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Ways of Seeing: Grief support group was invaluable

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Posted on February 23, 2017 |
By Ellen Flight



I was not prepared for the overwhelming, full-body experience of grief. Before my father died in January 2016 I thought I understood grief. 

My father had been a hospice patient for almost 20 months and I had prepared for his death.  We had had so much warning including some “near misses.” I experienced something called “anticipatory grief.” I cried so much in my car I joked that my car was going to rust from the inside out. It lulled me into thinking I had dealt with my grief beforehand. But I discovered that’s not how it works.

When I got the call from our hospice nurse that there were 24 hours left it felt like I’d been sucker punched in the gut. This was a new kind of pain, and frankly it surprised me by its sheer power.

In the weeks following my dad’s death I felt numb. He died on a Thursday and I went back to work on Monday wondering why that seemed too soon to others. I could do stuff, but I was in a fog. Months later it felt like I had lost six weeks though I’d been present that whole time.

I had trouble focusing. And I couldn’t get warm enough. Most nights I took a hot shower so I could fall asleep. I was going through the motions. I remember when some flowers arrived. I was surprised; why would someone send me flowers? Cards arrived. So many people reached out to me that way. Cards and flowers arrived for weeks but it still felt unreal.

Slogging along I knew things were off, but didn’t know what to do about it.  Then I saw an ad for a grief support group.  It was offered by Hospice Volunteer Services with eight weekly sessions. I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen, but I knew I needed some kind of help. Maybe I could “learn my way through” my grief. But, the deal with grief is you have to “feel your way through.”

It was scary walking into the first gathering. I wondered who the others would be? How painful would it be? Fortunately the bereavement specialist created an atmosphere of calm, empathic acceptance that was soothing and reassuring. The emphasis was placed on creating a strong supportive community that allowed people to be themselves. We shared stories, photos and mementos. The trust we created allowed me to sit with my grief in a way I hadn’t yet been able to do.

It doesn’t really matter the exact relationship one has to the loved one lost — spouse, parent, beloved uncle — the pain of loss is strong and powerful in ways that while not identical are universal. It’s way beyond sadness; it is at times searingly painful. The numbing pain felt more manageable — at least I could get things done.

The sessions were challenging, but I immediately found them helpful. It was a relief to hear others share similar feelings and struggles. Each person’s grief is unique. I could see there is no prescribed timeline or order for grief. It was comforting to be with others in the process. 

In the ongoing (follow-up), monthly group meetings, I have found a place of peace. Often it happens that others gradually lose interest or aren’t willing to listen. I learned that the group is where I can still share and know that my grief is valued.

Grief is hard and grief can be good. It’s painful and healing at the same time. For me it’s been a way to stay connected with my dad and process the losses I feel with him no longer being a physical presence in my life. There are still times when I wonder if my tears will rust my car from the inside out. But with the support of the Hospice Volunteer Services bereavement programs, along with family and friends, I’m making progress.

Ellen Flight fell in love with Vermont while visiting every summer of her life and has now lived in Middlebury for almost 20 years. She is the Director of Songadeewin of Keewaydin, a residential girls’ summer camp on Lake Dunmore.

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