leaving his Xbox behind. I remember thinking, I have a kid in diapers, a senile mother in law, a useless family, a crappy job, and I have to sell my house to survive, and I’ve still got it better than this guy. (I smiled supportively at him.)
7. Bonuses. Not only will people in your group give you credit for making it out of bed that morning (as they try really hard not to look at your hair) but you can also share the smugness that comes with distance from the real world: you can now call yourself wise. Oh, those poor people out there who don’t know how close death is. We know, sweetie. Not like those people who think they have problems because they gained 10 lbs. We’re like you. It’s small revenge for being avoided by people you thought were your friends, being a wet blanket at play dates, and facing gritted teeth at holiday parties. But it’s kinda fun.
8. Laughter. We laughed like madmen and -women. There’s nothing like grief for letting go of your sense of what’s appropriate. And some of that crap, in the right safe environment, can crack you the hell up. (Some of this humor can’t be shared with your normal friends. They’ll just look at you like you’re crazy too).
9. Diversity among difficulty. Because young widows and widowers are so rare, you may find the people in your group more diverse than the folks you hang out with in the outside world. I met people with all different religious and cultural backgrounds, with whom, nonetheless, I shared an important connection. And from them, I learned some lessons and examples of great coping I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.
10. Friendship. Whether your support group remains a pleasant group of acquaintances with whom you can share, or whether you become close friends for that hour, group alleviates loneliness and isolation which are so common with young people who lose a partner. As you transition out of group and into your next incarnation, you may find some of these friends are now among your inner circle. I’m still friends with -- and inspired by -- several folks from my group and because my loss has so changed me, I try to keep in touch with many of them.
Yes, Every crisis ends. I bet I often sound like my life is so easy now, but it really isn’t. I have lots of challenges, and none of them are in the “gee, I gained weight” category (although that is true, I hardly count it as an issue. You know, [putting on wisdom hat] not after “what I’ve been through.”) Things are changing constantly, I learn something every day, I feel stuck in glue at least once a week, and I benefit from my regular therapy.
But the time I spent in group -- and several of the friends, and the energy, humor, and perspective they still share with me -- will always be in my heart, part of what formed me, just like the husband whose loss helped me find them. I’m thankful to the group and individuals who made it all work. And I want you to have the same (or better).
So promise me you’ll think about it. Please? At least, if we can find something near you (in part 3)?