Saturday, November 17, 2007

Grief Work

After my first support group meeting, I realized I had quite the journey ahead of me. By now I was starting to really feel terrible. I learned later that, for the first 5 months or so, my brain had produced a kind of sedative to keep me pretty mellow as I recovered from the death and funeral. Now, those lovely mind drugs were starting to wear off, and reality was starting to bite, hard. In that first support group meeting, I listened to people who were still grieving intensely after 1 year, 18 months, two years, two and a half, even. And there was a bit of talk about "grief work." What the heck was that?

Well, I had a bit of an idea. A few months earlier, a friend at work had given me a copy of a book called The Grief Recovery Handbook. I had read through it once, but at the time I was still too much in a daze for it to really impact me. Besides, it is more of a workbook than a handbook, and I don't think you'll get anything out of it by simply reading it. There are about 6 weeks worth of exercises in there, and it is highly recommended that you work with a partner. I was lucky in that they guy who gave me the book was also willing to work with me on the exercises. Even though the book says it is possible to do the exercises by yourself, they do recommend working with someone else, and I recommend this approach as well.

I am glad I began working on the exercises when I did, about 6 months after the funeral. It is not easy to do the exercises, and I found it to be quite tiring, especially after each weekly meeting with my work partner. Lots and lots of tears, increasing each week. I freed up as much time as I could from any activities outside of work, simply because I didn't have the energy.

The guided grief work in this handbook involved taking stock of my entire relationship with Deb and documenting the highs and the lows in a chart. From here, I acknowledged the many things I was happy to have shared with her, the things I was sorry had caused her sadness, and the things about her which I was pissed off about. The authors stress many times in the book that death does not end the relationship, it merely changes it. So it made sense that I had all these incomplete issues that were still occupying my thoughts. I needed to let them go, and the last few exercises assisted me in writing a goodbye letter and reading it to my work partner.

I absolutely did not want to read that goodbye letter to anyone! I knew it would be hard and that I would cry all the way through it. Also, it was highly personal, and I didn't know my work partner all that well. I trusted that he would keep the letter contents confidential, but it wasn't a deep level of trust. I viewed it as a risk, one that I was willing to take. As for it being hard, well, my reference point for hard had been reset about 5 months earlier. Deciding what to write on Deb's tombstone while my 2 year old son ran around the monument shop, now that was hard. This was going to be considerably easier.

And in fact, it was all over before I knew it. Was I "cured" of my grief after I had read the letter? Hardly. I had many more months of sorrow ahead of me before I could begin feeling halfway normal again. But somehow, I now had a floor under me, a place from where I could begin to build a new life as a single man. It is quite common for widows and widowers to either idolize or demonize their dead spouse, and this seems to prolong grief. The handbook forced me to look at my completed marriage objectively, seeing both the good and the bad, and acknowledging both, and saying what needed to be said to put issues to rest. Looking back, I can see that completing these exercises were a real milestone on my grief journey.

1 comment:

obakesan said...

thankyou for writing your blog. My wifed died suddenly from an undiagnosed brain tumor about 3 months ago.

its been a long trip so far, hopefully I'll find something in your pages.