I was being confronted by one of those moments in life that we all dread.
“You don’t recognize me. Do you?” asked the smiling, pleasant woman with a hint of disappointment in her eyes.
I can’t lie. In this excruciating moment when my mind was swirling to find a familiar feature on her face that would trigger a memory or quickly bring a name to the tip of my tongue, I was tempted to lie. That little white lie could save her feelings of frustration and me further feelings of embarrassment. But this time I figured honesty was the best policy. And I was sure that the grimace on my face as I tried to remember made the truth very obvious to her. I would tell the truth and weather the consequences.
“I really wish I could tell you that I do remember who you are. I’m sorry but I have a terrible memory. Please remind me where we have met before,” I replied with a sigh.
“I was in one of your grief support groups back in 2006 at the funeral home in Bedford. Don’t feel bad. I can understand why after so much time that you wouldn’t remember who I am. My name is Helen. Helen Jones,” replied Helen. “When I found out you were doing the grief support group here, I wanted to be in the group and to let you know how much you did to help me through my early grief.”
Now that was a statement I love hearing even when I can’t remember a person’s name. As a grief counselor and grief group facilitator, I have become accustomed to having mourners in grief support groups for just a few days or weeks and then to never hear from them or see them again. I understand. That’s just how life is.
Grief group facilitators are there simply to companion a mourner during a rough patch in his or her grief. We do it because we want to help others, not to get kudos or compliments. But getting compliments can be that added reward we get for walking with others during a dark time in their lives. Of course, I thanked Helen for the kind words and for making the effort to be at the group that day.
Helen’s eyes begin to well up. “I also wanted to thank you for preparing me to do what I am able to do today. In my church I am in charge of a bereavement ministry serving our church family members and the surrounding community,” she said as a tear rolled down her cheek. “I have gone back to school and become a grief counselor for a living.”
It was my turn to have my eyes well up and also to have my heart do a back flip of joy. “Oh, you don’t know how happy you made me. I am so happy and proud for you,” I said as a tear rolled down my cheek.
In every grief counseling session and grief support group that I have done over the last twelve years I tried to emphasize to mourners that in the middle of their pain they are being trained in a very, unique way. Because these mourners have learned the intimate details of personally experiencing a grief journey, they are in the singular position of being able to reach out to others in their grief in exceptionally effective ways. I had always wondered how many of the mourners that I tell this believe me. When you’re in the middle of grief, especially the intense early part of grief, it is hard to hear anything but the overwhelming pain and emotional turmoil in your life. Also it can be hard to believe that you could help someone else when you’re not even sure how to help yourself.
Because it has happened to me and I have witnessed it happen to other mourners, I am convinced that every mourner experiencing loss of a loved one learns knowledge and develops skills that can and should be passed on to others in grief to ease their struggle. That’s why grief support groups work. I have always been amazed at how mourners carrying huge loads of personal emotional pain still find it within themselves to be able to reach out in compassion to others who are hurting from a loss.
I’m also convinced that at the appropriate time in every mourner’s life someone else who has suffered a loss will be placed in their life pathway. Every mourner will be given the exceptional and honorable opportunity and privilege to pass along to other mourners the help, support, encouragement, knowledge and companionship they have been given by others who helped them in their grief.
Mourners, whether you believe it now or not, be ready to reach out at the first opportunity to others in grief. When you do reach out to others in compassion, that is a healthy sign that you are progressing in good ways through your own grief. Reaching out helps them heal and it helps you heal.
I just hope you will have a better memory than I have.
“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT, author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” Available on http://grief-works.org/book.php.
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