Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beauty School Dropout

I joined a grief support group given by the hospice organization which tended Flip in his last months. It consists of several women who have lost their elderly mothers and me. I know that grief is grief and cannot be compared but with all respect, it is different to lose your life's partner and best friend who was relatively young; a parent, no matter how beloved, presumably lived a full life which ended in her 90s. One of the women had a minor psychotic break because her church, the one in which we hold our meetings, forgot to mention her mother on All Saints' Day. She has mentioned her female partner many times and I wonder how she can pledge allegiance to a church which is at war with homosexuals. Of course, I can't ask.

This week a new woman joined the group and confided that she recently attempted suicide. She was laughing inappropriately, which I think is usually a sign of desperation, and I have spent many hours worrying about her and trying to think of ways to help her. i also believe that her issues are beyond the scope of a support group. Hospice asks that we commit to the entire series of six weekly meetings, but I am seriously considering dropping out because I believe this concern is impeding my own healing process. We signed a pledge agreeing not to discuss anything that occurs in the meetings with anyone, even privately with other members of the group. What happens in St. Agnes stays in St. Agnes. It isn't a lack of empathy but perhaps, that I have too much empathy which makes me uncomfortable. I left a voice mail for the facilitator explaining that I don't think I'm a good fit although everyone is very nice and she is doing a great job. She is a young family therapy intern, kind and caring, but I think she is over her head with a suicidal group member. I hope she is getting advice from her supervisor.

I wonder if I might be a sociopath who lacks normal emotions because when my mother died I cried a lot but stopped soon after her funeral. It never occurred to me to seek a support group or needless to say, kill myself. While I am not sure I could survive the loss of any of my children, we expect to outlive our parents. That is the natural order of things. I hope my children will miss me when I'm gone but not to the extent that it interferes with their lives.

The bottom line is that if the support group is making things worse, I should quit. If it were merely not helping, I would give it more time, but it feels detrimental to my emotional health. Maybe I am simply too much of a loner to benefit from this kind of therapy and might do better to spend a few hours walking on the ecology trail Flip loved, or riding my bicycle to places we visited. Listening to his music hurts but helps, too. For whatever reason, the group experience doesn't seem to be working for me.

My mother once made a bargello wall hanging of a flock of white sheep facing one way, a lone black sheep facing the other. "That's you," she said, "You're the black sheep." I was hurt and discarded her gift as soon as she left. Now I think she was just stating that our true nature cannot be changed. But with all the changes in my life, I don't have the energy or inclination to change myself. Even if it were possible. Flip's illness has been a solo voyage from the beginning. I guess there is something to be said for consistency.


Paula said...

Susan, I am relieved you have surfaced again. If the group is making you uncomfortable, you should give it up. You don't need something draining your energy that doesn't feel right. It would be good if you could find a widows support group.

I totally understand your feelings about adults taking the loss of a parent as badly as you describe. It is hard, and sad, but what is to be expected. By the time most of us lose our parents, we have full lives of our own to occupy us. I share your feelings that it doesn't compare to losing a spouse.

Do what feels right to you, and know that all your readers care about you.

Leight said...

I know of what you are describing. It is true that some empathizers, when in deep grief, take on the grief of others as well. It is important for you to know that this deep pain will pass and you will not feel like you now do, that you can't bear the burden of knowing so much about loss. You are that much better now than you were two hours ago, just by your reaching out here. Keep writing. And if you can, find anyone, even a new friend, who knows how to just hold hands. When I hit bottom, similar to yours, it was the hand hold of a stranger, an acupuncturist, who saved me.

Lee said...

I believe there is no time limit on grief...and one shouldn't feel forced by anyone or any organisation or group to put a limit on it. Grief is personal and individual.No pressure should be put upon the person who is going through grief. I think we learn to compartmentalise grief...but that doesn't mean our loss is lessened in anyway.

I'm with Leight...writing is a wonderful outlet, release.

I can only speak for myself...I'm not one for group activities in any shape, form or reason; I try to handle everything; my emotions and feelings myself. That, of course, doesn't mean it's right way...but that's just how I am and the way I am.

Susan...I second, Leight...keep writing. :)

Secret Agent Woman said...

Quit. Seriously, quit. Losing a parent is NOT the same thing as losing a partner. And if you know it isn't working to help you heal, walk away. I remember when I miscarried, someone compared it to losing a pet and I nearly decked her. So, stay attentive to what does and doesn't work for you, and make that your priority.

And so nice to hear from you again.

Molly said...

I agree with Paula---you should run, not walk, away from this group and find a support group for widows, people who are going through similar feelings of loss to your own. I also agree with everyone else----keep writing! So nice to hear from you again!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Losing a parent in childhood is utterly devastating, but it seems excessive to become suicidal on losing a 90-year old parent as a middle aged or senior adult. I feel bad for these people but can't relate. Nor do I want to have to worry about one of them self-destructing when I am there to find relief for my own pain.


