By Rabbi Julie Wolkoff. D.Min., CT
It was a nondescript room, but I knew I was in the right place. The table filled with packages of tissues was one sign. And then there were the words of the facilitator, welcoming us to “the club no one wants to join.” I was attending a bereavement support group.
Sitting around a table with people who had lost a parent or a spouse or a sibling, I found my community. There had been other communities of support: my family, synagogue, dear friends and colleagues, co-workers (past and present,) and people I knew through social and recreational activities had been by my side since my husband’s death. People made sure that my family and I were fed, that the garbage got taken to the dump, that there was a minyan during shiva, that I didn’t have to sit alone at shabbat services. People listened when I needed to talk, sat with me, called and wrote but I knew I needed more.
I needed a bereavement group. I needed a place where people wouldn’t ask how I was doing – a question that makes me cry even when I’m feeling ok – but would understand the battered back-and-forth of my emotions. I needed people who did not know the “before” me, but who could meet and accept the current me, the one who is struggling to pull the pieces of my life together without knowing what the puzzle will look like when it is completed. I needed a place where it was fine to cry, to laugh, to listen, to offer help, and to just be present – all in the same block of time.
People who run support groups – something I do in my professional life, but am not doing right now – will tell you that just sitting with others who share your burden or concern can make you feel better. That is something I have found as a participant. No matter what is said or how many tears are shed, at the end of the meeting I feel better. Whether I have spoken a lot or just said a few words, I feel heard and understood and supported.
My family and friends, my colleagues and co-workers continue to be a source of hope and healing for me. I am grateful for their presence and support. But in “walking through the mud swamp” (another description by our facilitator of where we all are right now) it is helpful to slog through the muck with others who are standing just as deeply in it.
I knew the value of faith, community, and congregation before I was bereaved. I now know much more personally how very, very valuable they are; how important we are to one another. I am thankful that I have deep roots in each one. But right now, it is sitting in a bereavement support group, surrounded by people I have just met, but with whom I share so much, that I am finding the path to my future.
Rabbi Julie Wolkoff, D.Min., CT, is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts and a past co-president of the WRN. Find her blogging her way through grief at: https://fabricfiber.wordpress.com/