Why I Joined a Grief Counseling Group, and Why You Should Too

Grief is weird. You don't have to go through it alone.

About a year after my mother's passing, I started reading a book by Cheryl Strayed, an author whose mother also died when she was younger. Her two-page account of that event made me cry six times that night. I cried more times in one evening than I had over the entire first year of my mother being gone.

My mother, although deeply giving, was also incredibly private and I can only recall seeing her cry two times in my life. Whether or not these traits are good or bad isn't relevant and probably differs from a case to case basis, but it seems fair to say that I may have inherited some of that stoic nature.

Despite the logic behind my previous statements, I was still constantly unsettled by my lack of tears over the death of my own mother, who was not only a parent to me, but also a best friend. It's not that I wanted to forget about my mother, as if that were even possible. To this day, there is a ghostly emptiness in the parts of my heart and mind that she occupied with phone calls and hand written letters while I lived away from home (and so much more). 

 In philosophy, we learn a theory that man's journey is to minimize pain and maximize pleasure or happiness. By avoiding sad thoughts and yucky regrets, I was minimizing pain. Ironically, by doing so, I eventually found that I was not maximizing happiness by doing this. I had simply stalled in the middle of the spectrum. The place I'll refer to as "meh."

These became some of the reasons I decided to contact my local Hospice about joining a grievance group.

This group was led by a university professor and consisted of five other girls around my age. At our first meeting, the leader remarked what a unique group ours was. While these seminars were open to anyone within our age range affected by the death of a loved one, everyone in our gathering had recently experienced the loss of a maternal figure in their life to cancer. 

We met once a week to discuss concepts of grief, followed by engaging in some sort of art project. During my evenings spent this group, I did not reach any epiphanies regarding the intricacies of life and death, nor did I grow more generous tear ducts, but I did have notable healing and learning experiences.

It was nice to have a space to speak freely (or just listen) where you knew people understood what you were going though. There was no need to worry about burdening these people with the awkward task of listening to stories of death and grief, because there was already an established understanding there. There was a compassion I had for each of these girls as I learned about the similarities and differences we experienced in our traumas. I learned to be more grateful for the fact that I was there with my mother in the moments of her passing, as one of the girls lamented her absence as one of her biggest regrets. Most importantly, I learned that as long as healthy decisions are being made, there is no wrong way to grieve. Every person, relationship with their loved one, and story of loss is individually different, and thus will naturally be dealt with differently.

Having affirmed that I am not some medical anomaly for not physically expressing my feelings, there were still some issues that I have decided to address since attending these meetings. I've found many of my coping mechanisms consist of humor and busying myself to the point of mechanical routine. While there is nothing wrong with a certain amount of coping, I am a firm believer in "moderation in all things."

Since reading and writing are the only things that seem to take enough time and concentration to actually evoke an emotional response in my otherwise normal "life is great routine," I've been trying to make myself do them more often. This, as most things tend to be, is much easier said than done. As one of my favorite comedians John Mulaney remarks in one of his stand up routines, "Percentage-wise, it is 100% easier not to do things than to do them." For me, this is true in regards to writing things like this, selecting books to commit to reading, and even just finding quiet moments to reflect on my mother and her time here on earth.

So, my journey of grief (because it really is a journey) was not completed by attending this group, nor do I believe it will ever be "complete." That being said, if anything I have written here has struck a chord at all, I strongly recommend trying to find a group where you can share your experiences. Whether it is local or online*, make it happen.

When Kid President was big, and my mother happened to love his videos, he quoted Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken." After stating the author takes the road less traveled, the character comically interjects "and it hurt, man!" Choosing to face my grief is my road less traveled, and it does hurt! But I'm hoping in the end I can say, like Robert Frost, that it has made all the difference. So thank you Kid President, author Cheryl Strayed, Robert Frost, Mom, and everyone who is taking a similar journey.

"In this sense, she offers what we wish every mother would: enough compassion to make us feel safe within our broken need, and enough wisdom to hold on to hope" – Steve Almond, referencing Cheryl Strayed in the Introduction of Tiny Beautiful Things

*There is an online organization called The Dinner Party who will match you with 20-30 something year olds in your area who have also experienced significant loss in order for you to share in regular potluck gatherings. While my hometown is too small for a gathering to exist here, I have applied to host one should it become more relevant in this area. If you also don't have access to their preexisting groups, or you do not fall within their age guidelines, check with your local hospice like I did to learn more about groups and counseling.

Aspen Drake
Aspen Drake

Work from home for a tech company, but joined in search of opportunities to stretch my creative muscles. 

Love comedy and am probably eating ice cream as you are reading this. 

Will be drawing from my experiences with grief and humor. 

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Why I Joined a Grief Counseling Group, and Why You Should Too