It has been sixteen months now that we have begun this terrible, tragic journey, and almost every week, like clockwork, Dorothy and I go to our bereavement group meetings.
We belong to a few groups. They are all over the calendar. One meets every other Wednesday, one meets the second and fourth Tuesday, and one meets the first Thursday. On average, we go to one meeting a week, two some weeks, and no meetings other weeks, but over the months, it all works out. Each group is very different and there is almost no overlap among members. The locations are all different–one meets around a dark brown conference room table, one in a cluster of comfy seats and couches in a church library, and one meets in a church meeting room dominated by generic 3′ x 6′ tables. One group charges a few bucks per person per meeting, while another serves us free pizza at every meeting. One is run by a professional therapist, the others by trained group leaders. One is part of a national network of bereavement groups that holds national and local events, one is run by a local bereavement center, and one is affiliated with a local hospital. All of them so very different.
But the meetings all have one thing in common: they are gatherings of parents–and, in a few cases, siblings–of lost children. We come together to talk about and honor our children, to talk about everything that is going on in our lives, to support others who have recently joined the group, and to come to a “safe” place. What we talk about and what we say in the group stays in the group. We sometimes share photographs of our children–we want the others to see what our beautiful son or daughter looked like. We share songs they might have written, or poems that we found that help us and might help the others, or mementos that meant a lot to someone. But we mainly talk.This is a gathering of our a special group of people. These are the people who “get it.” Even though they think they do, or as hard as they try, no one else really does.
Sometimes there is a topic that we talk about. In November and December we talked about the holidays, how they are without our children and what we do to honor our children who are not with us anymore during the holidays. In the spring we talk about new life, new beginnings, Easter and Passover: and how they relate to what we are going through. In June we talk about graduations: that some of our children never made, or that their friends graduated and what it means to us that our children did not walk down the aisle that year. Sometimes we talk about what we constantly are doing to honor our children and keep our relationship with them alive. Sometime we just start and can talk non-stop for ninety minutes; other times the leader has to keep us moving forward, because we all are frozen in our thoughts and pain.
If new parents come to the group for the first time, something we all know too much about, we listen patiently as they talk about their loss. Sometimes it is too raw for them to share, too soon for them to open up, and they say just a few words, tear up, cry, and they tell us to move on. We understand where they are at, we all have been there. We see them over the weeks and months come out of their painful shell, come out of their shock. Eventually they tell us about their son or daughter. Sometimes they can’t use the word died, or passed, or lost. The first time a parent says that in front of a group is a huge realization for them. We all know why they are here, and we all know that they lost the most precious thing a parent can ever have, but the first time they say it out loud, even in a whisper, is a milestone for all of us. To this day, all I can say is that I lost Andrew. I can’t describe it any other way. It’s just too hard to say any other words.
Some families and parents come to the groups for years–once, maybe twice a month. Their children died five, seven, ten, or more years ago. They find peace and comfort in coming to the meetings. It is a safe place where they can go and talk about their child. They can cry openly and not be judged, they can show pictures and tell stories to people who are genuinely interested. They are never asked if they are over it yet, or whether they have moved on. They are around those people who actually know what they are going through, unfortunately. They are around their peers. They are with the other members of a club that no one wants to be in, but we are forced to be in by circumstances.
There are those who, like us, have been going for a much shorter time, maybe a year or two. We are still learning to deal with our loss. We look forward to going to the meetings, for it is our safe place, as well. We can openly cry there–we are actually expected to cry at the meetings, as most of us do at one point or another. We regularly see a few other families who lost their sons about the same time we lost Andrew. We went through the holidays for the first time together. We went through the process of picking out a headstone together, and so much more–but we went through them together with people who understood. We had people whom we could lean on over the year who were going through the exact same thing we were, and it helped us so much. We were there for them, and they were there for us.
Some people come to the group once or twice. The can tell their story, they can listen to what we have to say, but they do not return. Talking about it, or listening to others, just hurts them too much. They have to deal with their loss in a different way. We don’t know why they don’t return, they just drop out, and they are gone. But we hope that they are, in their own way, dealing with their loss and their grief. We intend to stay, for now. For another year? Two years? Five? Neither of us really knows. Do we want to be going every week in five or ten years? I don’t think so, neither does Dorothy. Will we be cured, will we be better, will we be over it? Absolutely not. But we hope to one day be at a point where we know how to deal with our loss and out pain, where we can talk about it and not cry so much, where we can help others through the pain.
We were helped by some of those parents who have been in the groups for years. A few months ago, Pam, who lost her son several years ago, gave Dorothy a little piece of paper on it that simply said “It will get better, I promise.” Dorothy was having a very tough time and this little piece of paper, these simple words from someone who had gone through the feelings and pain Dorothy was feeling now, helped her so much. Maybe one day we can help someone else in this same simple way.