We sit bimonthly in a circle, 12 or so, on Tuesdays, in a large room with a divider helping to limit our space but also creating a cozier atmosphere. We speak openly about a subject that still is relatively taboo in our culture. The honesty, the compassion and the concern for one another is palpable.
Like a tree with many branches, the topic grows out into a myriad of life stories, and each member has a distinctive way of expressing her/his own unique journey. Themes range from memorials, clothing, holidays, special foods, nurturing activities, grandchildren, pets, special events, relationships, friends, vacations, music, significant others and so much more.
There is a broad range of feeling that changes from meeting to meeting. A feeling of sadness may be at the forefront of one meeting ... guilt, or joy or loneliness at another. More often, it is the laughter and love that bubble up throughout each and every meeting that keeps the groups’ spirit going. If you haven’t guessed already, I speak of the Grief Group in Cambria that has been occurring for almost eight years. It was started by the Rev. Donald Dallmann, who had the foresight to know that a group such as this was needed by our community.
The subject of death is not exactly one you overhear at the coffee shops or ping-pong circles. As a matter of fact, it is still one of the most unmentionable subjects to be raised in our culture. Death happens, to every single one of us without exception. Yet, we like to pretend it doesn’t. Ironically, we are surrounded with vivid descriptions, pictures and videos of death and dying shown by the media 24-7, yet most people are unprepared emotionally and pragmatically when it actually occurs.
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The subject of death has surged way ahead of sex in terms of the No. 1 nonverbal communication between loved ones. It creates uneasiness, discomfort, and apprehension when brought up in community and in families. Lawrence R. Samuel Ph.D., in “Psychology Today,” viewed death as profoundly an “un-American” experience.
In the Grief Group, members voice their feelings about their losses. It is a place that allows vulnerability in a safe space. Because of this, the ties between them grow stronger, and they make new friendships with each other. They share in the intimacy of loss. They are assured of their confidentiality being maintained. They create a safe harbor for one another to be candid with their truth. Some group members still sometimes find it difficult to cry in front of others but are learning to let go of their tears too when they feel safe enough to do so.
I encourage them to go through the grieving process in the right way. “The right way you ask? Is there a right way to do grief?”
I support each member to come from a genuine truth inside. Each person who is going through grief has his/her own way. There is no set way to process it. No time limits. No comparisons. No feeling that isn’t part of the process. The right way is the distinct heartfelt way of each member who attends. Some need to tell their stories. Others need to know they are not alone or need validation. Still others learn best by listening and being a part of the group. It is a unique path, this grieving process, for each of us, but it needs to be witnessed, heard, felt and supported by people who know how to be compassionate.
I often receive feedback from outsiders about how difficult a grief group must be to facilitate. Truth be known, I find it extremely heartfelt and gain insight and wisdom from the members every time I am there. It is a rich experience of connection and support and I am honored to bear witness to this most genuine group of people who are brave enough to share their feelings, their vulnerabilities, their pain and their gratitude in our Grief Group here in Cambria.
A friendly voice called out my name while I was at a recent social gathering. Her name was Suzanne, and she wanted to tell me about her experience in the group.
“I so appreciate what you are doing for those who have lost a loved one. I was in the group when the Rev. Donald Dallmann ran it and what I found was that I looked forward to that meeting when nothing else seemed to matter. I got better when I learned from the group that giving was the way to healing so I volunteered for HART.” Then before she left she added, “There is a lot of beauty in grief.”
Thank you, Suzanne.
Diane De Marco is a marriage and family therapist who has been practicing in Cambria for 14 years. She previously was in practice in Thousand Oaks for 10 years and Burbank for seven years.
Grief Group meets at 11 a.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2700 Eton Road, Cambria. There is no charge. If you have recently lost a loved one and would like further information, call Diane De Marco at 805-927-3345.