Recently the support group I facilitate was highlighted in our local diocesan newspaper 'The Anchor.'
Making great strides to help others as they struggle to make sense of all the confusion that often comes with the death of a loved one. Through our own losses, we can often find the strength to reach out to others with compassion and empathy, not because we have become experts, but because we have come to understand our loss and that this is not a journey to be taken alone.
Why is grief so hard to talk about? Why do people try to act like it doesn't exist? Or worse yet, if it is not acknowledged, it will eventually go away! If only that last statement were true!
The only way to handle grief is to talk about it, to express those feelings, to give some sort of direction to the confusion that you feel, and to just know you are not alone. Grief exists, it does not simply go away or vanish into thin air if people act like it never happened. For me, it has been almost seven years now since Rachel passed away, and I still talk about missing her, and wishing she were here right now. My pain has eased, and the grief no longer is debilitating, but there is still a longing. Gratefully this longing has been filled by a deep knowledge that my daughter walks beside me each and every day, a constant presence in my life.
What helped me then, and continues to help, was finding a person or persons who were willing to just listen, even when my words were mere ramblings. People who let me share my story and Rachel's story, people who did not judge or look down at me because of my words and actions. Individuals who looked beyond the outer trappings of my grief, recognizing the hurting person within my outward shell.
It is not always easy to find such support, but one must keep searching, eventually you will find a person or persons who willingly walk beside you. These individuals can range from family members, close friends or even strangers. They can come in the form of counseling or support groups. They can be found in your work, school or faith community. Hospitals, doctors and other health care facilities offer help or can direct you to support systems. The key is to take that first step, and utter those words that for me were one of the hardest to say, "I need help!" "I can't do this alone."
Even after admitting I needed help, it took me several times before fear, anger and pushing my pride aside, allowed me to let the help I so desperately needed to begin to bear fruit. It took three sessions with my counselor to finally realize she only wanted to help. It took three attempts before I finally walked into my first support group. And it took two or three sessions before I felt comfortable enough to share with the group.
Anything that alters our lives in any way, requires us to re-adjust routines, or creates a change in us, takes time. Regardless of the cause of the changes, we have to face our hopes and dreams, our fears and uncertainties, and sometimes learn to walk all over again. Taking baby steps, until we are able to walk boldly and even begin to run again.
Remember to give yourself time and to give that helping hand a chance to make a difference in your life. Don't be afraid to meet it half way, or if that is hard, to allow it all the way into your life.
It's been a while since I have posted, life just gets a little hectic sometimes. I have been facilitating a bereavement support group, started contributing to a local newspaper and taking classes, no excuse but it has been crazy. In all my busyness however, Rachel is never far from my thoughts, her presence is felt each and every waking moment, and occasionally in a dream or two. It seems that as I step further into acceptance, she is so much more present to me. It is hard to explain, it is a heart-felt knowledge, it does not mean I don't miss her, trust me, I do, it is just that I know she is with me. It is as if our hearts are communicating, her soul is reaching out and hugging mine. When I share this with others, they will smile, shake their heads, but often I see uncertainty, a silent, really! Yet when I speak to others who have been on this wild roller coaster ride longer, they fully understand what I am talking about, they know exactly what I mean. How did I get to this place? There is no exact time frame, no aha moment, it just seemed to be a slow awareness. One thing I do know, is I began to truly sense her presence when I started to let go. Let me tell you, that was one of the hardest things to do. Like so many I have spoken to, the letting go was the scariest time of all. All of a sudden you realize that a few years have slipped away, your loved one has been 'gone' now for a while; and you have somehow began to live again. Suddenly, you panic, you begin to wonder - am I forgetting them? What if I can't remember what they looked like, sounded like, felt like, etc., what if I can't remember anything at all about them? As your wrestle with these new found fears, you find yourself slipping backwards just a little. For me there were fresh tears, sleepless nights, and confusion. It was by no means, debilitating, just a slow oozing from healing wounds. It was as, if there were pain again, I wouldn't forget, I would be reminded, Rachel would not be slipping away. As I faced these fears, yet again, I began to let go, to trust that somehow I would be okay. As for the day or time, was I doing a certain thing, was I at a specific location...I couldn't say. All I know was that suddenly my fears seemed to subside, and I begin to not only believe those words I would say to everyone; 'Rachel is always with me,' I was now feeling and sensing her presence. A comfort began to envelope me lending credence to the Bible passage "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt 5:4); as I felt a renewed sense of purpose, a newly found strength, and an awareness that I could now truly help others who were mourning. After all, I had survived, and made it some how, I had come through the darkness. This rebirth of sorts gave me so much to look forward to, knowing that no matter what lies ahead Rachel is not and will not be forgotten (at least not by me). This new person that I have become, will truly never be the same person she was 7 years ago, and hopefully the lessons learned have taught me well. Yes, there will still be so many events and firsts in my life, that I will feel the sadness that Rachel is not physically present to share them with us. But my heart now knows that she is and will always be present. My family and I just recently were seated around the dinner table, talking, laughing and playing a board game, when suddenly through all the laughter, we heard Rachel's laughter. We all heard it, and each of us looked at each other and said, Rachel's here. So do not worry, your loved one is very much a part of your life, and in time you too, will begin to listen, hear and see with your heart. Your very essence, your soul, will begin to feel your loved one in ways that will bring you comfort, will surround you in love, filling you with a peace you never thought you would know again. Letting go, letting them live their new life, does not mean they will be forgotten, on the contrary, they will be an intricate part of your very being. Remember, you are not alone, those we loved and lost walk beside us each and every day. Blessings! and until we meet again.