Less than a week after Todd’s beautiful celebration of life, I attended my first group therapy session. The funeral home that organized his celebration was offering a new session on grief recovery. I attended that Tuesday evening and could barely spit out any words in between the tears. There were about 10 people in the group. We introduced ourselves, told a bit about our story, and were introduced to a book that we would be using in the eight week long session. Ten days later, COVID shut everything down and group therapy was no longer a thing. However, the first and only session was extremely helpful.
The Grief Recovery Handbook, The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce and Other Losses, Including Health, Career and Faith
John W. James and Russell Friedman
That night, we (not really me because remember…all I did was cry) discussed and shared the things people have said, and will say, to us after losing a loved one. In as little as a week's time, I had already been the recipient of so many words, the majority of which were supportive, but also words that hurt, confused, and kind of made me mad. Some of the words even started before Todd passed away, during the last few weeks of his life.
The group discussion helped me realize that when people say things that make me secretly gasp, they are doing it because they truly don’t know what else to say.
Here are some of the things that were said:
“I know how you feel, my granny (age 98) passed away recently.” Well, not the same thing in my opinion because my husband passed away so young at age 51.
“It will get easier.” Well, I’m glad that people years down the road from this experience feel that way but this comment really just made me feel guilty in the event I would think it would ever get easier.
“Be strong!” Oh yeah, well what if I’m not strong? What does strong even mean at this time?
Some people actually asked about the details of his last living moment. No comment
“At least he isn’t in pain any more.” No comment
“How are you doing?” To this I often tried to respond with, “As well as to be expected.” What does that even mean? People don’t really want the real answer to that question because it may come out as, “My heart hurts so bad I can barely breathe. I’m a hot mess! I don’t even know how I am doing.”
"I'm thinking of you!" - felt supportive
"I'm sending positive thoughts your way!" - felt good
No words- just hugs and smiles- always helpful
The book goes into detail about this topic of how others say things they believe are appropriate and helpful but may not be at all. Acknowledging the impact of words around me helped me focus on the words that helped and not waste energy on the feelings around the words that did not help. On each of our journeys, we choose where to focus our energy. I would encourage anyone experiencing grief to look into this book.
This group session and chapter of the book impacted my life in two ways. The first is it opened a door of conversation for Maggie (daughter age 22,) Caroline (daughter age 20,) and me so that we could share the things people were saying. Sometimes we laughed at what was said to us, sometimes we cried, but we talked about it and worked together to create positive vibes! The other thing is that it has made me stop and think about the things I’ve said to others when they have lost someone they love. I have said many of the things listed above to other people in their time of loss. I really never know what to say to people, do I even need to “say” anything? I will now stop and think twice about what I do/say to others!
For the 32 years that I have loved Todd, he has loved writing in journals. When I say he loved it, he truly valued the process and the writing journey. I will be using some of his entries, or portions, throughout the blog. (I will be taking words straight from the journals and will do my best to credit an author as Todd often wrote about others that influenced his life). The words below were written in a journal from 1991. It seemed appropriate in this post because words can be such simple things but...
Yes, grief is unique. It is also a commonality on everyone’s journey. So, feel free to post positive comments you may have received in time of loss that were/are helpful so we can all help our knowledge grow.
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