When I ask former members of my Men’s Grief Group why they stopped coming to the group, the most common response is, “I just did not want to grieve anymore, and the groups became a downer after I had begun to feel better.” I often hear the same story from widows, who had stopped attending co-ed grief groups.
Grief groups provide an invaluable service as they help participants to see past their own pain, they are not alone, and they are not going crazy. Being able to share experiences is therapeutic, and when our words help another, we feel validated and better about ourselves.
These widows and widowers spoke highly of the grief groups and how it had helped them over months or years to process their grief and begin to experience some semblance of normalcy in their lives again.
As the intensity of my grief diminished, I too began to ask, “Why am I still going to grief group? Am I forcing myself to re-experience the grief and sorrow which has begun to decrease? When I hear widowers in their first months of grieving, it drags me down and makes me feel sorrowful again.”
As a fellow widower put it, “Sorrow is a natural response to loss. But grief can become an unwillingness to accept what is. Lingering disappointment comes about because there is a tendency to transform your loss into a story instead of accepting it as an event.” (Bill J.)
Bill’s point is that if you want to heal, you will eventually have to allow the grief experience to recede from the forefront of your thought into the category of “most important memories” which make you who you are today. This does not mean an abandonment of your wife or of remembering her, but rather it is an allowing of new experiences, opportunities, and even joy into your life going forward. Grief will continue to be a part of your life, just not as the constant companion it is in the early going.
It is natural for widowers to ask themselves, “When is it o.k. for me to stop grieving and/or attending a group?” You may feel guilty because you are not there with the other men who have been in the foxhole with you over the months or years of your grieving process. You may assume that you have only two choices – to attend all meetings or to stop going altogether.
As a Men’s Group founder and co-facilitator, I hope that when a participant gets to the point of feeling, there are diminishing returns for him from attending, that he will consider dropping by every once in a while to update the group on his evolution as a widower. Possible times to revisit your grief group might be at “anniversary” times (birthdays, the anniversary of death, wedding anniversary) to get a little support during a rough patch, or just when you feel that you have something to share with others on how you dealt with the challenges you faced.
It is vital for widowers in the earliest stages of grief to see that there is hope and that others have emerged from their sadness and are living rewarding full lives again. Only those who have gone before them can provide new widowers with this assurance. I encourage all widowers to find an area grief group if they can and to go as long as they feel they are getting some benefit from attending. Once you are ready to move on, be willing to continue sharing what you have learned with others when you can do so.
We are a band of brothers who hopefully have learned from those who have gone before us, and now it is our turn to support those who come after us.