Thank you for your visit here and for your wise words. Writing has always been one of my preferred outlets, like your art which is exceptionally delightful, by the way.


I have never been a joiner but thought the support group might help. I agree that grief is limitless - I will always miss Flip and mourn his own loss of life, but I will have to find a way to make the most of my own remaining years.


What you describe is beyond insensitive, and utterly bizarre. I'm so sorry that someone inflicted additional pain on you when you were already suffering so much. That is very messed up and i kind of wish you *had* decked her. Just saying.


The only spousal loss support group is quite far away and I'm not sure I even want to be in another group after this experience.My sorrow doesn't need validation and I much prefer to cry in private.

Cro Magnon said...

Your penultimate paragraph is the most telling; and I'm sure is the right course. We should put up more photos, go to more places, listen to more music. We should also talk about lost loved ones, almost as if they're still with us (which they are). It's those who try not to accept the reality, who crack under internal pressure. Very best wishes.

Anonymous said...

Secret Agent Woman should know about the usefulness of support groups and if she says 'quit" then I guess there you have it. Can't add anything helpful besides what has already been said by others, so let me just saw that we are all here for you and cheering you on. Also we are good listeners readers.

the walking man said...

Groups never did much for me. I guess for some people they are a lifeline of shared support. when I was drinking 1 fifth of Jim Beam every day (night actually) for 17 years I tried the AA thing and to be honest with you all it did was make me want to drink more.

10 day dry out and that was 14 years ago, I guess the only downside is I don't get someone giving me a poker chip telling me how long it's been since I stopped drinking and an audience giving me the polite clapping of condescension.

Grief is like that, I am or must be more sociopath than you, the year my mother died I went to 8 other funerals 6 of them were suicides, not a tear for any of them. Including my Mom (watching someone go through 3 years of chemo does that to me) who I was closer too than any other family member and now of them I have left *shrug* they call when they want me to do something for them.

I miss my mom. But I am not going to go all sackcloth and ashes with her no longer here. I have one or two of her things, same as my grandmother who was the best of the bunch.

I personally am ready to be done with this whole bullshit called living but that suicide...shit that is someone saying "tell me words that mean I am important to you please."

A person who is going to suicide has already done it, they don't talk about it they just do it.

My guess is you are the type of person who will find a way through the fog and then the days will slowly start to rise clear again, the sun will make the sky light blue and the rain will stop. That is what I call grief...walkin' to sunshine. Just keep walking as you always have and the clouds will part when you are ready for them to part.

mischief said...

I agree, quit the group. You have enough of your own grief to work through without the added worry of a suicidal group member on your mind.

And of course you're right that losing your life partner is not the same as losing your parents, particularly, as you said, not when your life partner was young and the parents have lived a long full life. It's not the same in any way. It doesn't sound like this group is helpful, and it sounds like it has potential to be harmful to you. I say leave.

As for how to work through the grief on your own, that's the hard part. I love your idea of spending time doing things you loved doing together, going to special places. Talking to him.

You're in my heart on this part of your journey.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Cro Magnon,

I would like to believe Flip is still with me in some form besides my memory, even if I can't see him.


It's true that you are all here for me. I have always felt it and am very grateful for each of you.


Thank you for all the thoughtful observations. I consider myself a sociable loner and groups have never really worked for me either. At best they are boring, but I feel that the self-described suicidal woman has hijacked the whole show. She has made herself more important than the rest of us because she is more fragile (and proud of it, I suspect.) I need to be my own caregiver now.


I've been writing a book about the "journey," as some call it. (Not me. I dislike the word but haven't thought of a better one.) Perhaps my healing will come from that. I really am not a group person. I belonged to a fibromyalgia group for a while but all they did was talk about how sick they were, while I wanted to ignore the pain, which was inconvenient. The AD group we attended was also a bitch session. I don't believe that embracing negativity ever helps.

Sextant said...

I think too often society tries to come up with standard solutions for everyone. If one finds a support group to be helpful, by all mean pursue it. But I don't think they are for everyone.

For myself, I think I would probably rely more on a close friend, preferably flesh and blood, but internet would work also...someone who would listen more than speak and not give you the old cliches of how it will be OK. It won't be OK, nor do you want it to be OK, because quite frankly its not OK. You have a gaping hole in heart. You have lost the love of your life. Its tragic, and yes you are right, it in no way compares to the loss of a parent.

RJS said...

A support group only works, if it meets your needs and comfort zone. Follow your instincts, my friend. I check daily for your new posts, and am relieved to read this.

NoRegrets said...

Likely you are simply acknowledging that this group is not right for you. That doesn't mean there is not a group for you, but if you are fine with healing on your own, then by all means do so!

I just did a search for a support group for early onset dementia, but couldn't find one in CA at least. Sorry...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


One size fits all has never worked for me in anything. You are right that an actual real-life person would be ideal if only so many of them didn't feel obliged to tell me that Flip is "in a better place." I know it's well intentioned but it sets my teeth on edge.


