I attended my first bereavement group. There is so much I have to say about this experience I don't even know how I am going to be able to get it all out.
Prior to leaving the house, I found myself procrastinating. I was dressed and ready, with my jacket on and keys in my hand. Yet, there was some part of me that didn't want to step foot out of the house. I can only assume that subconsciously I was fearing the unknown. Not that I was apprehensive to be around strangers, but, that I didn't know what to expect as far as the emotions this experience may bring up. I was worried it may be a Pandora's box of sorts. I have been as I call it 'functional' up to this point. What if after this I am no longer functional? I couldn't let that hold me back. Fear was not an option. I have been through so much, I have to believe the worst is behind me and while the road to healing may be a rocky one, it is one I must travel nonetheless. I owe it to myself and to my family.
Driving to the group I dealt with the nervousness by calling friends and 'chatting'. The funny part is when I woke the next day, I didn't really recall the specifics of the conversations. In fact, one friend I had to call back this morning and ask what did we talk about. I knew it involved some commitment on my end, I just couldn't recall what.
After about a 20 minute drive, which felt like 5 minutes, I was there, in the church parking lot. I parked and wondered, 'am I in the right place.' While at the time I meant physically, I know now, reflecting back that the question was as true from an emotional point of view too. Was I in the right place? I walked down the stairs to the basement of the church wondering the same thing. I got to the door of the meeting room and there was a line of people signing in. I was so surprised, there was a line. Looking at the people ahead of me on line, I thought, maybe I am not in the right place. And then I saw the looks on their faces and I realized I was. Everyone looked surprisingly normal to me, like any face you would see in the supermarket or some other benign place. There was however one common denominator, the look in their eyes. It was a look of emptiness and pain. Even through smiles I could see it, the pain, it was in the women and men alike. I know this look all too well. I see it everyday when I look in the mirror or in the eyes of my husband. It is a look that says, 'a piece of my heart and soul is missing.'
After I signed in, I sat down. It was obvious some people knew each other, no doubt they had been coming for a while, and then there were others, like me who sat quietly, waiting. I still couldn't get over it, everyone looked so normal, so everyday. How could all these people have been afflicted with the same unfortunate circumstance I had been? There was some women I just felt like getting up and hugging. They just looked like they needed it. Still I sat, waiting. I had wish my husband was there with me at that very moment. He was working and would be meeting me there shortly after the meeting started. The chairs were set up in a circle. And as the time passed, more and more people came. They kept having to add chairs to the circle, and it grew larger and larger. When it was all said and done, their were just shy of 30 people there. I was shocked by the number.
I was so surprised and impressed by the men in the group. I expected the woman to talk and to be raw with emotion. I also expected to see women with strength, hope and even perhaps some clarity. But, the men, these big strong men, were just as raw and just as strong. They didn't sit there just handing tissues to their wives, they talked. They had something to say and add to the group and the process. I was amazed. By this time, Thad had joined the group and I was so relieved there was something of substance for him too. People he can identify with on his level, from his perspective. I often feel like he is lost in this process and I know he feels that way too. People forget he is a grieving parent too. He lost Gabriella too. He is hurting too. This group of men brought me some hope that my husband would find the support he needs in the way that he needs it.
The stories I heard were brought by a range of emotions. The stories ranged from early term miscarriages to losing a baby 3 weeks after birth, after a battle in the NICU. Some people I just wanted to yell at, shut up and cut it out, you don't have it so bad. Having suffered two miscarriages myself, I knew that wasn't fair. Their pain was just as real as mine, but at the time that is how I felt. Then on the other side of the spectrum, I heard stories that make me feel like, wow I got lucky. They made me appreciate the blessing and gift God gave to me, by letting my daughter slip away with no pain, by sparing me the heartache of watching her fight for her life only to suffer the same inevitable fate she had succumbed to anyhow. Like I said, a range of emotions. But, still only a few spare tears fell from my face. Many of the women admitted that they cry everyday, some even multiple times a day; even the women who were a year plus in.
I listened and listened. My original intent was to just sit and listen this first time. I haven't planned on talking. I wanted to see where everyone was at and if I would fit in. About half way into it, I wasn't feeling like I wasn't like this people, even though I could identify with their pain. I thought, here are a bunch of people just rehashing and tearing open their wounds, and for what? I was thinking, why would you come every month just to make yourself cry and hear these stories. I don't cry everyday, I haven't for a while and I am still so fresh into it. What is wrong with me? At first I thought, what is wrong with them? And as I heard the same thing over and over again, I really thought what is wrong with me? I had to say something. That was what I was there for, to find comfort and commonality. I thought if I don't say anything and walk away feeling 'different' I will have defeated the purpose of coming at all. I have to give it a fair shot. And so I spoke.
I didn't know where to begin. I didn't know what to say, so I simply started with my name. I went on to say, what my losses where and how I could identify with people and then I went on the say, I don't cry. I am functional. What is wrong with me? I wanted to know, did they start off like me? Were the next few months going to become harder and more unbearable? Was I going to get to a point where I did cry everyday and go to the cemetery weekly? While no one there said they were 'like' me, they did assure me, I was normal. And while I knew grieving is different in everyone, it was so nice to hear it from a group of people who knew my grief. I started to come around and really start to see that I could not only get something from this group, but, maybe I could add something too.
I left that evening feeling a sense of hope. I left thinking, 'I want to go back.' My attitude changed from thinking these people are nuts for reliving their pain every month, to feel I found some sort of a home, a safe place. A place I could come to and express my frustration and sadness and ask the hard questions. There are so many questions and thoughts I have on a regular basis that I don't expect anyone who is not in my situation to be able to imagine answering. Here is a place where not only can they image it, they lived it, they are living it. I found some reassurance. I needed that.
I am now in a position to reflect on what I am going to take away from the meeting. I am confident I will find somethings that will help to carry through to the next meeting. I am hopeful I will be able to embrace my pain and accept myself for who I am and how I handle things. While meeting these faces of sorrow, as I call them, was at first an experience I was anxious about, I know feel the comfort of knowing I am not alone; not because that is what people tell me, but because that is what I have experienced first hand. I plan to go back next month, but, if I never go back, I will always feel good about having gone and proud of myself (and my husband) for taking a chance.