Grief Support Groups

December 22, 2009

Last night Ted Wiard, my dear friend and mentor, founder of Golden Willow Sanctuary (http://www.goldenwillowretreat.org/), invited me to attend the grief support group that he and I led together for several years.  It seemed like a good idea for me to stop by and take a sip of my own medicine, and tend my seasonal aching heart.

It turned out to be a Winter Solstice ceremony and potluck supper.  When I walked in and saw the table of food, I almost bolted.

“I am so NOT in the mood for a party,” I whispered to my friend Julie, who companioned her lover, Curtis, through his death from a brain tumor two years ago.

Julie laughed and took my arm, leading me to comfortable chair.  “How much of a party scene could there be with a bunch of grieving people?  We’re all in this together,” she reminded me.

And so we are.  That’s the extraordinary thing about grief groups.  Like the Hajj – the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim tries to take, where all the pilgrims dress in the same simple white shrouds and are there for only one purpose: to praise God – grief equalizes us.  In a support group, vast expressions of diversity melt in the common fire of loss and love.

I have sat in hundreds of circles where Latinos and Caucasians, blue-collar high school dropouts and world-renowned neurosurgeons, experienced Dharma practitioners and daytime soap opera addicts, take refuge together and find tangible solace in each other’s company.  When others give voice our secret heart, we are validated.  We find that we are not the freaks we had started to suspect we were for feeling lost and angry and numb and clairvoyant and ecstatic and hopeless and more alive than we have ever felt – often all at the same time — in the face of profound loss.

Although I had not attended a grief group since I took a break from facilitating them a year ago, there were many people there whom I had worked with on their path through grief and loss.  To my surprise and delight, both Ted and the group deeply honored me in their ceremony.  Where I thought I was going to show up and anonymously draw on the power of the circle to remind me that I am not alone in my sadness and yearning this time of year, I received much more than I came for.  I was able to hear how my simple willingness to bear witness to others’ pain made a real difference in their healing and transformation.  And, while there were of course some tears shed, there was also a lot of laughter, as there always seems to be in our groups.  I left uplifted.

Grief groups do not make the pain go away.  They are not a magical pill we can pop to “get over” our loss.  As we like to say in group, grief is not the flu and there is no quick fix.  Attending a support group is not an item on some grief to-do list; you can’t just check off that detail and be done.  Grief is a life-long journey of healing and discovery, one that, if engaged with an open mind and a humble heart, can result in an ongoing process of transformation.  In this way, our losses become our teachers.  Our grief becomes an authentic spiritual path.  Bereavement support can be a significant part of that path.

If you have not already done so, I strongly encourage you to find a grief group wherever you live.  It may be the greatest gift you can give yourself when you are feeling isolated and alone, especially now, while the rest of the world seems to be celebrating, and your own heart may be breaking… again.

Let me know how it goes.

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4 Responses to “Grief Support Groups”

  1. sutprem said

    I have sat today,almost Christmas,and read every post back to October 1st.Thanks Mirabai for sharing the details that make me not feel so “unacceptable” this holiday.Money is beyond tight,an unexpected turn of medical events has shackeled me into needed hibernation,and yet I must “deal” with my life.
    I am getting through this time with nightly DVDs, daily walks and prayers.Suddenly,a couple days ago at the library DVD kiosk,I saw my own lonliness and I felt ashamed.I had managed to trick myself into bravely moving forward with no looks at how others might percieve me.
    In a town of tightly knit Hispano families stretching back 500 years,I feel so “alone-female-older-Anglo out of place” this holiday and yet there is an odd parallel universe in Taos, where everyone is somehow joined at the hip.I went to Las Posadas the other night and sat next to Lydia Garcia for the meal afterwards.When I said goodbye she gave me the warmest hug of an angel.
    The hull of my grief gravy boat is filled to the brim this holiday with tears.Each time I climb to the surface of the water, take a breath, relieved and ready to take on another moment,my footing seems to be less and less steady.In a time of needing to focus on building my inner container,the groudning I work so hard to find, slips away with the rush of external events that shake my focus.
    Allah has angels all around me so easy to feel when my spirits are boyant.I know they are carrying me around through my day the rest of the time.
    I hope you don’t mind that I wrote so much. I just really needed to put my feelings some place where there is a mirror that will reflect back the light.
    Hope you have a fruitful new season of the sun.

  2. Jo said

    Beautiful, beautiful writing – both of you.

    This Christmas I was in a better place. My husband was not. So much of what we did each Christmas included our mom and it so hard to face that time of year without her. So, when I talked about putting up the tree, he said no and I said OK. Then he wanted to put up the other decorations and I said no and he said OK. So we did nothing and it was glorious. I guess we were much like the Grinch who stole Christmas from Whoville. In essence, our Christmas mirrored that. As much as our grief and pain tried to keep it out, though, it could not. We found joy in the faces of our grandchildren. The music of church came seeping into our hearts with seams we had thought stitched shut. It was quiet, peaceful, and beautiful. It came without our permission nor our preparation, but come it did. Ah…

  3. carol-la sonam dorje said

    I love reading the blog and comments. Thank you. They mirror many of my own thoughts and feelings. I attended grief support groups (almost 5 yrs.ago) due to my Buddhist teacher’s mother’s death(I was Reva’s caregiver), and my grandchild’s birth. My identity and roles I had in each of those events were altered. Little did I realize that happy occasions can be a cause of tears, washing my relationships into different waters. Two years ago my husband died in Tibet. He never realized his Visa to come live with me in Taos. I yearned for Tsedor-la, Tibet, my Tibetan family and home. I was in a fog, so numb. All I did was eat Peanut M&M’s and watch DVDs and suspend sleep, so I wouldn’t dream. I went to work, needing to put a different face on. Outside I was not broken, but inside I was totally shattered, drowning in my tears. I felt like I was an alien, abnormal and that I wasn’t seen. It took a crane to lift me out of bed, to function, pay my bills and take me out of my home to drive to grief support groups. They became my lifeline.
    Lately, I experience my feelings differently. My soul and grief have moved into a deeper connection with spirit and nature. The pot luck group at holiday time and all the groups is not only my lifeline but a connection to/as my family, my home.
    I wanted to write my comment to reach out to anyone feeling grief, expecting grief to visit. There really is hope that comes out of sharing our feelings. Oh, one more thing, grief has so many faces, different reasons, and all grief is welcome.

    • Thank you for your beautiful insights, dear Carol-la. Community is incredibly comforting in grief, and none but the company of other grievers can hold us in quite the same way.

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