Friday, August 19, 2011

Grief: We Gravitate Toward People Who Do It The Same Way We Do


I recently posted an article on the Widow Chick Facebook page about men seeking out gender specific bereavement groups because they feel they grieve differently.  Well...of course they do!  I can’t understand the need to go out and buy a muscle car after the death of a spouse (as some of my widower friends have done).  And I can almost guarantee that they probably didn’t go through the same purse obsession that I did right after my husband died. 

I can’t explain it.  It just happened.

I kind of agree with this article and I kind of don’t.  I mean, I’m guessing that I would get a more understanding nod of the head sitting with women during group therapy than I would with a group of men.  Let’s face it:  They just don’t “get it” (the need for the perfect purse, I mean).

But the truth is...I don’t think it’s necessarily gender specific.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Grieving is like parenting.  We gravitate toward people who do it the same way we do.

Think about it.  Many of us became parents right around the same time our friends did.  And before we had that first kid, we had visions of BBQs every Sunday, constant playdates, and our children marrying and having a son or daughter-in-law that we practically raised.

But then the kids became toddlers and we noticed that our friends really didn’t care if their child spilled chocolate milk all over our carpet.  They didn’t believe in time-outs and felt that discipline would diminish their child’s creativity.  They watched with delight while their child weaved in and out of the waiter’s legs at a restaurant as we cringed and swore we would never go out in public with them again.

Soon, we started seeing less and less of each other and your dream of their child becoming your in-law became more of a nightmare.

It’s the same process with grieving.

I think, for many people who haven’t had a significant loss, they assume that grief binds us all together...especially if we’ve had the same kind of loss.  And it does in a certain way.  Like giving birth...we can all commiserate with the pain of how it all came about.

But sometimes...that’s where our similarities end.

Some are desperate to take control of their lives after loss, while others have had enough and just wait for life to happen.  Some are ready to date after 6 months and some can’t think about it after 6 years.  Some are exhausted.  Some can’t stop moving.  Some need to be with people all the time.  Some need to be alone. 

And just because your husband died in an accident doesn’t always mean that you are going to relate to someone else who experienced a sudden loss (I think in the beginning we assume that is an important criteria for a supportive friendship when really it’s just a piece of the puzzle).  Someone who experienced a suicide may really hit it off with someone whose spouse died after a long illness.

The truth is, there are so many individual ways that we go about this experience...it’s really hard to find someone else who goes through it the same way.  And when I think about my close widowed friends right after my husband died...many of them were actually widowers.  Because we grieved the same way.

I think that’s part of the reason why so many people reach out in the online community.  When I started thinking about theWiddahood.com, I said that I wanted it to have the structure of online dating...but for it to be a support website.  Meaning:  I wanted people to be able to search based on certain criteria and “try each other out” virtually so that they could then take the next steps they needed to find what could be the one person who truly understands what they’re going through and how they grieve.

I know for a fact that so many of you go through the same thing I do:  When someone hears about the loss of a spouse, they immediately call you and tell you that you need to get in contact with them or that they gave that friend your information.  And honestly...I have no problem with that.  But in the last 4 years I’ve learned that the bond of “widowhood” isn’t the only bond that counts.  And while I’m happy to talk with them, listen to what they’re going through, and commiserate...I may not be their “go to” person in the future.

And that’s okay.

I’ve said to people many times, “You can give out my information, but I many not be the friend they need right now.  It depends on the person.  And depending on where they are...they may not be ready for my friendship.”

I mean...they may not even want to acknowledge that they’re a widow yet, much less talk to some crazy woman who’s been at it for 4 years.

I’m sure that many of us have learned the hard way that just because someone has experienced something similar, they may not be our new best friend.  It’s like going out on a first date:  You’re so hopeful that this could be “the one” and when you get there...the chemistry just ain’t right.  Finding the right support has a lot of trial and error involved.  But when you find it...it’s something that will forever change you, your life, and how you help others.

And let’s face it.

The right support is the right support, no matter what we’ve all experienced.

 If it’s done well...the details really shouldn’t even matter.


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