grief group

The week before last, I arrived at work expecting a supervision meeting.  Instead I was asked to handle a crisis intervention.  Reluctantly I took it (not that I really had a choice) and it ended up being a woman whose father had been found dead the night before.  She got the news at 2am and arrived at my office at 9 at the urging of her boyfriend. 

!$#%(@&#^^^(*!

So I find myself sitting across from a woman in the horrible shock, terror, and disbelief of fresh,  unexpected death.  And I knew from my experiences that there was absolutely nothing I could do.  So I listened.  And I told her about 8 times about how little sense anything was going to make and how ridiculous the experiences and requests and decisions were going to be in these next few weeks. 

After she left, my supervisors sat me down to process.  I told them that I understood that I was the only therapist available at that time, but that my deaths were still rather fresh so it was hard.  They made me talk a little more about what it felt like to be in the room with that client.  And I was honest about flashbacks of last days and bodies and shock and horror.  My one supervisor said, “Well, I don’t think you’re going to like this, but I think you are still in mourning and I recommend you find a grief group.” 

I told her that wasn’t a punishment for me.  I told her about engaging pretty obsessively with my grief through reading and writing blogs, in order to be able to connect whenever I needed to with people who were going through the same phase as me.  She challenged me that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to be at different places in the grief process as others, and that making a human, in-person connection was very important. 

Sounded good to me.  I searched and was able to rather easily find a weekly group close to my house.  I’ve been twice now.  There’s a format of a speaker or presentation, then breaking off into small groups according to your loss.  The first week was amazing – a speaker telling his personal story and then having to tell mine in the small group.  Everyone was very supportive.  The one I went to yesterday was good, too, but a little strange.  The presentation was awesome, but the small group was off due to an obviously mentally ill man who was kind of disruptive to the process.  But I resisted my urge to bolt and stayed through it.  I talked to a nice Buddhist girl afterward.  I’ll keep coming for a while. 

In my experience so far, it feels a little darker, closer – the loss.  I have been able to set them aside and pursue building my life up again.  The best part of yesterday’s presentation talked about the process of grief really being a process of figuring out who you are going to be now.  There is part of you that died with your loved one.  We have also lost who we were, our identity in relationship to them.  That hit me in the gut because that is what’s real to me right now.  There are parts of my identity (perfect, good girl caretaker) that I angrily cast off immediately.  But the follow-up question is, Who am I if not her?  What is my family role now?  And because the way you learned to fit in with your family informs so much of your subsequent life, how does this affect this life that I’m building back up?  I’m building from scratch, but am I?  I didn’t realize how much of the grief process was about the identities of the survivors. 

Recently I have been dancing around the living room and come face to face with pictures of Grama on the wall, and my face changes and melts into the adoring granddaughter, eyes shining, in awe of her pretty little face.  And only with the time that has passed do I realize that this face, this expression is particular to my relationship with her. 

Yesterday was our family birthday celebration and my mom showed the movie I made of them again.  Last time we saw it I smiled.  This time I cried.  I miss them.  I can’t say I truly miss myself, because I like the more genuine person I am becoming as I continue to peel this onion.  But I am aware of the parts of me that have been left behind.  Grief is so much more expansive than I thought. 

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A blast from the past – and I survived!

There is an old friend.  We met working at a restaurant.  We liked each other immediately!  She was kinda crazy and off the wall and just beautiful.  Because I can tend on the reserved side, I’m often both drawn to and jealous of people like that.  Shortly after we met, she was telling her boyfriend how much she liked me and described me as her other half.  What she meant was that half of our personalities and likes were exactly the same, but the other half was complete opposites.  We had a lot of fun over the years deciding which things were same half and other half. We were kind of attached at the hip for about 5 years.  The most significant same half things were our love of our grandmothers, and rollerskating (but absolutely not rollerblading). 

Our friendship ended badly.  Somehow over the years the nexus of our friendship turned from happy, fun, wild, hilarious adventures into alcohol fueled, depressive, angry toxicity.  I decided I was done and completely cut her out of my life, shut it down, cut off all communication, blocked her, dunzo.  I’ve been terrified at the idea of what it would be like when I would eventually see her again, imagining a harsh confrontation or some kind of dramatic explosion.  Somehow, over the last 3 years, we have never run into each other socially, which is pretty miraculous.  We had a lot of the same friends, but over the years somehow things just fell into place without any of our friends taking sides.  Things just fall on one side or the other of the divorce.  Like the roller rinks.  I had mine (the cool one), and she had the one where her grandma is a dj (actually just as cool, but it attracts old white people who have been waltzing on skates for years). 

Cut to last night.  As I was rounding the corner to the side with the benches at the roller rink, I spotted her walking down the aisle.  My heart started beating out of my chest and my nasal passages immediately cleared.  I froze.  I was so nervous!  But after that, I decided to get ahold of myself.  I always imagined that if I ever saw her again, I would bolt.  But I wasn’t doing that.  This was my happy place, I’ve become very comfortable here.  I did some deep breathing to slow my body down.  I noticed that I didn’t know what to expect, and that it could be hostile, sure.  But what other outcomes could there be?  Being that I didn’t know what she was thinking, what was the more helpful thought for me?  For a moment I imagined us smiling at each other, genuinely happy to see each other.  It was a long shot but it helped me calm down.  I enjoyed my skate, chatted with a couple of people, and checked her out when she happened to be skating in front of me.  She was with some little skinny guy who I knew wasn’t her last known serious boyfriend.  Their interaction was familiar, him enthralled by her charm.  It made me smile. 

