I read this quote from Sharon Salzberg in my yoga class on Sunday evening :
“You cannot control the world, your country, your town, the mood swings of those you love, but you can try to create around you a little bit of space that is all your own, a place where the rules of interaction you’ve chosen make sense and your actions have integrity.”
Wise words, applicable to so many things, right?
But here’s what I want to write about….
In March of 2011 I began leading my first group at a grief support center here where I live. (Not naming it, though I have before…)
Truthfully, it was my second group…my first group started in April 2006 when I was a client at the center. Tom had died that January and I was, um, lost? Fucked? Insane?…I could conjure words for days but no justice would be had.
That group saved my life. I was in a room every other week for an hour and half with other people, humans, just like me. We all had dead spouses. It was miraculous, really. Because the TRUTH is (and don’t try and convince me otherwise) there is no way you can understand the fullness of that experience unless (or, sadly, until) you’ve been there. I say the same for parents whose children have died. No, no: you can support and love but you don’t get it. I went to that group every other week for almost 2 years and kept in touch with members for years after. That group saved me.
In 2011 I started my first group as a volunteer leader. I went through rigorous training (although Tom’s death was pretty fucking rigorous training!). Being a volunteer there includes supervision every other week too, so I was basically going there every week, either for group or for review. And most of the time I was leading two groups at a time, so I was in the office a lot.
And I am here to say that that second first group also saved my life. For two reasons.
One, the night of that first group I came home and poured myself a glass of wine and knew, KNEW!, that I could not do this work and drink. I had already started to go to AA, reconnaissance work, if you will. My drinking days were definitely numbered and I had already begun slowly stopping. But that night, sitting in that room, it became completely clear that I could not be effective if I did not treat my alcoholism. Some of the stuff I had heard in meetings actually began to make sense to me. Anyway, by the next group, which was 2 weeks later, when I went home I had ice cream. I had stopped drinking a week before, and I haven’t had a drink since.
That counts as saving my life, I think. And now we are two for two.
BUT there was another reason that this work, which is a sort of passion for me, helped to save my life. And that is because, as the years have gone on (I have been doing groups for over 7 years), something moved in me.
Now, the idea that things happen for a reason, or that things are just meant to be is anathema to me. Bullshit of the highest order. Do things just happen? Yes, no rhyme or reason attributed to them. Do I work to accept and move through them, both good and bad? Yes, that is what I practice for, that ability. Does it always work? OH HELL NO!
But I continue to practice, I don’t let up. I am consistent, and I find meaning in that.
But in my grief work I found something surprising, and something that is hard as hell for me to look at or admit because I HATE it….but I found some meaning. And by that, I am saying that I found the teensiest, tiniest sliver of meaning in the fact that I have a dead husband. Obviously this has nothing to do with his death; that was and still is just bullshit. But it has to do with me and how I can sort of honor his life, his love, if that makes sense. I can sit in a room and let go of my own thoughts and hold space for others who have had the same horrible thing happen, who have had their lives blown up by some random chance. I can listen, and ask questions that allow them to maybe go a little deeper. And the fact that I can do that, that it even occurred to me to do that, is because of my beloved’s death.
It makes me mad, frankly, to find that meaning, but I can’t ignore it. I’d give anything to not have that be a fact, but it is. And I will reiterate that it is an infinitesimal fact, but a fact none the less. And I will also admit that it gives me some comfort. It adds meaning to my life too, not just to his death. I am useful to others in a way that most people cannot be. There is some satisfaction in that.
Anyway. All of this is fact and just leading to the biggest. most fucked-up fact which is that I am doing my last group there. I have 3 more sessions (6 more weeks) to finish with my current group, parents grieving the death of their children, and then I am quitting. And it’s hard, but I have to do it because I have integrity. I own it, I stand in it and I am nothing without it. And the politics (its ALWAYS politics, right?!) of the larger organization have made it impossible for me to stand in my integrity and still volunteer there. This has nothing to do with the work or the groups, and it would take a long time to explain, but I needed to write this out, to say it out loud.
Not the part about quitting; the part about why I have stayed so long.The part about how much this work has meant to me. The part about saving my life. The part about meaning.
I gotta say, it’s really painful. And I am really angry about it all. And I am not the only one leaving (which just reinforces the fact that I am doing the right thing). And you know what else? I will still advise people to go there, to do a group if someone close to them dies. Because I also know that the politics don’t really affect the people there grieving. That place helps people, it saves many lives. I just can’t be a part of it any longer.
But it’s killing me. It’s like another small death, another great loss.
I am so sad about this, I really am. I have actually been sitting on this for almost a year saying nothing, doing nothing because I had a commitment to my group. They know nothing of what is going on, either in the organization or with me. And that is how it should be. They don’t know it yet but their lives are being saved, just a little, just by showing up, just by doing the work. And my commitment to them trumped any anger and dissatisfaction I have with the organization. But the group is ending, and my own integrity is on the line.
I have been working on ideas, alone and with others, to create some sort of grief work and companioning modules. I’m not getting into it here because the idea that I’m moving forward is the important part. I can’t just throw it all away. That would mean throwing away that little piece that gives me meaning, and it would be ignoring the fact that I can do this work while many cannot.
I leave knowing that, in my little bit of space, I have behaved with integrity. I may be angry, sad, whatever the feelings are, but the truth is that I have to leave, just as the truth is that I think that place saved my life. No either/or. A true case of and/both.
And, you know? Writing this out really helped me. You guys may be bored to death (hey! I know a grief group….) but my blog. My rules and my spew.
And that quote from Salzberg? It can be applied to any area of your life, any place where you have a choice to make, a whim to follow, an action to take. As long as we stay in our own integrity I don’t believe we can go wrong. Even when it’s hard, even if it hurts…hell, especially when it’s hard and it hurts.
Here’s another quote from Rev. angel Kyodo williams :
“First and foremost the path of liberation is about being one hundred percent accountable for who and what you are”.
May I stay accountable, may I stay in my integrity, may I find peace.
And all of you, with all your problems and heartaches and choices….accountability, integrity and peace.