I work with an organization that deals in grief. Fitting?

When Tom died I went through their grief group program; 18 months, every other week, sitting in a room with 6 other widows, 2 volunteer co-leaders and the freedom to be and feel in a way that I could not do anywhere else. It was life-saving.

A year or so after leaving the group I started volunteering . I would go and sit with medical students and discuss death and how to deal with grieving people, the survivors, in the moment.  How to deliver the news. It was a great opportunity; I felt it helped them and somehow it helped me too, although it was wrenching to do it, to re-live Tom’s death over and over. There were usually two of us presenting, and we left, tired and shell-shocked and questioning why we put ourselves through that, even though we knew that we would do it again when the call came. I guess that is a little perverse, right?

In January 2011 I was asked if I’d like to take the training to be a co-leader of the actual grief groups, groups like I had been in in the months after Tom’s death. I had just declared 2011 to be the year of the YES, so I said ok. I had to interview, and then there was a pretty intense training where we  they could drop us at any point  they felt we might not be suited for the work,or  we could be asked to join. I was asked to join, and by the end of February I had my first group. (3 weeks later I was sober…it was coming, but  this, and my therapist calling me an addict, gave me the final push I needed ).

My first group was 6 mid-life widows. A few months in I was asked to do another group, which was young people grieving the death of a parent. Both of these groups ended about the same time, and I began a group for parents grieving the death of a child (amazingly working with one of the women who had co-lead my group!), and then a need arose for another young widows group and so I am co-leading that too. Right from the start I had 2 groups at a time, and have been leading a group steadily since February 2011.

This is all just background for what I want to write. I need to see this in print, I guess.

Because there is a question here, a big one, which is WHY?

Why on earth am I doing this?

This is not something I struggle with by myself; this arose from a conversation with my co-leaders of both my groups, and continued the other night with the co leaders of a completely different group. We all agree that we LOVE this work.

We all agree that we don’t really understand why we do, what is compelling us to do it. And that there is a compulsion.

There are probably as many different ideas about why we do this as there are people doing it, and some people do know why. They are therapists, they are getting training for school, whatever. But this question comes up with those of us who lived it, who are widows, who lost a child, a parent, who even went through the program ourselves, grief raw and lives saved.

We are compassionate people. I look at them and see that clearly, myself, not so much. I mean, yes, I am certainly capable of compassion and strive for that, but I don’t think that that is the answer to this puzzle. We can be compassionate and yet not throw ourselves into the lion’s den of grief week after week.

It has to lie somewhere in my own need, but for what?

Perhaps I’m there to understand how I made it, looking for clues in them.

Perhaps I am pulled to look at that early, horrible grief and remember it, because, in many ways I don’t. How do they get through it? That begs the question of how did I. Why are they not killing themselves, as they wonder how the hell they can go on without their love or their child or their parent? How did I not. I listen to them say that they won’t kill themselves but are no longer afraid of death and I nod in understanding and agreement. Maybe I need to have my feelings reflected back to me, to remind me.

Maybe I need those feelings reflected back to me in a different way…to remind me where I was and where I am NOT now, at least not all the time. Because in their journey I do see mine, in their growth mine is mirrored, and in those that are stuck I see the ways that I am still stuck. Sometimes the comparison is “thank god I’m not feeling that anymore” and then,all of a sudden, I am feeling that again…. Again? Really?

Maybe I’m looking at how others have loved, comparing that to my love. Was I good enough, did I love enough, is the life I remember even true? How did we work out things? How did we raise the kid? Could I have done things differently? Did I handle the aftermath correctly? This doesn’t feel right because it doesn’t happen much. I am there to listen and hold the hope for them, and I don’t identify with their relationships, I identify with their grief. All grief is different, though I certainly see a lot of me in them.

Maybe I hope that one day, out of the blue, someone will say something that helps it make sense to me? But I don’t know how that can be. I can’t make sense of it now, how would any of them, in the midst of raw, new grief? But I know I watch, I watch for their moments of clarity, things they say . I listen carefully for word that I can latch on to, to help them go deeper, to get to their truth. Do I think my truth might be there? I don’t, I don’t think so.

My co-leader and I were laughing about this actually. That dark, cynical laughter when you ask these questions that have no answers, or seem to have no answers She is a widow too…why are we drawn to this? Isn’t it torture?  we throw up our hands in bewilderment, really. But we can help, we can help someone else that is where we were. We can listen and be there for them in the ways others were there for us. Maybe it is compassion, maybe pay-back, for all we had and  for all we lost, for all we have been given. Maybe. Certainly a part of it.

This post is all over the place. Disjointed and jumbled like my thoughts. There probably is no answer. Those cumbersome cliches, those silly things people said to us are moments of great hilarity in our groups, believe it or not. We laugh with them, we cry with them. We couch our truth in phrases like “we here have found”, or “in other groups they say” and we can lay  our own experiences  straight out to them. That is always very freeing, holding their hope while telling our truths.

The thing I am avoiding, the thought which keeps returning, that I loathe, that makes me want to kill someone, something, where does that play in? I can’t even type it.

I can, but I don’t want to because it is too painful.

The small, niggling voice that keeps saying that this, this work, this compulsion, compassion, whatever it is. That THIS is the one spot, the tiniest spot, ounce, millileter (what is the smallest possible thing?), this might be the one good thing to come out of his death. That one thing I can hold on to for myself, to help make any sense of the disaster of his death and my life. And maybe if I own it as such, as the start of a clawing out of the hole, a good thing that I am doing when I don’t feel good at all,  a thought that can propel me forward out of the darkness…..

It’s all theory. It’s all stuff and nonsense, true, false. It is unknowable.

But the thought is there, perverse, unbearable, yet……


Add yours →

  1. All I have survived turns from a liability to an asset when I help another person get through it. That’s why I do what I do. And for a zillion other reasons, but that’s the main one. That yes, something good has come out of so many horrific things and that I didn’t kill myself or anyone else and I’m not rocking in a corner singing “here kitty, kitty.”

    And you are one of the most compassionate humans I know. You make me a better human just by knowing you.


  2. Doesn’t sound like nonsense at all. The truth is that you are helping others with your experience and that is a very good thing. It doesn’t mean that the death itself was good or you didn’t love him enough or didn’t mourn enough. I don’t think it would dishonor him or your marriage to allow that tiny spot to open up. You are worth allowing the good in.

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