“Tell me your grief story.” This question marks the beginning of all our bereavement group sessions. Our virtual group sessions were no different. When our weekly meetings began, participants shared their story of their grief with the group, many of them were complete strangers to one another. Over the months, new participants have joined our group. We take special care and time to allow them to tell their story as well. These weekly sessions have allowed participants time to think about their grief in all the ways a story can cover long periods of time with intense and layered emotions.
What I have noticed over my time working with those in grief, is that verbalizing a timeline of your experience has a lot of therapeutic value. I’m not sure exactly what is happening in the mind when we do this, but as you begin to speak, your mind chooses to take you to a place in time which you need to process. That is why it is important never to set strict prompts or boundaries like, “tell me what happened the week before your loved one died” or “what was the last year like for you?” Those are good questions of course, but in grief processing in a group, it helps most to let your mind take you where it most needs to go. Often in sharing a grief story, time is no longer a linear concept. Sometimes it moves faster over years and zooms in closely to seconds as if those seconds lasted entire hours.
On one day you may need to zoom out and share your experience as a caregiver to your loved one and how over months and years this was challenging for you. On another day, it may be important to go to the final days/hours/moments with them, walking through every feeling and detail. Where-ever your mind leads you, that is where you must stay and focus in on when you have the space to share and process. This will tell you a lot about what is “heavy on your heart” that day. You will be able to see how your grief has changed over time. There is always more to think about, more to process, more to feel…let your mind be your guide in this.
I say this only to point out that telling your story is never a one-time thing. But I probably do not need to tell you that. You have most likely felt a compulsion to share, maybe even to a complete stranger! That is good and okay. However, when processing your grief in an intentional way, it is helpful to find safe spaces to do so where you feel comfortable, and to do this more than once over months and years.
What you focus on in telling your story can reveal so much about how you are feeling. I have seen that some people must process early on all of the details, numbers, choices, and information which led to the experience they had with their loved one’s death. Sometimes this is to “grasp” the reality of what they faced, sometimes it is to feel some control over it, and sometimes it is the mind’s attempt to assuage feelings of regret or grief, to search for purpose and meaning. Some cannot focus on the minute details because their minds cannot grasp such things as they are in up in the intense abstraction of their emotions, separated from reality, looking for something to anchor them down eventually.
As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, wherever you are is good, there is not a “right way” but there is a certain rhythm to grief. Some days you will need to be up away from reality as you process existential questions, other days you need to be anchored in on something concrete. Wherever you are, that is where you must stay and focus in, letting your mind guide you.
So let this week be a time to revisit your story. After your mind has taken you to a particular memory, ponder on why it took you there. What do you need to learn from those moments? What do you need to let go of from those moments? What support did you have or need at that time? How has that changed now? Ask yourself questions, and orient yourself to the present when you are done. Of course, telling your story does not have to be done in a group, or to another person, you can do this with yourself as a form of meditation. Whichever way you do it, be kind to yourself, gentle, and understanding. Be brave in touching on the memories that hurt a little more than others, then allow yourself to remember something funny, beautiful, or joyful. Telling your story again is a way to check-in with yourself, almost like a checkpoint on your grief journey. Remember, a grief journey has no destination, it is a path you take to keep you invested in your own life, to keep you here.
This week our group participants will share their stories again. Come prepared to zoom in, or to zoom out, to focus on the details, or to be up in a space in which words can be difficult to find. Let your story flow fluidly, allowing your mind to create the structure itself for you. Our activity this week will be to share our stories and then to process with the group: “why this story, why now?”
Join me for our Touchpoint group on Tuesday at 2 PM. It generally lasts about one and a half hours.
Click the link below for more information on how to join us, everyone is welcome, no registration required. If you would like to schedule one-on-one support with me via Zoom, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. Don’t forget to send me names and any pictures, stories, or audio/video for your loved one’s memorial page for our Celebration of Life Virtual Memorial on July 23rd. Send these to me by July 21st. More information can be found here: https://williamsburghospice.org/celebration-of-life-ceremony-2020/