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.