This is the question that people who attend our grief support groups are asked by their family and friends. They cannot understand why their loved one would want to continue attending a grief support group months or even years following their loss. For those who are part of the group, the answer is simple, “It is like going back to see my family.”
Family – for most, this is the group of people you are born into or marry into. For some, however, a new sort of family is formed out of a common bond. This new “family” understands the pain of grief and supports one another through good days and bad.
In order to understand why people continue to attend group, you must also realize the very nature of grief itself. First of all, there is no timeline for grief. Months or years do not take it away; one must work to move through grief. Grief brings up many mixed emotions, memories and other issues that are triggered by the loss. Loneliness, forced independence and deep sadness can become an invasive part of lives. No longer feeling like you fit in with groups of “couple” friends, or finding that those who have known you for years now become distant and uneasy around your pain. The notion that “time heals all wounds” is not true. Time does not heal, working through the emotions, alone or with support, heals. Finding ways to adapt to this “new life” that you now find yourself in, heals. Creating new routines and habits, heals. Time? That is merely a way to mark days passing or to create triggers as anniversaries and other special dates arrive.
I continue to be baffled as to why people think grief should be over after a matter of months or even a year or two. I read about the anniversary dates of terrible tragedies where many people have died and the reporter relates the continued emotional pain the family members are still experiencing. It seems to be expected when the loss is witnessed in the public eye. Yet private loss is seen as something to “get over” and to “move on” from. It is these types of reactions that bring people to support groups where they receive the understanding and support they need.
People have an inaccurate expectation of what goes on in a grief support group. They have visions of people sitting in a circle crying week after week. While tears are certainly a part of our time together, so is laughter. Life moves forward even without our loved ones. We discuss daily tasks, as well as trips planned, weddings attended and babies born. We learn tools for feeling better each day and present topics for personal growth. We welcome new people with an understanding nod and open arms. For a few hours, loneliness is abated and new bonds formed.
Grief support is a place where you can just “be.” You can come and share whatever you are feeling. There is no expectation to be “cheery” or “fine.” While others may no longer want to hear of your pain, grief support is a place where you are welcome to be feeling low or having a good week. Group members understand the ebb and flow of feelings and the small shifts that can make a big difference in making it through a day. Encouragement and hope is the message we share with one another.
“I continue to attend grief support because I look forward to it,” said one participant. “I see friends I’ve made and I know that I am helping others through my own experience, just as they are helping me.” The social aspects are as important as the emotional ones. They return because it is here that they find what they need – understanding, support, friendship, tools and, sometimes, a little eggplant parmesan.
Nancy Weil is a leading authority on humor and grief. She serves as Director of Grief Support for eleven cemeteries and is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and Grief Management Specialist. Through her company, The Laugh Academy, she offers products to ease the stress and pain that grief can bring. Bandages for Your Heart on DVD or CD, Laugh for the Health of It on CD and her new book, If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might, can be ordered by clicking here.