- Iris Arenson-Fuller
Denial (Not Just An Egyptian River)
Anna G. has submitted today's discussion topic.
Anna belongs to a group for widows and widowers at her church. Her husband of twenty years passed away of a heart attack nine months ago. She joined the weekly group for widows and widowers about four months after he died. Anna is now considering quitting the group. She finds it more depressing than helpful.
While Anna is not having an easy time, she is too busy with her work and her kids, 17 and 15, to spend as much time as most of the other members do, dwelling on every detail of her sadness and misery, or living in what she feels is denial. She says she knows all too well her husband is gone, because of all the responsibilities she now has to shoulder. At first she liked being able to talk about her grief and about her husband. Then the tone began to be so upsetting and heavy to her, that she felt weighed down for days after the Friday evening meetings.
What bothered and even scared her most was that a lot of the members had lost their spouses five, ten and more years ago. Several spoke of still being unable to touch or change anything in their spouse's home offices or their bedrooms, and unable to discard or donate their clothes. Others spoke of still expecting them to walk in the door any minute, even though years had passed. A few could not stand using certain words like "dead" and several of the women said they despised the term "widow" and refused to think of themselves that way.
Anna wonders if she should, or should not remain in the group. Anna likes that the group listens and understands, but they seem to repeat the same themes over and over. She sometimes feels the members are just validating each other's negativity. She also worries that maybe she is missing something, is being too naive, and that she, too, will end up like the other people and in five or ten years, will be more or less in the same emotional space she is now. Yet she feels maybe she is judging the other members and has a little shame about that, because they are nice people.
Coach Iris Responds:
First of all, as you'll hear and read many times if you will be following this blog, there isn't only one way to "do grief". Anna, it seems to me that you have enough to worry about with all of the changes in your life and your kids' lives. If you don't get value from the group anymore, then there isn't much point in attending.
More importantly, I am hoping you will trust your own gut. Since you say you feel more depressed or blue for days after the meetings, to me, that seems like a good time to quit. It sounds like you have gotten value for a time and that time may have passed. Or maybe you're ready to look for new or different types of support that enable you to explore how to actively work on what comes next for you. Some of the people in the group may not be able to envision that there will ever be anything "coming next" for them.
I know many of the on line groups for widows and widowers are filled with negativity. I don't know your particular in-person group, of course. To a point, the groups are beneficial because people get to vent, but after a while, venting loses its benefits and becomes established as a habit that reinforces the bad feelings and discourages more healthy ones.
They say "Denial is more than just a river in Egypt". At the earliest part of most people's grief process, denial can serve a real purpose. There is a lot of trauma and pain to deal with and we can't handle everything all at once. So denial may protect us, as does the numbness most feel for a while after a loss. This all has to run its course.
When the denial continues for a very long period of time, and in some cases for years or decades, it certainly raises some questions or concerns, in my mind anyway. Denial tends to prevent us from experiencing peace of mind. It can destroy our ability to find any solutions that help us live a better, less miserable life.
I don't think you are judging the other group members, so much as taking care of yourself. That is very important to do, especially after losing a spouse, though it is often the last thing people feel like doing.
I would suggest asking yourself a question. "Am I being honest with myself about wanting to leave the group because it isn't serving me, or because it is bringing up fears that things won't get better--ever? Am I quitting just when some of the discussion is hitting some raw nerves for me?" What do you think?
Another helpful thing might be to examine your own past history. Have you tended to deny or refuse to face raw emotions, or big difficulties in the past? If so, it is probably important to confront this, not so much to remain focused on past behavior and attitudes, but to begin to understand and change your own way of thinking.
All questions or discussion topics have been submitted to Coach Iris for publication on this blog, or have been shared with Iris in the past and permission has been provided to use the situations disclosed here. When contributors don't wish to be identified, initials or pseudonyms are used, and circumstances may be camouflaged to protect their privacy.
Naturally, any answers or input provided here are just opinions and without knowing the person and situation better, may or may not be a good fit for the contributor, or for every reader. The intent here is to cover topics that are typical and that come up often in the widows' community. Nothing here is meant to take the place of more in-depth work or help that some may wish to consider. Responses should not be construed as psychological, medical or legal advice. Contact Iris to set up a free info call, if you would like to learn more and want to consider working with Iris.