“I can’t talk about it,” Mom said. “I have to go to work. I don’t want to cry.”
My only brother returned to college while Mom withdrew into a shell of sorrow. I grieved alone.
No one shared funny or sad memories. No one discussed his absence or his suffering. There was no photo of Dad in our home. I remember his empty chair at the dining room table and the hollow feeling in my chest. I felt isolated and disconnected from my father, my family, and everyone. I had one girlfriend who understood I was grieving, but most didn’t know how to talk about it or offer comfort.
“Let’s not tell anyone until we know exactly what’s going on,” my husband Vic suggested when doctors suspected he had cancer in 2006.
“I can’t do that,” I said. “We need to tell our sons and friends. We don’t have to do this alone.”
Vic knew I was right and immediately agreed. Although we are all mortal, our culture teaches us to hide illness, death, and grief. Secrecy and shame make sorrow more painful and isolating.
After Vic’s death, my tears spilled out when a friend greeted me with tender eyes. Grief washed over me when I was alone. I had a therapist, close friends and loving sons, but still felt embarrassed by the intensity of my sorrow. I needed a new perspective.
“Grief is how loving her feels,” Paul Bennett wrote about his deceased wife in his book, Loving Grief. “My grief is . . . nothing more or less than my love for her.” I began to see my grief as another form of deep love, a normal longing for the presence of my husband or father. There was nothing to hide or fear.
When grief hit me in waves, I let it open my heart. It was only my love. Talking with others in bereavement groups brought relief and hope. I was not alone.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with bereavement support, especially things that helped you the most. For other posts about volunteer bereavement work, see Gifts of the Heart: Volunteering at Hospice. I facilitated Hospicare peer support groups for widows for a few years and also wrote for their newslatter. My book, Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief, was published in 2014 and was the Gold Medal Winner for Independent Publisher’s Book Awards on Aging/Death, and Dying.