I knew shortly after coming home from the hospital with empty arms and an empty womb that I needed to heal. I knew that I needed to find things that could help me through this process. So I started planting flowers and herbs. I dusted off my yoga mat. I went hiking. I colored in coloring books. Drank some wine.
But somewhere along the way, I stopped my healing processes. I don’t know when really and I don’t know why. Even my nightly rituals (which is also a healing tool, grief literature teaches you) dissolved: praying with my husband, snuggling with my sons blanket.
I am still sad. I still cry. Nothing has changed, so it’s not that I subconsciously thought I was done with healing. I just idled.
Realizing this, I recalled the packet our nurse gave us before leaving the hospital. Just so you know, after your child dies you are handed a packet. A photocopied, stabled packet that is supposed to hold the magic cure for your grief. Our nurse pointed out a local share group that we should attend, I’m sure I just nodded and went back to being a zombie.
So I found the packet stuffed under my nightstand and decided that I should try this new healing tool. I always thought of group therapy and share groups for the weak. For those who don’t know how to handle their emotions or addictions.
The other night was my first time to attend a support group. And I can tell you now that support groups aren’t what I thought they would be.
I sat in the parking lot and prepared myself for what I might walk into. A community center of sorts, bad florescent lighting, stale cookies and room temperature juice being served out of questionable styrofoam cups. Smudged ‘Hello My Name Is’ name tags and bacteria infested pens. A balding man with a scribbled name that reads ‘Stan’ stuck to his worn sports coat, hitting on an unsuspecting woman just trying to get a damn cookie. Oh and he is stirring his coffee.
Yeah, totally not what I walked into last night.
I’ll be honest, my mental picture of a support group comes from my many years of watching Law And Order: SVU. I walked in expecting to see an undercover Detective Stabler brooding in the corner staring at Stan.
But instead I was quickly greeted with friendly, chatty faces and the smell of Chipotle. There were five others there, 1 male and 4 females. I was introduced and informed that the group is usually larger but with it being summer, a lot of people are on vacation. I was fine with the smaller group.
It was relaxed and laid back, no name tags. No stale cookies or juice. No Stan. There were ziplock bags of sandwiches that the leader had made. It was very disorganized but honestly, I didn’t come here to worry about the logistics.
Lesson 1: Don’t go into a share group with any intentions
My plan was just to go in and listen. I had a pep talk with myself in the parking lot that crying wasn’t necessary, you are just there to listen and relate.
As soon as I sat down a tissue boxed was placed in front of me, I looked up and one of the members sheepishly smiled and said ‘you’ll need these.’ I started to reply back, ‘oh no, I’ll be fine’ but stopped myself. Don’t want to come off as a bitch just yet.
The group leader started her usual introductions and kept mentioning a name of another leader (I’ll call her Sara) that wasn’t present. Then it hit me and I interrupted:
“Wait a minute. Is Sara a nurse? Did she lose her son 7 years ago? Her son’s name starts with the letter L, I think?”
The leaders eyes softened and she quietly said “Oh honey. Sara was your nurse wasn’t she?”
I immediately began to sob in front of these strangers and managed to get out “Yes. Sara was with me all night and helped us. She recommended this group but I had no idea she was part of it.” I continued to blubber on about Sara and how much she meant to us.
Fran. Freaking. Tastic. Not even 10 minutes into group share and I’m already sobbing and blowing snot bubbles.
Sara was the woman that literally was our only saving grace, the goddess that helped us through the hardest hours of our life and now she is part of my share group. I beamed.
Lesson 2: Don’t expect to feel special
I was read the rules, which are basically: don’t judge and what happens in the group stays in the group. I was cool with that.
I listened to each story. I cried with each story. Then it came my time and I chose to share James’s story. I felt safe, that I could share and be politically incorrect because I was amongst my fellow comrades.
I began and of course the tears came as I explained the pain. A few minutes into it, I was taken off guard when the group leader chirped loudly “did anyone hear that?!” She thought she had heard someone try to come into the building and debated for 5 minutes with another member what could have made that noise.
I paused, looked around. Everyone looked as though this was a normal thing. To be rudely interrupted as your pouring your heart out to a group of strangers.
I had time to blow my nose, wipe the tears off and realize that I was done sharing. I felt stupid. Insignificant. That my story didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to continue to share my story, I was in a safe place and felt like I was back out in the cruel, cold world. So I stopped and politely said I was through. They nodded and respected that. I believe the other members picked up on why I chose to stop sharing.
I quickly learned that I wasn’t special. That I was just like everyone else in this small room. I shouldn’t have expectations from fellow comrades who hurt just as much as I do.
Lesson 3: Expect to leave feeling worse than you did walking in
The leader picked up the conversation again and I zoned out. The woman across from me leaned over the table and quietly started her own conversation with me. I think she knew I felt defeated. The night was coming to a close and chatter beyond our grief arose.
I felt drained. Sad. Even more sad than when I walked it. I was told within the first few minutes of my arrival that most people leave feeling terrible after their first share group, everyone nodded and agreed. And now I can see why.
There was a lot of sadness, anger and questions. I soaked it all up. My heart ached for those other people and their children. My eyes were puffy, my nose raw. I didn’t belong here.
I didn’t belong among the sullen and hopeless faces. But I do. I belong here. I am the weak person that attends a support group. I am Stan.
And that is okay. Because in the sadness and frustration, I did feel like I was home. That I wasn’t special. That my story is one of millions. Sharing my story face to face with those who understand is a lot better than hiding behind a blog or Facebook.
I recommend to anyone dealing with anything a loss, addictions, an illness, visit your local support group, if Stan and I can do it, you can too.,