The phone shattered the 4:00am quiet. As I lunged from bed and into the hall I knew this was the call that would completely change the course of my life. This was the call I had expected, but feared. When I answered, it would all be over. I stood alone in the boldness of the hall’s harsh light and trembled. I lifted the receiver. I was filled with an incredible sadness, and powerlessness, and despair. We had been waiting for 3 weeks to see if my husband would prevail in his medical battle. He hadn’t. But now another kind of waiting was to begin. I now began waiting for the next 40 years to pass – waiting to grow old, waiting for time to pass.
That was many years ago, and my life has refilled itself since that day with meaning and purpose. But I have continued to have the need to reach out to people facing loss as I did – knowing that it can feel like the end of the world, knowing the powerlessness of a life out of control. I believe that one of our jobs in life is to reach out to one another. If we are able to approach suffering together our lives won’t diminish, but will expand. Resilience doesn’t really mean bouncing back to where you were before, or pretending that finding your way isn’t hard. It’s really hard. It’s painful. But being part of GrieveWell and being a peer counselor has provided me the opportunity to help people decide and define where they want to see their lives go after loss. I understand where people are on this journey because I am one of them. And I have learned that there is life, after death.
I also learned, in watching my children suffer, my in-laws suffer, friends in my support group suffer, that there are as many differences as similarities in what causes pain, and in what offers hope. However, the one thing I did find to be pretty universal in coping with grief was the need for a loving presence – someone to be there and help us through. That loving presence was an indication that loss might be survivable – because someone still cared. I needed people who allowed me to be weak, and people who allowed me to remember.
I became involved with GrieveWell as a result of hearing a talk and seeing a movie about grief which they sponsored at the Michigan Theater just a few weeks after I retired. The timing was perfect since I was looking for ways to contribute in my new retirement life. I signed up to be considered as a peer counselor, went through the training and was given a young woman, recently widowed, to support. That was the first of several very meaningful, important relationships I’ve experienced as a peer counselor. You have the privilege of sharing deeply with someone who needs exactly what you have to offer – understanding and acceptance. When I heard about GrieveWell, and particularly once I became involved, I recognized what a rare opportunity it provided to people coping with loss. Here was an organization that offered a one-on-one relationship of non-judgmental supportive listening – a very unique kind of support from someone who has had a similar loss, and who is there to walk the walk with you.
Life is more than just staying alive. I saw 40 years of emptiness in front of me at the time of my husband’s death. In the early stages of grieving, when I was numb, or stuck, or exhausted or terribly sad I couldn’t know that there was more ahead of me in my life, but sharing those moments with a peer counselor could have made an important difference. It was difficult to find someone who could relate to my loss and who was willing to be emotionally accessible. We have to give ourselves time, give ourselves permission to grieve, and, ultimately, be willing to take a chance in reaching out. That’s true for those still immersed in grief – a time when it is very hard to reach out – and true for those of us who can provide that comfort and support. We need to be there for each other, as survivors and as beacons of hope.