I will try to post more often again, as I used to. I know I've been MIA for a long time. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

No Regrets,

You're very kind to check, but I don't need an early onset AD group because my husband passed away in September. And they no longer believed he had AD by then, but another form of dementia which attacks younger people and progresses much faster.

Anonymous said...

Getting through two of these group session is enough. Just like you would tell your kids, "You gave it a legitimate chance but it didn't work out." No point in wasting your time on another three sessions. Groups are tough. You seem like more of a one-on-one kind of woman (in discussing problems, issues, things), anyway.

And no need to change yourself or even think about it. You are what you are (which is pretty great). You are guilty with an explanation.

Jackie Gaston said...

It seems that whoever organized the group didn't put very much thought into the mix of people and their experiences. I've put more thought that that into planning who to invite to dinner parties. Why should you put yourself through all of that? Is there a group for people who have gone experienced a loss that has any similarity to yours? I know that is a long shot and as Joe Biden told a group of families who had lost soldiers, no two losses are the same. They just aren't.
It may be that the people in the group haven't had other losses in their lives. I remember thinking when my grandfather left us and my aunt was practically inconsolable that she had truly lived a charmed life up until then and had never lost anyone very close to her. Even if that is the case with the others in the group, you don't have to go through it with them.
I have to confess that I did not cry over my mother's death. I tend to measure such losses against losing my daughter. It doesn't mean I'm not sad, it's just that I seem to have used up most of my tears. I didn't go to any groups when I lost my daughter even though there were some available. I just couldn't make myself do it because I knew that none of them knew who I was missing and I wouldn't have known that about them. Those groups aren't the thing for everyone and I felt that I couldn't deal with the grief in the group in addition to my own and still function.
I know you will make the right decision for yourself.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I spoke with the facilitator and she understood my feelings. She said they have arranged for the suicidal woman to get more intense help than a support group can provide, but I opted not to return anyway. It feels freeing.


I agree with everything you've said. I have always believed that there could be nothing worse than outliving ones own child because it is out of the natural order of things.

I didn't cry for my father because we didn't have a good relationship; I would have been crying for that, not for him. I loved my mother, but she died suddenly and I don't believe she suffered much. But Flip was my life. I miss him in a million ways every day including having him to share my sorrow with. I don't want to dilute my memories by trying to explain who he was to strangers, so I have made my decision. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, which were so helpful.

nick said...

I think as Lee said, that grief is personal and individual and only you can work out how to deal with it. If the group isn't helping, then of course you should leave. Some people may be genuinely traumatised by a parent's death but that doesn't help you to handle your own grief.

Only you can discover what is the best way forward through your own sorrow and loss and you have to do that for yourself. Other people may be very well-meaning but it's unlikely they really understand what you're going through.

s.m. said...

thank your for beautiful words .have nice weekend

Paula said...

Anonymous spammers who do anything to annoy the grieving widow who owns this blog should realize karma isn't their friend.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I did quit and it felt freeing. Groups are not for everyone. I still feel lost without Flip, but sharing other people's pain felt too much like a potluck.


Thank you for coming by again.


I deleted those anonymous comments. I get over 50 per day to both my blogs but I have them set up to modify comments over 30 days old, so I usually mark them as spam and delete the emails. It is quite maddening and offensive, as you deduced. Thank you!

la cartonaria said...

I am so sorry to read of Flip's death. I've been away from the computer for quite some time, though you and he have been in my thoughts. You are not a sociopath! If you were, you would have abandoned Flip long, long ago. Grief works on each of us in different ways. There is no proper way to mourn. Some of us reach outward and find comfort with other people, some of us find rest and healing in solitude.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

La Cartonaria,

It's so very nice to hear from you again. I've missed your comments, but of course I haven't been posting much for a while.

And thank you for your kind reassurances. I don't really believe I'm a sociopath - I'm just less open with my grief than many people.

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Jocelyn said...

I'm glad you quit. Groups do nothing for you, it seems (I'm the same way), and you're well able to do your own processing.

Although I'm late to the comments here, I do hope you're still writing about this time in your life. Your words could be of help not only to yourself but also to others.

I think of you so often, you know.

Nicholas Temple said...

I do not believe that any group can meet the needs of all of its members. Some folks, myself included, find that conversing with a caring individual, therapist or friend, does much more for them.

Miss Healthypants said...

How are you doing lately, Miss Heart in San Francisco? You haven't posted in a long time...I hope you are doing okay! :)

Paula said...

Hope you are doing alright, Susan. It's been a really long time. I think of you often. I know this is a time of grieving and readjustment and you may not be up to blogging, but please let us know you are OK.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Paula, thank you so very much for checking on me. I'm alive. I am trying to work my way through this and it's very, very hard. I would love to start blogging again but just haven't felt inspired to write anything. I hope I will soon.

Sending warmest thoughts to you and yours, and hope you are well. Your kindness means a lot to me!

Angela Klein said...

I sure love you. Found this today and wanted to send an entire universe full of love your way.