I joined a grief support group a couple of weeks ago and have found it oddly comforting, even though I’m the youngest one in the group and that most are not widows. I suppose there is comfort in talking with others who are grieving because it’s a safe place, and whilst our grief comes from different life perspectives, it’s still grief. What I find most useful about the group isn’t the time spent with others, but rather the thought process that happens between the weekly meetings. I find myself focusing on my feelings and emotions because of something someone in the group said about their own grief journey, or because of a “homework assignment” given by the group’s leader; I like that it makes me confront something that I had never thought of – or something I may have been avoiding.
Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.
We were given the assignment to draw a diagram of our support network last week to bring into the next meeting so I’ve had to really think about where my support comes from over the past few days. It’s hard to realise that I don’t have the support I need and it’s hard to admit that I don’t have the support I want.
Because you need to know where you’ve been to truly appreciate where you are or to understand where you’re going, I started by mapping out what I had thought my support network would look like in the first days after Paul died.
As you can see, I thought I would be wrapped in the comfort of my faith and that the support I received from Paul’s family would overlap with the support I would give. I thought my parents, sisters, and life-long friends would be my next strongest support links, offering direct and “real world” support as I grieved. The next level of support would be from my acquaintances – those friends and neighbours with whom I’ve always been friendly, but wouldn’t necessarily spend a day at the beach with them. My “virtual friends”, people I’ve never met in real life but have been in regular, sometimes quite personal, contact with over the years would be there as they’ve been in the past – virtual shoulders when I needed to cry. Then there are others who I figured would be there in some way, but not necessarily in a meaningfully supportive way: Paul’s friends, my extended family members, and those random people with whom I interact (doctors, co-workers, regular service providers, etc.).
After looking at the diagram of what I “thought” my support network would look like I started writing down names of people I’ve had contact with since Paul died; I looked through emails and phone records as well as sympathy cards, journals/diaries, and various Internet-based social outlets so that I could map out where my support was actually coming from. Most of the evidence pointed to what I already knew: there wasn’t nearly as much support as I’d hoped for.
Here’s a diagram of the support that I feel I actually get.
Some things are as I thought they’d be. I am wrapped in the comfort of my faith, though I’ve yet to have the courage to attend church on my own. I feel even more loved and supported by my wonderful in-laws than I’d imagined I would. And Mom and Dad are there for me, just as I thought they’d be. My extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins) are around, but I wouldn’t consider them part of the direct support network.
After my parents and in-laws, the next on the “most supportive” list is what I’ve listed as “Others”: neighbours, casual acquaintances, co-workers, regular service providers, and “unknown entities.” This group (listed as “8” here but as “6” and “9” on the first diagram) has turned out to be rather surprising to me. I imagined that they would be kind and helpful, but have found that some in this group are keener to help than I’d have thought. While no one in this group is a friend I can really talk to and share my emotional torment with, they are there in other ways. They want to help care for the yard or fix things around the house; they want to take me out golfing to get some fresh air; they want to pick up groceries for me if I’m not feeling well and watch the cat when I’m not home.
Groups 3 and 4, my sisters and life-long friends, are my most surprising groups. These are truly the people whom I thought would rally around me. I thought that they would be there for me throughout this incredibly difficult journey, but what I found instead is that they were the fastest to run away. Of my five sisters, there is one who interacts with me – but then it’s just general Facebook comments and only half a dozen phone calls. My life-long friends are rarely in touch because they are so busy, except for one: an older gentleman who is more of an uncle figure, calls once a week and really does mean well.
My virtual friends are still there and are always eager to help, but it’s difficult to get too personal with people you’ve never met. That said, many have the shared experience of being in dual-national relationships and are extremely supportive of my desire to return to the UK. I know that if I were there now, many of those virtual friends would fast become real-world friends – knocking down my door to take me out and get that much-needed fresh air.
Then there are Paul’s friends. I’d met a few of Paul’s friends when we were living in Scotland, but never really knew any of them. I’ve met a few more since Paul died when they came to his services in England. A handful of them have since become my friends on Facebook, and I interact with them on a slightly superficial level that is expected on a social-networking medium, but that interaction is certainly beneficial. A couple of them have been in more direct contact but with 6,000 miles and eight hours between us, they’re not exactly able to offer the support that I really need/want. Much like the virtual friends, I think that if I were living in the UK some of Paul’s friends might become mine and be there in real life, too.
In addition to the support on the diagram, I am seeing a grief counsellor and, as mentioned, am taking part in a 10-week long grief support group. There is a little cross-support in some of the groups, and there are always exceptions to the interactions I get with each group, but what I’m realising more and more is that I don’t have a strong support network no matter how you organise it.
I realise that this is already my longest post, but I feel the need to continue on to talk about the support I wish I had.
I wish that I was someone’s priority. I wish that there was one person who was just there for me all the time – any time, day or night. I long for that person who I can sit on the couch with and cry – real tears, real sobs. I wish I had someone to call or email “just because”; someone to hold me while I cried or to take me out dancing when I needed to laugh. I wish that there was someone with whom I could share all of my thoughts and feelings without the fear of being judged. I wish that there was someone who was a solid pillar of support, who was there to help me through. I wish I had that friend that you read about in books or see in Hollywood movies.
There are people in my life who (I think) want to be that person, but they have other priorities and can’t be exactly what I wish I had. They have jobs and friends, wives or husbands, children, social commitments… other priorities that take precedence. I certainly don’t hold that against them, and I honestly do believe that everyone is doing the best to their ability, but I do sometimes selfishly wish I was a little further to the top of the priority list.
As I continue on my journey and learn how to operate this new version, the need for support will lessen and I will be able to stand on my own once again. I sometimes wonder if the road would be shorter or easier with that “Hollywood” friend, but I can’t live on hopes and dreams and need to face the reality I truly face.