A few times a year for the past two years, I have volunteered as a peer helper at spousal bereavement support group sessions. After each session, I have been moved by the stories I've heard, the pain and sadness that I've seen, and the struggles of the bereaved to carry on with their lives alone - as most of the ones I help are widowers or widows like me with adult children who live away from home.
These sessions affect me. During and afterwards.
During the sessions, I struggle with talking. I want to be sure that I listen and only speak when my perspective might be helpful to the others in the room. I speak based on my own experiences but not in any way to give advice.
Afterwards, I struggle with the triggers that hit me from what I saw, heard, and felt during these sessions. I find myself reliving the events of my own loss, the painfulness of my husband's sudden illness and subsequent death three and a half years ago, and the deep grief I felt for a long time and I am still feeling to a lesser degree.
To get through these feelings, I often sit in my vehicle after each bereavement group session and I think about some of the discussion that unfolded. I sometimes feel sad, for myself and for others (notice the order there). I sometimes cry. And sometimes I'm okay. Often, I just need some quiet time away from my home and work to reboot before returning to my daily life.
Often, I will go to a park in the city (our city has many beautiful parks) and take a walk or just sit in my vehicle and stare at the trees and water. Trees and water are calming for me. I need them in my life.
I'll take photos of what I see. It helps me mentally return to and stay in the land of the living.
Hundreds of books have been published about grief. I published one of them. (In fact, the Dear Me: The Widow Letters book compiled by Dianne Young was recently shown at a session by a group participant as an example of a book that has really helped her learn what it's like to be a widow and carry on. I was one of the 20 widows in Dear Me who wrote a letter of support and encouragement back to her newly widowed self.)
What I've learned through reading and the bereavement counselling I've received is that we cannot go around grief, only through it.
Grief is like a big, dark tunnel with a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other. The only way forward is through it.
It helps to have others alongside, supporting you on your journey as you go through the tunnel. If you're lucky, they'll even pick you up and give you a ride for a bit so you don't have to go through it all alone.
As hard as the grief journey is, I am grateful for the amazing people who have supported and continue to support me as I make my way through my grief tunnel.
Some tunnels are longer than others and some people go through faster. We are each unique, our relationships were unique. Our journeys are thus different yet similar.
I've been asked why I continue to put myself through the emotional upheaval of being a peer helper at bereavement groups and at times, I consider not continuing.
But I know how important bereavement support has been to me. I could not have gone through that tunnel nearly as quickly or with as much strength without the information and assistance I received from others.
So I give back, in gratitude for what I've received. One of the richest blessings of my life was 42 busy, fun, crazy, frustrating, wonderful years with my departed husband Al. It feels right to continue to say his name and share our story in a way that can help others celebrate the love they've lost, while giving them the tools and strength to carry on.
P.S. The next all-day grief retreat in Regina, SK for newly bereaved persons is July 27/19. See poster below and please share with others.
P.S.S. Other blogs I've written to help others who are bereaved: