BEREAVEMENT ASSIGNMENT

Standard

I’m not generally a group person. I have belonged to book groups over the years, where I invariably tend to talk a lot.  As a rule, however, I’m more comfortable meeting people one on one, rather than being one of many sitting around a conference table.

That said, Bill (in helpful mode to the end) noted from his hospital bed that I might find it comforting to join what he called a “grief group” after he was gone.  Dutifully, despite my lack of enthusiasm for groups, I found two, terming themselves “bereavement” groups.  The first, which cost $50 for six weekly sessions and by happenstance had only women participants, is over now and was not, for me, particularly helpful, other than being a place to go when I needed very much to get out of the house.  The second, also running for six weeks but free, has another two meetings scheduled and is more interesting, possibly because there are a couple of men in it who speak of their bereavement in somewhat different terms than the women in both groups have tended to do, but possibly also because the leader/coordinator is a much better counselor.

For this second, still ongoing, group there was an assignment this week: I was to write myself a letter from Bill in which he addresses what he valued and appreciated about me during the time he was facing his illness and death with such bravery, and then to reflect  on what difference this letter might make for me in my life currently. I was also cautioned not to stress about it or put myself under any pressure, and to remember there is no right or wrong.

Stress? Pressure? Me? This “assignment” was like waving catnip at a pussycat. Thirty minutes later I had sent it off, thinking, as I clicked “attach file,” that it might also make a pretty good sequel to the last piece I posted here several weeks ago. So for those of you who are wondering how I’m doing, here’s how I’m doing, as of now:

Bereavement-Group Assignment, July 26, 2016

I wrote many letters for Bill during the years we lived together – business letters and also letters to his grown children, the latter based on what he wanted to say to them but typed all lower case so as to look as if he were the one at the computer and not me.  The fact is Bill not only couldn’t really type, but also couldn’t write worth a damn (which he cheerfully acknowledged), and couldn’t spell very well either, although he had a huge vocabulary and was an easy and charming conversationalist.  It’s a wonder he got through medical school, and in French, too. (His medical degree was from the University of Geneva, in the days when very few Jewish boys were accepted by American medical schools.) So it seems extremely unlikely he would have written me a letter when he was dying.  If he had, it would have looked like the messages on the birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards, Mother’s Day cards, and cards that came with flowers for no reason at all just because he felt like bringing flowers home that day: “For my beautifull wonderfull Nina. All my love, Bill.”

But he did tell me what he might have put in a last letter, had he thought to write it.  He told me on the evening of May 3, the last night before intubation and three days before he died; it was the last night he could still speak, although through the bi-pap mask.  I wrote it down as soon as I got home, so I would never forget it.  This is what he said:

            “It breaks my heart to see you so sad.”

             “You were the best thing that ever happened to me.”

              “You’re one in a million.”

               “I love you so much.”

                “You are wonderful and beautiful. You’re intelligent, and funny and sexy.”

                 “You’re so kind.”

                 “We had fifteen wonderful years together.”

                 “It’s all right to cry.”

                 “I hate to leave you. But I don’t want to live on a machine.”

                 “I know everything will be okay.  You’re strong, and you’ll be fine.”

 Does rereading this change anything about my days without Bill?  It doesn’t make them less painful. If anything, it reopens the raw wound of his having disappeared from my life.  I feel it’s better for me not to dwell on what is gone and irreplaceable, but just to go on putting one foot in front of the other and trust that, as he said, eventually “everything will be okay.” Maybe not “fine.” Certainly not “wonderful.”  But okay. After all, he was “one in a million,” too.

When I was somewhat younger, I used to think what you had to do in life was find the “right” person and become secure in your relationship together, and that would be the end of the story, that particular search story, anyway. I now feel nothing in life is secure, and that it’s all a journey each of us takes by ourself, with good times (if we’re lucky) that we don’t entirely appreciate while we’re passing through them, but also times after the good times that are not so good, because at bottom we remain profoundly alone, even where there are other (similarly lonely) people to keep us company at the movies.

 

 

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “BEREAVEMENT ASSIGNMENT

  1. Nina, I’m happy you’ve posted again after Bill’s passing! Your experience in the “grief” groups was enlightening. Often wondered if they were helpful! Some yes, some no! You are very right, in the end you have to deal with the sadness and aloneness. Even though family & friends are around, no one can feel what’s in your heart & mind! The sadness in your words comes through! Hoping there is some help in the writing to your blog followers! Peaceful prayers! 💛 Elizabeth

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you read my answer to Rita (below), Elizabeth, you may get a better sense of my experience with the groups. For the raw pain at the beginning, I found it did help to discover other people experiencing the same hurt that I was feeling. Afterwards, it depends. But you never know until you try. One thing I do remind myself just about every day: Don’t be choosy right now. Get out of the house. Go to everything that’s on offer. See what’s out there. Nothing good can come of sitting home alone with misery. Thanks so much for the warm and supportive words….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dearest Nina, having somehow missed your last post, but now having read it and this latest…
    I would like to add my words to all of those shared condolences from your blogging friends at this sad and difficult time. My heart is filled with compassion for your loss. The pain and the suffering you and Bill have both been through can not be truly measured or understood. Your blogging honesty and frankness have been an inspiration to me. Thank you for having the strength and ability to share your wisdom through “The Getting Old Blog.” We knew it wouldn’t be easy, didn’t we?
    Warmest Regards,
    Nancy

    Like

    • Thank you for your very kind words, Nancy. I don’t think I have any “wisdom,” though. I’ve just lived quite a long time now, and thought about it. As for frankness, what would be the point of writing a coy blog? Life is tough, sometimes very tough. But I haven’t been entirely “honest” — if one considers that omission is a kind of dishonesty. I still do try not to write about any part of my life that involves persons still alive who might be hurt or dismayed by what I say. I didn’t invade Bill’s privacy by discussing the impact of his illnesses on my life while he lived. But if any part of TGOB has inspired you in any way, I’m glad. Thank you for that, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Lucky in the fifteen years together? Yes. But you know, Marjorie, “luck” doesn’t just fall from the sky. You have to do your part, adjust your expectations, be grateful for smaller servings of happiness….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rita

    I too joined a bereavement group after Richard died . I did not find it helpful to hear the terrible agonizing tales of each woman present, repeated over and over each session. The men present did not react the same way…the few there were already looking for replacements, which sounds like a terrible thing to say. The men seemed lost without the partner to do “stuff”! One man there asked me out. I only went to the group three times, and did not return. Of course, I was a lot younger. So dear friend, I hope your experience will be more helpful! We all find our own ways to deal with this universal experience of loss.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The groups were helpful at the time I went to them, but unlike some of the other group members, I don’t think I’ll be signing up for a second “semester” in the fall — certainly not for the first one, five widows and me. Four of the five widows had apparently never worked; they had lived their lives entirely as wives and mothers. I use the word “widows” because that’s how they described themselves –not as women who had been married, whose husbands had died, and who were now alone in whatever lives they had been living. Being attached to their husbands was what had entirely defined their sense of self. Any more-than-sporadic reader of this blog will understand that apart from the knowledge that others were experiencing pain similar to mine, I could gain little that was useful to me from their reliance on their sons to prepare tax returns, adjust the thermostat, and like that. My social life, unlike theirs, was not wholly dependent on coupledom. I was the odd woman out in that sobbing group — and not even a bona fide “wife.”

      The two men in the second group were indeed “looking” — although I wouldn’t call what they sought “replacements.” One has attached to a longtime friend of his wife, herself having lost both a husband and a son, because, he said, they can share the grief of having lost his wife. (I believe they now also share a bed, as well as their grief, but hey! he’s only 75, and apparently in pretty good shape.) The other is still looking — for “friends,” he says, but I believe he also wants to “date.” Actually, I find that refreshing. The second group also has several women who had really tough rows to hoe before their husbands died — in two cases where the husbands had Alzheimers, they remained primary caretakers nearly to the end, and in another case, the wife nursed her husband through seventeen years of increasingly invasive cancer. These women make me feel I had it relatively easy, and that has indeed helped. I never had to shave Bill, or toilet him, or feed him — he was entirely himself until the end, albeit with less and less oxygen to keep him going, so that whatever he did took more time and drained him of more energy. He was much sadder and more despondent in the last year, yes, but never like the husbands of those three women.

      And there may be another benefit to having spent the time in these two groups: possible future blog posts!

      Liked by 2 people

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s