So I head into my fourth session of grief counselling this week. It’s my turn to take the treats. Food is an essential part of the program. We have a cup of tea, a cookie or a slice of a sweet loaf, and commune. The course itself is quite scripted. We have a binder that we work out of and there are a series of dvds that we watch. Each session is two hours, but we always, always have a break – and tea. Usually this is where we share those thoughts or feelings that only another person going through the process can ever understand.
I think one of the ‘universal’ concerns to come out as a result of our counselling relates to what is normal and what is not. Is it normal to still cry every day, is it normal to be as tired as I am, is it normal to still have trouble sleeping? These are questions that bounce around in my mind, but it seems weak and rather pathetic to express them to my non-grieving friends. Surely by now they must be tired of hearing me moan on. At least that’s how it feels.
In my grief group we are all women. From a time perspective, all of them have been widows longer than me, all of their husbands died before Kevin, my husband, died. All of the others, unlike me, had their husbands die suddenly, and all of the men were older than Kevin. Despite a significant difference in circumstances our grief is fairly consistent and the questions that plague me, plague them too. The tiredness, bouts of weeping, desire to retreat from everyday life (even just for a bit); we all are experiencing similar feelings. Even more than that, we have a common concern about keeping it together in front of the kids or in front of family – putting on that brave front. Our sessions provide an opportunity to drop all of our pretense and to find out how someone else is feeling, coping, working – are they winning or losing the battle of grief.
These meetings also generate a fair bit of introspection and reflection. For me, after this last session I recalled vividly seeing my mother, who was slowly dying, lying on her side in her bed, looking out the window of her bedroom. I had gone to stay with her while she was failing; my sisters and I sharing the caregiving. I was there for a few months into the fall as the colours of the leaves changed and the weather got cold. Our days were fairly consistent and we played cards, walked when she was able, watched television, and entertained friends and family as her strength would allow. But every night she’d go into that little single bed of hers and turn towards the window to sleep. I wonder now, looking back, what thoughts were going through her head – was she wishing for release, to be free to fly away. My dad had died a couple years earlier, after 50 years of marriage, and I suspect the loneliness was excruciating.
Loneliness is the thing that most people don’t understand until they are on this path. I can be as busy as I like, make plans for things to do and places to go, but the irreversible truth is that Kevin is gone, and these things I must do on my own. I may be physically with others but I am on my own emotionally. His death colours everything and will for some time. This type of loneliness is one of the soul, my soul and only mine. This experience of loneliness had been troubling me, I felt like I was overly needy or weak. It was a relief to learn that I’m not – that every single widow at the group was going through the same thing in varying degrees. We are a diverse group of women in background and lifestyle; however, as we continue to share our experiences and feelings we are finding, more and more, just how alike we all are.