The solidarity of grief

Recently I wrote about the aloneness of grief, but there is another side to the story which is the topic of this post: the solidarity of grief.

It is remarkable how much more aware we become of other people’s death and loss after our own loss. Catherine, my daughter, took her own life. Ever since, it seems to me the news is fully of stories about suicide. I had never imagined so many people lost their lives this way, but every day there seemed to be another incident in the local news, and lots more generally. Was there really an increase, or was I just noticing it?

It hurts to read, to hear, to watch how another life was lost. There is a sense that I can feel how that person might have felt, the desperation, the loss of hope, just wanting the pain of life to stop. And then there are the survivors, those that remain, empathising with their shock, sorrow, confusion, and the long journey it will be until they can breathe again. The circumstances and relationships might be similar or they might be very different to me and Catherine, but I can still relate closely to the pain. If you have lost someone to suicide, you will know what I’m talking about.

That’s the solidarity of grief. 

That’s why support groups can be immensely helpful. I qualify that with a “can be” as finding the right group with people you can get along with doesn’t happen for everyone. Also, some people don’t feel comfortable in a group environment, or can feel overwhelmed by everyone’s stories. But for many, the solidarity found in a support group can be invaluable. This can be particularly the case when you’re in the unfamiliar territory of early bereavement, as it is in an appropriate support group that you might discover for the first time that you’re not the only person who feels like this, and the rollercoaster of emotions is par for the course. You may discover that other people have also experienced rather odd reactions from friends, that even family members have not rallied to your side, that people seem to think you should be “over it” by now… You can share ideas for coping, and you can also get some practical support too.

The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a national peer-led charity for bereaved parents and siblings  (actually international, with chapters in many countries), is a good example of how the solidarity of grief can work. They have lots of options for interaction: local meetings and national gatherings, as well as meetings for thise bereaved in a particular way such as through suicide. They recently had a weekend for parents with no surviving children which I would have taken part in but circumstances didn’t permit. 

Lots of organisations host support groups. Hospices and churches often have informal meetings for the bereaved. There are many possibilities and it can be worth looking for them if you’re feeling lost. You don’t have to continue if it doesn’t feel right to you, but it really can be worthwhile to give it a go.

TCF also hosts opportunities for online communication through  closed Facebook groups and internet forums. “Closed” is a key word; you have to ask to join the group which means there is some control and you can be fairly certain that everyone in the group is who they say they are. It is important for online groups and social media as otherwise you can get unkind trolls who can make your grieving worse rather than better. So that’s a little tip if you’re looking for online companionship in your grief – it’s best to only go on sites or join social media groups that are moderated.
There are more links on the menu above  to other support groups. It’s just a small sample – there is so much out there.

The solidarity through getting to know people who are similarly bereaved can be invaluable. Sometimes you benefit most in the short term, and might decide later on that you’d rather not continue. On the other hand, you can form lasting friendships. 

( The retreats I’m leading are another source of solidarity that you might be interested in. Please visit the retreats tab above.)

As I started writing this post, I wanted to offer a balance to the “aloneness” of grief. Circumstances might mean that we are quite alone, if we have no close friends or family, or if they cannot understand our sorrows. But we don’t have to feel completely isolated; there may be people close by, or people we can get to know through social media or other organisations, who are struggling just like we are. We can support each other and not feel quite so isolated.

I hope you can find what you need where you are.

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