Walking with Others in Grief
Have you ever noticed that two children from the same family can talk about their parents as if they grew up in different households? Do you wonder why your partner or sibling doesn’t talk about, or maybe does not appear to care about, a loved one after their death? Does it feel like you’re all taking the same language but in foreign dialects at your drop in bereavement support group?
Grief has its own timetable and is an individual process. We filter our current reaction to loss through our past experiences. For the two siblings in the example above, perhaps one was closest to the mother, and the other to the father. For the couple for whom one openly grieves and the other seems to not care, it may be that the stoic one feels the need to appear strong in the moment. Your support group, as helpful as it is, likely has recent losses mixed with longer past losses which means there are vastly different needs at the same time.
To communicate effectively about your loss – listening and responding – the people talking need to be on the same page! This is why Navigating Grief has created opportunities like our community Storybooks for Healing® bereavement writing program. At the heart of the Storybooks for Healing® program is the participant’s workbook and eight weekly group discussions. In Storybooks for Healing®, regardless of type of loss and relationship, everyone is literally on the same page which provides an important common ground for meaningful conversation.
Here’s why you’ll want to be on the same page when you seek support, whether from family, friends, church or a support group:
It doesn’t matter if you have two people, ten people or ten thousand people, each group tackling a subject together is unique. That’s good news, because the more people you speak with the more perspectives you’ll hear. The more you tell your story, the more you assimilate both facts and associated feelings into your present life.
No one need accept all which may be offered by group members because ultimately the individual is the decision-maker on his or her actions, accepts what makes sense to his or her own life circumstances and determines if the information validates, enhances or furthers his or her viewpoint. Ideally, a group provides reflection, or responds in like manner, rather than give advice or “shoulds” unless requested. As long as the group, even a family, has the same goal in mind, with a sincere intent of support and non-judgment, the interplay of all involved can be reassuringly helpful.
Everyone who joins a support group has committed to themselves personally, and to the group as a whole, to travel this leg of their grief together. Each brings responsibility and reciprocity. In Storybooks for Healing®, with a defined time of eight weeks, there is an understanding that there will be an “end” in sight. Because each participant is coming into the program at the same time, they start equally no matter how long since the death of their loved one. These parameters create a safe environment so that participants in are all on the same page for peer support, and the best foundation for a dynamic group and lasting experience.
Heading My Way?
With group members committed to the same goal, the next layer of support is to make sure that the conversation also has common direction. For example, in school, becoming educated in a particular class subject is your common goal. Your teacher provides reading and/or writing assignments related to promoting thought and discussion. Book clubs, hobby groups, professional and trade associations, jury duty, or any special interest group are all tied by a common subject thread. The most productive discussion within these groups is when learning taking place because ideas and experiences brought to the table actually differ. This is not meant to be argumentative, but perspective.
Why not grief and loss as the subject? You are already an expert on the topic, but who can help lead you through the conversation with others? Often in grief, you are amidst ambiguous feelings and stressed by the unclear expectations that we and society place upon ourselves. By meeting others who also grieve and seek out answers to the same questions, you are on the same page for processing and expanding your thoughts.
In Storybooks for Healing®, participants use the writing community tools and workbooks for organizing their goal, conversations and insight. The workbook consist of questions on Life Reflection so there is factual information on their loved one’s history; Grief Reflection to gain insight into universal and individual reaction to loss; Reflection on Meaning for seeking deeper understanding of their loss; and Living Forward, to provide perspective on a future of hope. This homework is the “same page” for grievers, which prepares the group to converse fluently in the same language.
To progress from one page to the next page together, there must be collective experiences. In traditional open grief support groups the collective experience is offered, however, not all the participants start on the same page, and therefore not always continue to the “next page” at the same time. If you consider historical events, each generation is bonded through common experiences that become part of their collective make-up: children of the depression era collectively regard money and things more cautiously than the youth today who are reared in a society of disposable excess. Milestone events such as Pearl Harbor Day, President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, September 11, 2001, wars and world events often define a generation. Even locally, community traditions, celebrations or festivals give character to the inhabitants and become the memories for having lived among that population, such as being “southern” or a “valley girl.” On the smallest level, friends or family with “an inside joke” know this bond as well. For a group to grow together, common experience gives them a sense of belonging.
As a Storybooks for Healing® group meets each week, the facilitator leads participants though exercises and discussion that melds the people, their experiences and stories, and conversations into a cohesive group “on the same page.” An exercise such as the Storybooks for Healing® “From Devastation to Joy” creates an opportunity for the group to compare and contrast their path of loss feelings. By going through this exercise together, the group defines possibilities that are not usually identified by oneself. In a short amount of time, participants create a bond of knowledge and belonging as they explore and learn about their grief together.
Page by Page
Being on the same page is not to be confused with the well-known and often misapplied Stages of Grief theory. Being on the same page is a conversation with others who really “get” what you are going through in your grief. The best chance for this conversation is tofind a group that is committed to the same goal of relief and support you seek, using common materials that allow for collective experiences and individual interpretation, and be willing to do the hard work of grief so you can embrace the life and love and story of the person you long to make sure is never forgotten.
Have you found yourself on the same page of grief with some family and friends, or is your experience more often that other people don’t understand your loss? Do you think a group can offer more insight than reflection by yourself?