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Grief Sucks and Grief Group

The truth about grief is that it doesn’t feel good. Period. There’s a saying about grievers: they are some of the best actors on the planet. Do you know how much energy it takes to act like nothing’s wrong when really, inside, we are completely, absolutely devastated? It takes tons of energy. That’s also one of the reasons grievers are so tired all the time – we are using up all our precious energy trying to act normal. If our culture accepted grief as a legitimate state of being and supported the grieving process, we might be allowed to be exactly where we are in the moment – feeling sad.

Feeling sad is necessary to heal.

Have you ever heard it said that “grief comes in waves”? That’s exactly what grieving is like – riding ocean waves. The waves break and then come into shore and merge with the sand. And there is no controlling them, is there? The waves come and go with the tide and sometimes they are big and gnarly and sometimes they are small and calm. Grief is exactly like this. When we feel a wave of sadness, best to just get on the surfboard and ride it all the way in. It may last a minute, 5 minutes, or an hour, but it can't be stopped. And if we try to stop it, or fight it, we will only be postponing eventually feeling it.

New awareness: sadness won't kill me.

What I discovered is that I can feel my sadness and I won’t die. If I sit with it, it kind of becomes my friend, maybe not my best friend, but a part of me that is very strong in the beginning, and with time, less and less. In the beginning it knocked the wind out of me and I felt like I would die, but then, I began to see that with each new wave, I came up for air and I'm still here, on the shore. I realized I was going to make it.

People will try to give you all kinds of advice. Unless someone is experiencing grief at the same time you are, or have experienced traumatic grief in the past and recovered from it, I wouldn’t listen to a word of their advice. Here are some examples of what well-meaning people will say:

1. You’ll get over it.

2. Time heals all.

3. You’ll find someone else.

4. Stay busy.

I learned a lot of my tools for the grieving process from a local grief group. I joined the group of 20 grievers about 8 months after Hawk died. I don’t think I could have joined before that, and even then, I wasn’t ready. I met wonderful people who all meant well, but the grief work that was required was too painful for me at that time. I know a lot of people who really benefited from the group. It is held in my area two times per year. There is a lot of writing and sharing required. My traumatized mind couldn’t focus and my heart wasn’t ready. I preferred the routine of healing that I had created with my Earth Angel Team. I continued to see my grief counselor privately, and still do, especially since my mom passed two weeks ago.

I always recommend the grief group to grievers though because I saw how much it helped people. The grief group provides lots of tools for processing grief and helps to make people feel that they are not alone. I still use the tools I learned in the group. I formed friendships from the grief group that continued after the group ended. It was comforting to hang out with other grievers who understood what I was going through, especially those who had lost a spouse, but it was very difficult for me to be around more than one or two people during my first year.

Looking back, I think it might have been better for me to spend more months in mourning before joining the grief group. Everybody is different though, and have different needs, so reach out to a local grief group if you have one. Make sure it is facilitated by a professional. Our grief group here allows people to attend two times and then they have to decide if they are going to stay. After that it becomes a closed group so that people build trust in one another and can depend on confidentiality. We were not allowed to share any stories outside of the group. Some grievers have extremely traumatic grief experiences.This may have been one of the reasons I had a difficult time with the group. I was so raw it was hard to hear others painful stories. It would have been better for me to have waited another six months at least before I attended the group. Grief counseling was better for me because I felt safe in a space with one other person who completely understood my pain. Being an empath (a person who absorbs other people’s emotional pain) I couldn’t be in the group with twenty people’s grief without unconsciously taking it on.

Caregivers tend to be empathic people. We look out for people, often at our own detriment. I know this was the case for me. Throughout my life I have always taken care of others emotionally. I eventually became a professional healer and then my husband’s sole caregiver for three and a half years while I completely neglected myself. Many people – nurses, chaplains, social workers – tried to educate me about caregiver burnout, but I was so in the thick of it, I thought I was impermeable to it. I was strong, I could fix it, I was impervious to the immense stress I was under.

Oh, boy....was I wrong!

Even the strongest person with a will of iron cannot help but be affected from the stress of caring for a spouse who is dying. Wherever you are in your grief process, please take a moment to acknowledge the amount of stress you have been living under. Grief is incredibly stressful. Especially trying to pretend like nothing is wrong.

The most important thing I learned from the grief group, and the subsequent friendships I shared, is that no two grief situations are the same. Grief is as individual as ancestry and personality. One way it was explained to me is like this: a child who loses their favorite stuffed toy may feel the same intensity of grief as a person whose loved one dies in a tragic accident. WE CANNOT COMPARE GRIEF. Oh, we want to, believe me. I wanted someone to have the same exact feelings I did, to share the same experience I was going through. It’s only human. We want to know that we are not alone.

In some regard, the grief group did offer me a sense of community – a community of grievers – who were all individually grieving in their own way. In this sense, I was able to feel the comfort of not being alone. Since only grievers can really understand the side effects of grief, it’s a good place to go and spill your guts, get some hugs, and feel supported.

As it happens, though, some folks are not able to be with their grief and turn to other grievers to fill the gaping hole left by their deceased loved one. This is never a good thing. It’s like Alcoholic Anonymous, where they advise not to get romantically involved with another person in the meetings. Getting romantically involved with someone in the grief group can really distract us from our own recovery.

It has been 3 years since Hawk died and turning to another person romantically for comfort just hasn’t been in my awareness. Many of my fellow grievers from the group did try other relationships for consolation, but it always ended badly. Mostly because they were simply postponing the inevitable, which is mourning the loss of their loved one. We can postpone it, but it will ALWAYS catch up with us.

Mourning is a process. In this regard, it DOES take time. But, rather than “getting over” a deceased loved one, it’s more like “moving through” the grief and holding a place in our hearts for them. There is no GETTING OVER our loved one. How could that even be possible? We have spent precious time with them, whether it’s one year or 40 years. They were in our life every day. Why would we want to get over them? Wouldn’t it be better to remember them? To hold those memories in a special place in our hearts?

Yes, when we open to this possibility, the pain can crack our heart open. But through that crack comes so much LOVE. What are we afraid of? Why are we so afraid to feel the pain of the death of our beloved? If we can learn to sit with the pain and FEEL it, we open ourselves up to so many possibilities for a new life.

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