October 19, 2021
I learned this head-on after the death of my mom, when those closest to me recognized that I was falling apart.
In my view, however, everything was “just fine.” Despite the fact that I’d walked straight into the darkest season of my life, began to experience physical aches and pains, and struggled to interact with others, I continued to deny the fact that I needed to shift anything in my world.
Frankly, I didn’t want to shift anything else. My mom’s death was enough. I wasn’t open to any more changes, any new people, or anything that I perceived would push me in a new direction. At the same time, deep down, I recognized that I needed something.
Several months after my mom died, I met with a friend, a person who I considered a confidante. And during the course of a lunch in downtown LA, she gently encouraged me to consider the possibility of group counseling. Much to my surprise, she’d observed the challenges I’d faced thus far in my grief journey. My immediate response was to reject the idea. I just couldn’t understand what she observed in me that would lead her to make such a recommendation.
And instead of recognizing the conversation — the observation — as a gift, I separated myself from her, creating more social isolation and disconnection.
The funny thing, however, was that another dear friend of mine from church said the exact same thing a few months later.
For whatever reason, the second conversation felt like confirmation, a sign from God. I knew I needed to at least consider the option of group counseling. Though I was already a licensed psychologist at the time, I never thought I’d need to be part of a group. (I know, I know … how blind could I be?) Over the years, I’d recommended this very thing to clients who faced grief and loss, trauma, and other life challenges. Nevertheless, I never thought I’d need it.
Later that day, I researched groups focused on grief and loss and discovered one. The group would be held at a local church located just a few miles from my apartment.
A week later, I begrudgingly walked through the church’s front door … after spending 20 minutes in the parking lot trying to talk myself out of going to the meeting altogether. Though everything in me wanted to run in the opposite direction, I entered and found my way to the group counseling room. My inner rebellion talked me into taking a seat as far away from the facilitator as possible, however.
I figured I’d attend this first meeting, check the proverbial ‘group box,’ and report back to my friend from church that I’d tried. This, I thought, would lessen the pressure she’d applied in prior weeks.
If I’m honest, that first meeting was horrible. Not only was I surrounded by people who didn’t physically look like me, I also couldn’t identify with their stories. While I understand that grief has many faces, I couldn’t relate to the older white gentleman who’d just walked through a divorce. The stories about losses of friendships and dating relationships paled in comparison to what I was navigating. And after that first hour, I knew I wouldn’t return.
Days later, I remember feeling proud of myself as I followed up with my friend. My conversation with her went something like, “Yea, I attended the group. It was OK, just not for me.”
It was as if she intuitively knew I hadn’t given it my full effort, however. I tried every which way to explain to her the challenges inherent in the group, coupled with the fact that their losses were significantly different than mine. And while I thought my heartfelt expression would be met with compassion, my friend responded with additional pressure. I remember her exact words. “Mekel, you need to go back, whether you think you like it or not.” It was the type of response that you feel in your bones.
One week later, I sat again in the parking lot, resisting movement with every fiber of my being. Nonetheless, I found myself walking through the door, entering the meeting space, and sitting at a distance from most of the group members yet again.
As a result of this second attempt, my heart was at least an inch more open to the possibility of the group benefiting me in some way. And that day, for whatever reason, my ears tuned into the conversation differently. I didn’t speak a word at all. However, my ears received what I needed to hear.
I learned that grief was a lifelong journey. Group members shared that while others could support and inspire me, I’d have to do the work to help myself through the treacherous process of grieving. Finally, I learned that I’d need support from others who’d experienced loss, in addition to those closest to me.
Friend, like me, you may be resisting the option of connecting with other grieving hearts. Trust me, I get it. At the same time, I want to challenge you to consider the potential benefits of grief counseling.
What I thought would be two visits turned into six months of weekly group counseling sessions on Sundays. I shed tears, learned the importance of true vulnerability, and gained friendships that continue to guide and inspire me to this day.
In those seasons, sometimes we need to simply sit back and open our hearts up to what others may see in us. They may, indeed, perceive what we need better than we can.
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