Mourners find strength in a grief support group-Part 2
Yvonne David suffered the loss of her father last September, and because she was swept up in her grief, she joined a grief support group sponsored by VITAS and the Jewish Pavilioin. This is her account of the support group and how it has helped her. David's article about the first three weeks of the class was published in the May 9 issue.
The second half of the free six-week VITAS Bereavement Support Group course dealt with developing a new self-identity, searching for meaning, and receiving support from others. My sincere thanks go to the Jewish Pavilion and VITAS Innovative Hospice Care for offering this most beneficial grief support group. Much appreciation also goes to Chambrel at Island Lake, a Brookdale Senior Living community, for providing the space and refreshments. Under the leadership of Rabbi Maurice S. Kaprow, a VITAS staff chaplain, I have transitioned from acute grief over the recent loss of my father to poignant acceptance.
Week Four became a transitional period: Adjusting and adapting to the loss of a loved one and making the current life your norm. Looking at photos of loved ones was key to bringing back cherished moments together and remembering those special times.
An important article in the VITAS Bereavement Support Group: Series II Participant's Guide is "Fifty ways to heal from the pain of loss." While the grief of losing a loved one cuts deeply into your heart, the wound will mend in time. However, the scar remains. You never get over the loss of a loved one; you only learn to accommodate your loss. Carrying on and refusing to feel guilty are also essential for healing. You have to take time for yourself. This is especially true for those who have given so much of themselves in caring for a loved one. Walking around the block for half an hour, going to the gym, sitting down and reading the newspaper or a book can make you feel better. Ten or 20 minutes a day can be like a breath of fresh air toward reenergizing yourself.
"If you don't fill that cup, you cannot give when your cup is empty," said Rabbi
Week Five marked the beginning of Renewal-Part I. Meditation, guided imagery or relaxation exercises can again reduce tension. In addition, writing is a way to express unresolved feelings. In the article "Healing grief through writing" of the Participant's Guide, the author explained that "death often leaves the bereaved with an overwhelming sense of unfinished business, a need for completion." Responding to the assignment of writing a letter to a loved one who had passed proved more therapeutic than I ever could have imagined. When I did this exercise I wrote to both my parents. As I previously mentioned, my mother had passed away 18 years ago, while my father died only last September.
Some of the points in the letter should include a special memory you shared, what you miss about the relationship and things you never said. I never was able to say goodbye to my mother, and I felt guilty that I did not spend enough time with her on my last visit to England just four months before her unexpected death at the age of 66. I harbored this guilt for 18 long years. Not until my cousin said that my mother would not have wished me to feel guilty did I allow myself to let it go. I wrote in my letter how sorry I was about not being able to say goodbye and how blessed I was that I was holding my father when he passed at his home last September, five days before my mother's birthday. I wrote about the legacy they left me: their values, their love and their gifts, as well as treasured moments and special mementos. How my mother, a speech therapist, gave me her gift of listening-I have a good ear and talent for languages. How my father, a raconteur par excellence, gave me his gift of storytelling-only my talent was writing stories down, not recounting them orally. I value my mother's lovely tapestry-covered stool she made and my father's tasty recipe for ratatouille. But the best gift my parents gave me was their love. Loving relationships with family and friends are the ties that bind us to a life filled with happiness.
While some of us feel that our loved ones are gone, others feel that they are still with us. Although there is no right or wrong about grieving and beliefs, most of us feel that our loved ones who have passed are still with us in our hearts and minds. Children and grandchildren can learn a great deal through watching how their parents deal with loss. Sharing our thoughts about the loss of our loved ones is part of the healing process. Adapting and adjusting to this loss is a function of time. Time heals the hurt and we acclimate to our loss. It is important for us to recognize our growth and to appreciate our blessings.
Rabbi Kaprow taught the group how to cope with loss and how to remember our loved ones. "One of the many rituals Jews observe is the recitation of Yizkor four times every year, on the last day of each pilgrimage-the festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot-as well as on Yom Kippur. Yizkor, the act of remembering our loved ones and the values they believed in, helps us keep their memory alive. And, as we remember them, they continue to live through us. Yes, we feel our beloved departed family members as we strive to live up to the ideals they taught us so lovingly."
Thankfully, my son and I both feel a spiritual connection with his grandfather and my father respectively. But we must focus on what we have now and how we move on from here. So as I sit in my favorite maroon leather chair by the bay window of my home, watching the sunlight dappling the palm fronds by the pool, I feel at peace. Stronger, too, as I embrace the memories of my parents. I still hurt, but I remember the joy. Knowing how much richer our lives are for having had our loved ones in our world eases our suffering and allows us to keep treasured moments alive.
Yvonne David is a writer and an award-winning author. For further information, please visit: http://www.appletreeseries.com.