More than anything, it surprised me to realize that I really enjoyed seeing her.  My main thought was that she’s a strikingly beautiful girl, and we had a lot of fun together.  I have often missed the fun we used to have.  We did not speak, we didn’t smile or acknowledge each other.  But we saw each other, we shared the same space, and it was ok. 

I’m so different now.  I’m no longer a raging alcoholic who doesn’t know how to express her feelings in a direct and healthy way that allows for true communication.  And who knows what has changed for her in the past 3 years.  I regret the way I ended our friendship, but not the fact that it’s over.  Part of me wanted to talk to her and catch up.  To tell her about Grama and my hard year.  But part of me is terrified that she would react harshly.  I’m still wary of her, her energy was overwhelming to me and our friendship turned very sour.  But seeing her was really nice, and I was surprised by my ability to cope, and by the surge of positive feelings that came up. 

And it was pretty perfect that it happened at the roller rink. 

ask and you will receive

i’m feeling grateful today for what a difference a change in my perception, attention, and intention has made in my social life.  i have been lamenting for the past few months about not having enough people in my day to day life.  but as i reconnect with old friends, take some risks, open up… i realize today that i have plenty.  would i like to add more?  sure!  but i’m also very grateful for those i have and for a comfortably full social calendar 🙂  life is good. 

creepy dream

I don’t dream about my aunt or Grama very much but last night I did.  We were at a restaurant finishing up and it was time to go.  Grama kept pushing herself up like she was trying to stand, to leave.  I ran to grab her wheelchair to bring over to her so she could transfer into it.  I was asking my sister to help her, but Grama fell down before I could get the wheelchair to her.  She kept trying to get back up and then falling down again.  I was mad at my sister for not helping her, protecting her… she kept falling and getting weaker and smaller.  I was horrified and felt helpless.  The last time she fell, it was like she fell straight backwards, flat, with a thud.  I just knew she was broken beyond repair.  I went to cradle her while someone got help.  Maybe an ambulance was coming.  She was almost like a little gingerbread man at this point, that small and flat.  The next part I remember is what felt like a little while later and I was holding a baby.  It was a baby of course, but it was also some version of Grama having survived the fall.  I cradled this baby and kind of showed her off to other people and I was thankful that she had survived.  She looked small and thin and kind of weak and weary, but I was happy that she could track people’s faces so I knew the baby was going to be ok. 

letting my freak flag fly

so I have this new supervisor and I feel like she can see straight into my soul.  she’s an adorable little lady, probably in her late 60s/early 70s, black woman with close cropped salt-n-pepper natural hair.  she’s been doing therapy for so fucking long, she can read people like magic.  I seriously asked her if she was magic when she asked my client whether she had a fear of elevators, closed spaces, bridges (she was right). 

most people who meet me remark at how calm I am, what a comforting presence… do you ever get angry?  but I can be very tightly wound under the surface, I have some control issues, and have some situational anxiety.  I send a lot of work emails.  yeah, i’m that girl. 

so she’s way more hands on, more of a mentor, gives me critique than any other supervisor I have had as a therapist.  today she told me I was being difficult.  I was wavering about whether to cancel some clients to attend a planning meeting in our other location and she called me on it.  it took me a good hour to process being called difficult.  aren’t I the people pleaser, the perfect one?   but at the same time, part of it made me feel good!

over the past week or so, she has told me a couple of times to let my worries drift over me, don’t get attached to the anxiety, relax into it and let it flow away.  I think it has taken me that long to really begin to hear it.  something about the way she can see through my nonsense is making me boil over with freakishness.  in the middle of this meeting today, I told her, “you’re more hands on than any manager we’ve had since I’ve been here.  I really appreciate it and it’s very challenging.”  we all laughed about that.  I then went on, “everyone thinks i’m so calm, but i’m totally anxious and controlling underneath this exterior!” 

she affirmed both sides.  “the calmness makes you a good therapist, very comforting and safe and approachable.  but you can’t be calm all the time.”  god, that’s so good to hear.  she’s giving me permission to have the both/and while remaining an acceptable human being.  I’ve got a tattoo on my wrist that reads, the courage to be imperfect.  it’s there for good reason!  I can’t believe how many times I have to learn the lesson that it’s ok to be exactly who I am, without sugar coating or apologies.  it’s ok to be a dichotomy.  being reprimanded for being difficult would’ve sent me into a full-on, no turning back, shut down fit in the past.  i’m happy to be able to just accept it and move on today. 

both. 

my cousin’s birthday dinner

it was barb’s son’s birthday last week.  i told him we wanted to take him for lunch and he chose a barbeque place.  at one point in the planning process i thought it would be just me, my mom, and him.  but it ended up that his girlfriend came, and my sister and her boyfriend.  we had a great little lunch! 

the big news was – my cousin got engaged!  they have been living together for a few years and moved into barb’s house after she died.  his now fiancé has a 6 year old, and they just got a new puppy.  they’re aiming for next October – about a year and a half. 

my sister spent dinner play fighting with her boyfriend.  my jury is still out on him, but my gut instinct has always been on the dislike side.  however, he has been at my mom’s house every time i come to visit recently (my sister is 17), and is now showing up at family events. 

big life events in your family are always … big.  it’s a big deal, he’s getting married!  but again, bittersweet.  barb won’t be at the wedding.  grama won’t be there.  i could see that my mom was thinking that too, as it all soaked in. 

looking around the table at lunch, all i could think – neither bad nor good – was… this is my family now.