Ch.214 An Unexpected Invitation

Ch.214 An Unexpected Invitation

August 2023

There is an organization of volunteers in the Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls area who run an open-ended support group for grieving individuals, mostly for spouses of loved ones who died from cancer or dementia. I have been attending the group and respect the facilitators greatly. I was surprised, though, when Wendy, the leader of that organization, called to ask if I’d be interested in joining them.

The first question I had was this: Am I ready to support others in their grief when I have only spent just over one year processing my own? “No,” I decided, not if it would mean abandoning my group. I still feel the need for support from the facilitators and group members. But it turned out that I would co-facilitate a different group, a six-week closed group, the kind where people sign up and stay in the group the entire time, with no new entries during that period.

My second question: Do I need to be “finished” processing my grief before offering to help others with theirs? That answer came quickly: “No,” because from what I have learned nobody ever totally completes grieving. Rather, over time one’s grief usually mellows, with episodes becoming less intense and less enduring over time. That is true in my situation; when I think about how much I miss Pat I have mostly exchanged sobs for sighs and minutes for seconds.

My third question: Do I have the skills to help other grievers? “Yes and no.” Yes, because I have both training and experience facilitating groups in many areas: anger management, domestic violence, Lewy Body Dementia, Huntington’s Disease, Hemophilia, and memory loss. No, because I don’t have the specific knowledge base in grief that I would need. For example, I couldn’t immediately tell people the difference between “normal” grief and “complicated” or “prolonged” grief. I shared this concern with Wendy. “Well,” she said, “That’s why I’m calling you now. There’s a two-day training beginning next week, and they still have openings. It’s an excellent training program that all of us attended before we began our group.”

I decided to give the training a try. That way I would get the knowledge base I needed. Additionally, though, I believed it would provide an important test. If I felt emotionally overwhelmed during those two days, crying a lot, becoming angry, or just excessively distracted, I would back off because it wouldn’t do others any good if I were to fall apart or project my emotional needs onto them.

       Fortunately, the training was indeed excellent. Some parts were difficult, namely the ones that reminded me of Pat’s suffering as well as my own, but that was ok. I did realize I am not prepared to help people who have survived their loved one’s suicide or a child’s death. That would take a lot more training, especially in trauma work. Such training might come later, but for now I do feel prepared to co-facilitate the six-week group described above.

          That doesn’t mean I’m not scared, though. I feel a strong sense of responsibility when I facilitate a group. People trust me with their secrets, their emotions, and even their lives in these groups. Although I’ve facilitated hundreds of support and personal growth sessions, I become anxious every time before I start, remembering my responsibilities, as I think I should. I know I’ll be doubly anxious beginning the grief group; thankfully, I’ll be Wendy’s co-facilitator and I can follow her lead.

          So, please hold me in your heart or pray for me that I can help those who grieve to feel safe and comforted in my presence.

          Thank you.