Group Therapy

Dearest Rachel –

It’s surprising to consider how busy my weekends are, especially when I’m getting questions from strangers about whether or not I’m free, and I have to answer ‘well, no, not really.’ Today has been a little bit more than usual, however.

For what it’s worth, Pastor Joel seems to think I’m ready to participate in the Grief Share group therapy sessions. Earlier this year, he seemed to be (as did Pastor Scott) that your loss was too fresh, too raw, for me to get anything out of it. I guess things have changed, and I’m starting to slowly recover.

The question I have, however, is: if I’m making progress recovering without the therapy – in order for me to get involved with the therapy – why do I need therapy in the first place? I’m honestly not trying to be obstreperous or obtuse; this is a real question I’d like (and that I assume there is) an answer to.

But regardless of whether I have questions about it or not, I figure it will do me good to attend today’s session, which is apparently specifically geared for those of us who have lost a spouse. Normally, the Grief Share group is for all who has suffered the loss of a person close to them; this specific session is a new addition to our program.

But first, a brief nutritional interlude. I confess I’ve been meaning to do this all month, mostly because I missed out last year for whatever reason. I remember a couple of times when you would visit me and the folks as I worked in the ‘office.’ There were at least a couple of times when either dad or I would pick up lunch from Don’s Dock and the three of us (you, me and mom, since dad still can’t swallow, and has to use a feeding tube for nourishment) would share lunch there. I think that’s when we learned about August being Lobsterfest there, and I had planned on getting something from there at some point during last August, but the month came and went without my remembering to do so. And of course, now, we can’t share anything.

But I’ve still got to eat from time to time, even though I don’t usually bother with three squares in a given day. I’ll probably skip dinner today (although I’ll certainly pick something up for Daniel on my way home from the Saturday service I’m working at). For the record, I think I prefer the bisque to the mac’n’cheese, although maybe it’s because I ate the former first, so I was a bit too full as I’m finishing the latter. Hunger is the best seasoning, it’s said, and satiety can wreck even the best meal. At least, I’m done early enough to make it to the session with time to spare.

Mike is at the door to let me in. I’d like to think you’ve seen Philomene up there at some point. I won’t presume that the two of you have caught up over coffee or anything (considering how much you hated coffee, for one thing. Maybe tea…?), but perhaps you and her have toured heaven a bit together, and talked about how wonderful it is up there… and hopefully, how each of you can’t wait to show the place off to Mike and me.

As I step inside, I realize this is my first time here at the Des Plaines campus since the remodel. This wasn’t even talked about while you were still around. And while this doesn’t hold a candle to anything you and Philomene are wandering about in, it’s impressive to my human eyes:

It’s cool on a number of levels. And yet, it also evokes a slight note of nostalgia, in that the ‘look’ of the place as I remember it, is gone, and gone for good.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere…

The group is actually fairly small, which probably shouldn’t surprise me. Our church, for all its relative size across three campuses, isn’t even two thousand regular attendees, after all, and widowhood – or at least, recent widowhood – isn’t that common in any general population. Aside from Mike, I also recognize Tom (Rose) and Cheryl (John); I don’t know Ruth, Nancy or Kathleen. It turns out that Mike and Ruth have gone through the basic Grief Share program and are serving as leaders or at least facilitators for today’s session.

The first thirty or forty minutes are spent watching a DVD of the issues people go through as they deal with the loss of a spouse, and how to cope with these issues:

  • The effects of grief such as: physical pain, anxiety and other emotional issues, forgetfulness (which I’m trying to combat by writing to you) and difficulty concentrating or focusing on things.
  • The unpredictability of grief: the fact that anything might remind me of you, and completely knock me off my stride, and I’d never see it coming.
  • Something referred to as ‘secondary losses;’ the ways you contributed to the marriage that I didn’t, and now have to because somebody has to. Things such as our social calendar, or even just representing the family in a social setting.
  • The difficulty of asking for outside help, and that each of us needs to ask, and ask for specific things, such as the snow removal issue I had back in early February.
  • Dealing with your possessions, and the fact that this can’t be put off indefinitely.
  • The difficulty of maintaining prior friendships, now that we are no longer a couple, but rather, I am single. In some cases, friends might disagree with decisions the bereaved spouse might be making; in others, the widow(er) is viewed as a threat (“are they going to poach my spouse?”); and in others, I might well simply be an unpleasant reminder of the fact that you’re gone.
  • The loneliness inherent in your absence, and how to deal with it.
  • The need to ask for help from God, as He claims to be “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1)
  • The loss of identity and purpose resultant from losing you. Once upon a time, we said “I do” to each other, and the two of us became one unit. Without you, I’m essentially an amputee. How do I get about now, and why carry on in the first place?
  • The need to create a path forward, through the grief, with God’s strength bearing me on, through all of the above things, especially physical pain, anxiety and fear, and the loss of purpose

You can probably see that there are a lot a spots with blue underlining: as I’m going through my notes, I can see that I’ve considered a lot of these topics already. Of course, I haven’t been able to come up with much in the way of definitive answers, but it would be nice to think that grappling with the concepts counts for something.

Each of us then recounts a brief history of our marriage; how we met, how long we were together, and how we lost our spouses. Yours isn’t the only sudden one; there are a couple of heart attack stories among us, for example. But yours is the only accident among us.

Tom utters the most profound thing of the afternoon (at least, as far as I can relate to it, but couldn’t put it into words): at the moment he received word of Rose’s passing, his first realization of the outside world – anything going on outside of his own skin – was that the dishwasher was running, leaving him to instantly wonder “Why is it the dishwasher still running, when everything has changed?”

I can barely add anything to that, as far as what all was said. It doesn’t seem right that the world should just keep moving on, now that you’re gone. But everything functions just fine whether you’re here or not; your absence seemingly changes nothing, even though from my perspective, it changes everything. It’s a strange paradox, and it’s so hard to understand, even as it’s quite obvious that it should be this way; unlike the grandfather clock from the old nursery rhyme, things aren’t empathic, they don’t stop just because you’re no longer there. Your car still operates, Chompers still exists (granted, he doesn’t even walk anymore, let alone run), the appliances still serve their functions (in fact, we’ve found items that had been lost for years that are still operational, like the shop vac in the crawl space, that either I or Kris can use going forward).

Time keeps marching forward, ignoring your fallen remains – ignoring everyone’s fallen remains. The path of history is paved with everyone’s bodies, and I realize that mine will one day lie at some point along the road in the future. It’s a scary thought, and somehow so much worse than that arrived at by grasping the insignificance of the pale blue dot that is Earth. Yes, that picture is a reminder of the fact that we are all insignificant on a cosmic scale, no matter how great or small we are on this planet, because the planet itself is so insignificant from a certain distance. But the idea of simply being left by the side of the road of history, trodden on by the remaining masses in the inexorable march forward, well… there isn’t even a shred of dignity to that.

Thank God He holds every atom together, and more to the point, the He is concerned with each and every atom such that He would do so, even as He cups entire galactic clusters in the hollow of His hand like a drop of water. Otherwise, the despair that we as humanity should be overwhelmed by as we contemplate our utter meaninglessness should crush us.

I’ve asked Him to greet you with each prayer, honey. When He does so, thank Him for me for all this, will you?

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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