What to expect at Support Groups

I recently went to my first Support Group Meeting, I was a mix of nervous, excited and interested. I had avoided going up until now and I must admit my own personal assumption of what a meeting of bereaved parents would be weighed heavily on that decision. Another big reason was my own complete uncomfortableness at being in a large group of people and having to speak with them…on any topic (social phobia anyone?) let alone a topic that is more than likely going to make me cry; and I know I’m not a graceful or elegant cryer. I’m one of those sobbers whose face morphs into a mixture of melted plastic and Worf from Star Trek – my words may even be as indecipherable as Klingon when tears and words muffle together.

I had been apprehensive because I have been trying so hard to rationalise my own grieving process so before I confronted myself with others grief I felt the need to have a handle on my own. Of the myriad of emotional responses that confronted me when other people knew we had lost our daughter the one emotion I despised receiving from people was pity and I was scared that a meeting of bereaved parent would be something akin to a ‘pity party’.

As I walked up to the doors of the building to enter the meeting, I was ‘controlled nervous’. My own sense of grief for me personally had found its own comfortable semi-lit corner within me, I have reached an understanding with my grief. We hung out together, had a coffee, had a chat and shook hands. We understood each each other. But having to walk into a room of people and share that story was, for me, frightening – Not liberating.

I was greeted warmly and introduced to the others, I could feel my emotions already getting tweeked – Holy crap I am at some point going to have to tell my story – verbally – to strangers – verbally – coherently.. I spied the tissue box on the seat just close to me, and I thought well that god for that, they are in easy reach.

Me and talking easily in front of people do not go hand in hand, my nerves are incredibly unpredictable and I hate that they seem to function on their own level of existence that has no bearing on me or my sense of embarrassment, they are like a separate beast on their own that I have never been able to tame. In high school ( a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away..) I once ran out of classroom crying because my name was not on the class list – all I had to do was raise my hand up and say “Excuse me, my timetable says I’m meant to be in this class”, but my emotions decided to overrule my rational brain and I don’t think I ever lived that down.

So I know just what an unpredictable beast emotions are and I couldn’t trust my lion to stay on its lead when I took it out in public. I sat down in the circle of chairs and the others were already talking. I had a real interest in the other peoples stories and I listened with empathy as they told us of their personal experiences. Then I heard it; the moment had arrived, “Well, how about we quickly share our stories of loss” So this was it; no more hiding, as they new girl to the group people where interested in my story, so I was up first.

The voice crackled, I sounded like I had a dozen frogs in my throat, all croaky with hangovers, but the words came out. It was a struggle not to cry and I had to know when to stop talking as the emotional lion was rubbing up against my legs ready to let go. In the end I had a slight sense of control over it, but it will always remain the elusive wild beast that cannot be tamed, knocking me off balance with it’s energy and boundless enthusiasm.

The session was okay and I was able to convey some reverent parts of my story and contribute to the discussion. I found myself wanting to know more and more of the inner working of the others there and I had to consciously pull back and not ask too many questions. We are here to talk and release those words that get stuck in your throat, It was not appropriate for me to over think everyones story and try to know all the nuts and bolts. Not the appropriate time or place for my logical brain to be dominant, I could have asked each person at least ten pertinent questions.

As for the “pity party” well, that didn’t happen; it was me just over thinking and making assumptions on what to expect. No matter what stage or circumstance the loss or losses seemed to occur, the emotions where very real and very natural. Sadness, grief, guilt, disappointment, frustration, but also other more positive emotions surface like empathy and resilience.

An emotion that we discussed that day was guilt and to hear what the other mothers felt in terms of this particular burdening emotion was heartbreaking.

I had my own struggles with the ‘guilty’ part I played, being the mother, the vessel which is suppose to be safe, and failing at that task, I pitied myself. I was that girl in the maternity ward no one wanted to be – a new mother without a child, the mum in the school grounds who some avoided because I can only assume they don’t want my stillborn cooties affecting them. I had the opposite effect on other mums as well, many would seek me out and tell me their own stories or family stories of loss and grief, this stories were as brave as they were tragic.

In a way I felt very privileged to be entrusted with information that was so obviously extremely personal and also stories that are not usually talked about in general conversation. I have always been well aware that everyone has their own story and to never make assumptions about people or their background, and having suffered the loss we did and hearing the words of others it really reiterates the sense that everyone has his/her own story. A story that is filled with as many emotions as you can cram into a box of Tim-Tams.

It has taken me a year find that ‘want’ to be part of a group, and maybe the controlling part of me needed to be able to have a handle on my own emotions before I could so freely speak of them to others. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing? Probably not a good thing, but its my thing and I sorted it out and were cool.

The meeting was my first and last because in all honesty that group wasn’t for me. Luckily I found another group were there was a sense of emotional comfort in being around people who had all had experiences in loss, it gives your own personal story a sense of relevance and positivity and of the wild beast gets off its leash no one really cares, it happens all the time.

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