Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Different Outlets for Grief

Someone asked me the other day after reading the Public vs Private Grief post, “Have you considered a bereavement group? That way you can still talk about your grief with people who understand.” I told her I used to go to a bereavement group and it was sort of helpful, but ultimately not quite right for me, possibly because it wasn’t the right group. It’s ironic actually because the group was in the same building (different night, 2 doors down) as the caregiver’s group I used to attend… and I can’t say enough about the caregiver’s group. So, why the difference?

The caregiver’s group was, for lack of a better term, members-only. You had to apply to join – not a lengthy application, but you had to explain your situation and then do a phone interview with the administrator. Once you were accepted, attendance was somewhat mandatory. You were expected to be there every week unless you were sick, out-of-town, too busy, or your loved one needed you to be home. In such case, you were expected to let the moderator know (via email or phone call), so that she could inform the other members. This might sound strict, but it ended up creating a sense of accountability and consistency. It also helped create a bond between the group members. We saw each other every week and grew to trust and rely on one another for support.

The bereavement group was more inclusive. Anyone who was grieving could attend, whenever they wanted. Consistency was encouraged but not mandatory. This created a sense of fluidity and openness, but not intimacy. I would often find myself across the room from someone new. And any time there was someone new we all had to explain why we were there. It was difficult and unpleasant to repeat week after week “My husband died of brain cancer __ months ago… blah blah blah.” I also wasn’t comfortable sharing my feelings with people I had never seen before and might never see again. Plus, the new people would (understandably) be in that very early, raw, gut-wrenching, my-entire-world-just-turned-upside-down phase of grief, which triggered things for me that I was trying to move past.

Not all bereavement groups are like that. My mother-in-law, for example, goes to one in the D.C. area that she loves. But it’s like my old caregiver’s group. She’s been with the same people for almost 2 years, and the group has been immensely helpful for her.

I suppose I could find a group like that here, and maybe I will one day. But probably not. First of all, my time is already limited with work, writing and puppy. Second of all, I have this blog. Thirdly, though I’m still grieving, I prefer to handle it on my own, in my own way. This might change, but for now, that’s where I’m at.

Now I’m no expert, but like with most personal matters, I think to each his own. What works for one might not work for another. Whatever gets a person through the day, be it a bereavement group, writing, religious faith, art, exercise, therapy, meditation… is what that person should do. Some people have lots of sex after a loved one passes, and I can understand why. Sex is at its core the opposite of death. We feel alive when we’re doing it. We’re also in the moment (briefly). It is certainly the opposite of an empty bed, though sex without intimacy won’t replace the intimacy we crave with lost spouses.

An activity I wouldn’t encourage in excess is drugs and alcohol. I haven’t exactly been the most sober person the past two years and I don’t know any widow who doesn’t know her way through the wine aisle at the local liquor store. But it’s a slippery slope. If you’re calling out of work and avoiding daily functions, you’re probably taking it too far.

I think we could all agree that the #1 worst option is suicide, which can be a desire while in the depths of grief. But every literature out there will tell you, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If/when you feel tempted, please tell somebody and get help.

The challenge is to find healthy outlets that work for you. It’s tempting (and all too easy) to dull or avoid our pain. It’s much harder but ultimately more therapeutic to face it, feel it, live it and move through it.


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Public vs Private Grief

On the way to Joshua Tree this past weekend I told the two other people in the vehicle (a male/female couple) about this blog. Both were old friends of my late husband Kaz. Both were very helpful to us when he was sick. And both have lost one parent to illness, so they know about loss and grief. Perhaps that’s why I felt safe mentioning the blog.

Though I’m gradually becoming bolder about it, I’m still a little shy about the blog. Shy when it comes to people I know. I think because this is where I still talk about my grief, about Kaz, and our time together. It feels like most of our friends and family have moved on, not in a bad way – that’s what you’re supposed to do – but in a way that makes me feel guilty about “going there” around them. I often get the urge to bring him up with people who knew him, but then think to myself, Why go back? Why dredge up old memories and make everyone feel bad? What’s the point?

There have been times when I couldn’t help but get emotional, like at the Clutch show a few weeks ago. There was another moment back in February, before returning to L.A. from Vermont, when I was having drinks in Brooklyn with Kaz’s best friend and my brother-in-law. The former was explaining to the latter how he and Kaz had met and become friends. As he told the story, which I had heard before, I started silently crying. I’m not sure my brother-in-law noticed but the best friend did. After a few minutes, I excused myself to the freezing outside in order to regain my composure. I felt guilty for crying in front of him, for ruining the moment by making it sad instead of joyful.

I wish it were easier to show emotions and talk about grief, death and the ones we’ve lost. But I’m also not sure it’s right to burden people with my emotions. I sense that people don’t want to talk about these things, don’t want to dwell or be reminded of their own hurt. I feel both responsible towards them and still responsible to Kaz for putting up a good front, as it were.

I felt this much stronger in the first few months after he died, like it was my duty to publicly represent him and us with dignity and poise. We had just recently been married so the feeling of US and this new role of both ‘wife’ and ‘widow’ brought up all kinds of associations. Images of Jackie Kennedy and Coretta Scott King flashed in my mind’s eye and I told myself that, given a choice, he would prefer me to be more like them and less like the widow who throws herself onto the casket as it’s lowered into the ground.

I wasn’t perfect. I did have moments. But for the most part I handled myself with an almost stoic resolve, which of course made people think I was much stronger and more together than I actually was.

Nowadays, it’s more difficult to keep that up, or perhaps I care less about keeping it up. So, when I get emotional in front of certain friends it’s like breaking precedent. And perhaps even more stange because it’s been almost two years.

This period in particular, between March 24th (the day he had the seizures) and May 3rd (the day he died) are the toughest of the year. Last year it felt like I was re-living every painful day of those 6 weeks. This year the painful memories aren’t quite as vivid. But I’m missing him something terrible. And trying not to feel guilty about divulging that even here, lest I bring you down as well (which is not my intention).