It is a Saturday, mid-morning, and I am driving the Snake Pass, a beautiful, winding road from Glossop to Sheffield, overlooking vistas of patchwork fields and hills painted with purple heather in early bloom. It is one of the few sunny summer days we have had, in Northern England, this year, and part of me wonders why I am going to spend it sitting in a windowless church room with a handful of other grievers. Already there is a sense of anticipation, anxiety, and perhaps a bit of dread. I am driving to a bereavement support group that a friend and I have formed. She has aptly named it Words Like Cries.
My new friend is also widowed, and we met in an online writing group called Writing Your Grief. This group meets online for 30 days and responds to writing prompts given by the facilitator, Megan Divine. The prompts are deeply provocative and require fortitude and honesty in their responses. Close and intensive bonds are formed in the group, as we share the depths of our sorrows with one another. I was able to write my responses to approximately half of the prompts. Usually, after writing, I would feel a sense of relief but also exhaustion. This grief work is not for the faint of heart.
My friend lost her husband in August of last year. She is younger than me, was married for years, and lost her husband to an illness, but our grief journey mirrored each other’s in many ways. We both found writing our experience to be deeply meaningful and the sharing of it to be helpful. I don’t want to say that it is healing, because I don’t believe it is possible to ‘heal’ from the loss of a spouse. The word healing implies that there will come a time when this loss will no longer hurt. And I don’t believe that will ever happen.
I was so happy to find that there was another person in my area to meet with, face-to face. The online writing group was meaningful, but we both longed to be able to sit with others and share our experience with real, live, in the flesh, humans. So, in February, we arranged to meet. And from our meeting we decided to form a support group.
When I first came to England, I enlisted some one-to-one bereavement support from a voluntary group called Cruze. I had just moved here after a two year journey through the illnesses and deaths of my sister and mother, and I was holding onto so much grief. After a four month wait, I was finally given a volunteer bereavement counsellor who met with me for 6 weeks. We talked for an hour or two each week, and I shared my story of my mother and sister’s journey, pouring over the memories of them and the trauma of their deaths. It was very helpful to me.
But there were no grief groups. Unlike America, where there are loads of bereavement support groups, often facilitated by local Hospices or Cancer Centres, in England, there is little group support. I have often wondered why this is the case. I think that, perhaps, it is difficult for British people, who are a bit more reserved then we are in America, to sit in a room full of others and discuss their personal lives. It is just not something they are comfortable with. They tend to be a very private people.
When Stan died, I yearned to share my loss with others who understood. I had my writing and I had this blog, but I needed something more. And my friend felt the need as well. So the group was formed, primarily through her efforts, and we held the first one in April.
We meet for two hours on a Saturday, once a month. There are several people in the group who have lost spouses, and some who have lost children. We write for 20-30 minutes in response to a prompt, and then take time to share what we have written or discuss the feelings that have arisen as a result of our writing. Then we write to another prompt.
It is work. It is not easy or simple or surface chatter. We probe, through the prompts, the depths of our sorrows. Some of us cry and some of us can’t cry, yet. But the group gives our grief a voice. We bear witness to each other’s pain.
This week we wrote about the week, day and hour of our loved one’s death. I have learned to tuck those memories away, rarely visiting them, so that I can cope with the world beyond my grief. No one outside that room may be interested in hearing them, a year after my beloved’s tragic death. But those memories have not been erased. They are still there, and they deserve to be brought to light. This group gives me room to do just that.
Our grief group is a sacred space. We come to our windowless spot for two hours a month. We give each other room to grieve. We put words to the sorrows that have long since escaped the acknowledgement of the outside world. It is worth the sacrifice of an afternoon inside on a sunny, summer day.
In September, I will make the one hour drive again, down the winding, Snake Pass, no matter the weather. I’ll sit with my fellow grievers, share my words, and have a cup of tea.