Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Group Grief

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Group Grief

Article excerpt

In the elevator going down from the 17th floor everyone is crying. My Bereavement Support Group has just let out. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York runs two groups: one is for adults whose parents have died, the other is for adults whose life partner or spouse has died. My group meets one evening a week for an hour and a half. It lasts eight weeks and is free. According to an article in this December's Harvard Women's Health Watch letter, I am among the one million Americans who have lost a spouse this year.

I. Sharing Our Stories

There are seven of us in the group-five women, two men, plus the bereavement counselor, Sally. Each session has a theme. The first thing Sally asks us to do is write our spouse's name on a little stone with a magic marker; I write: Edward, the last d does not quite fit on the stone: Edwar. Then Sally tells us to shut our eyes, put our feet flat on the floor-we are sitting-our hands, palms up on our thighs, and breathe deeply. I do yoga and I know about breathing exercises (instead of making me relax they make me anxious, most of the time I can't tell whether I am inhaling or exhaling), nevertheless I try to inhale deeply through my nose and exhale through my mouth. Afterward we go around the table and each one of us has a chance to tell his or her story.

Fred, who is a dapper, chatty, white-haired man in, I guess, his mid-seventies and who sits on my right, begins. Fred was married for fifty-four years, and one of the hardest things for him now, he says, is having to shop and cook for himself. He starts to say that something else is hard, but he starts to cry and cannot go on.

Amy goes next. She is an African American in her late forties, the youngest in the group. She wears large gold hoop earrings which she touches and twirls nervously. