Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You Are Not Alone.Finding Support When Life Gets Tough

It's been a long time since I sat in a classroom waiting for a group of children to join me. But that is where I found myself on a Wednesday lunchtime.

I was seated on one low chair of 7, around two equally low tables pushed together. A tupperware of crayons and a tissue box acted as  a center piece.

As the door opened, in ran Robert*, toothy grinned. He stopped to look around and asked me,

"Where are the others? I need to know who they've lost." 

And by this I think he meant, "Where are the other children like me?"

Seven year old Robert is a member of The Good Grief Club at his school. 

Along with 4 other students, he had come to tell his story and hear theirs. 

And I was facilitating the group. 

The Good Grief Club is an incredible program run by Hospice Caring and offered free to any elementary, middle or high school in Montgomery County. 

Trained volunteers together with the school counselor, facilitate a 7 week program that allows bereaved children to reminisce about the person who has died and explore their feelings in a safe, nurturing, confidential space.

I marveled at the fact that Robert, within minutes, would have the  answer to his profound question. He would discover, he was not alone in grieving the loss of someone beloved and desperately missed. 

Four other children were coming to tell their grief stories with him. 

Each of their stories stand alone. Many of their feelings from their grief are the same.

Then, I understood at a fundamental level, our basic human need to connect with others like ourselves.

We are unique. Each of us has our own gifts and foibles. Our own likes and dislikes. Our favorite foods and colors. We look different on the outside and we each have our goals, aspirations and simple pleasures. 

But when a medical or emotional crisis hits, we want to know there are others who have walked this path before us. We want to know that in many ways we are the same. We need to know, that although we are unique we are not alone.

We want to know that the anger and fear and sadness are normal.

We want to have our story honored and validated and a chance to tell it more than once. 

We want to be reassured we have found a safe place where our emotions are understood and respected.

We don't always need and nor can we always find answers to situations that greatly vex us, but we can all benefit from having someone who has had a similar experience, hear our concerns, validate our responses and listen to our questions.

Someone who can hold our tears, fears, disappointments and
frustrations, like precious jewels. As a child or adult, we want someone who can gently examine these feelings with us as we acknowledge  them. And bear witness to our pain and uncertainty. 

It is often impossible to take away the pain, solve the problem or quicken the journey. And that is not the listener's job. 

But this small act of another person's compassionate presence (whether  in-person or on-line), as we tell our story, can lift some of the weight off our shoulders. 

And that is why support groups are so comforting when we find ourselves in very challenging situations. There, others can tell us a side-effect of a medication is normal, a choice about surgery is valid, a feeling of anger or abandonment is real. There, others are struggling with the same issues, concerns and fears. There, we belong to a group we would never have chosen, but welcomes us anyway.

We are reminded that we are not alone in feeling this way and walking this journey. 

And neither is Robert.

Tell me when have you benefited from talking to someone who has had a similar experience. How has that helped you and brought you comfort?

 There are many on-line support groups you can join, wherever you are in the world. Please leave me a comment and tell me about a support group you have founded/ found solace in/ would recommend.

Love to you all


* Names and identifying information have been changed to preserve confidentiality.

You may also find comfort in:

Finding Calm After an Emotional Storm: The Power of Validation

Lost For Words? What to Say and Not Say When Someone is Bereaved

First Steps to Bringing Comfort to a Friend in Crisis

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  1. Thank you Liz, for running an amazing FB support group for people suffering from TN!

  2. Delicious and nutritious. Comforting, for sure. So many people I talk with and work with need to tell their stories--and I've certainly needed to tell mine. The mystery of shared healing. As soon as I was done with my TEDx talk, there was a small group around me wanting to share their story of loss. I had borrowed the words Good Grief from Hospice programs for children to make my title, "Good Grief! What I learned from loss."

    I subscribed to your blog some time ago, and I'm glad I did. Thank you, Gilly, for the comfort you bring and the kindness you share.

  3. Elaine, I think people want more than anything, for their stories to be heard,their experiences to be validated and to be loved for who they are.It does not surprise me that people sought you out after your talk. I am sure your own story and compassionate presence was a great comfort to them.

    As I was writing this post I thought back to the many times we had searched for support groups on line to help us when a member of our family was newly diagnosed with some rare and unpronounceable illness.We were so grateful for the comfort, experience and advice of strangers who became our new confidants as we bonded over childhood developmental cataracts or heart conditions with faulty electrical impulses. Many times, common themes and information on those sites eased my anxiety and reminded me that we were not alone.

    Thank you for subscribing to Brainstorm and for your unwavering support in so many ways. It's a blessing to know you, even though we have never met in person. I hope we will one day. Gillyx

  4. Even though I never found an appropriate grief group after I lost my husband, I have facilitated many and it is amazing to me how frequently attendees are nodding their heads, showing agreement of what is said my another participant.

    It is not that all of our grief is the same, it is that we recognize those who "get it." Those who speak the language of our own broken heart and validate our feelings - creating a bond that is spiritual, emotional and very profound.

    I have been honored to facilitate groups of that kind and see the comfort, support and healing that is shared among those who risk coming. Thank you Gilly for all that you do for the children and adults who need to vent in a supportive environment. Only those of us who have known pain and suffering ourselves can truly pay it forward!

  5. What beautiful words to explain meeting someone who gets how we are feeling. "Those who speak the language of our own broken heart and validate our feelings." That is the crux of being heard-someone being able to tune into our language and the feelings we express. Grief is hard work and there is no way around it. Support from others who've been on that journey helps to light the path and lighten the grief load.Thank you for all you do to support others on their grief journey and thank you for taking the time to comment here. Gillyx

  6. My mother died in December 2011. To say that it was a shock is an understatement. We talked multiple times a day so when she I couldn't reach her by the afternoon, I was worried. I called her sister, and she said that nobody answered the door. I called the next door neighbor then I call the ambulance. I live here and she lives in Minnesota. I was pregnant and had 2 kids to take care of. I went to therapy but I had to take the kids with me - it wasn't ideal. I didn't find a group because I didn't really have the support necessary to be able to go regularly.

    I still feel like I'm dealing with her death every single day. I remember in December 2012, I suffered the biggest heartburn attack I had ever experienced in my life. I thought I was having a heart attack. I think that episode lasted until March or April. I firmly believe that was a direct result of being stressed over my mothers death.

    Group therapy I think, would have benefited me greatly. I think it would have been nice t hear from other people going through the same things...having the same feelings.

    Now, I sort of have a friend who is going through what I went through. I make sure to talk to her a lot about it - just as someone who has gone through the same thing. I'm not sure who is helped most, me or her.

    Thanks so much for this lovely post, Gilly!

    1. Wow -Lisa -That must have been so difficult for you: trying to manage all that from such a distance. I'm so sorry that your Mom died. What a terrible shock. It doesn't surprise me that your body was in physical pain or that you are still coming to terms with losing your Mom. Grief is hard work and there are no rules or timelines for how long or how hard to grieve. It does help to know others have felt the same way as you. All your feelings are normal and hearing others express them would certainly be validating. It's never too late to join a group, if you are grieving. There are some amazing on-line support groups,where being able to tell your story can be very cathartic. (email me if you want to follow up on this :-))

      I'm sure your friend is getting a lot of comfort from your support. And in supporting her , you are seeing how many of her feelings echo yours………You're amazing Lisa.You have juggled so much. Sending you hugs through the internet. Gillyx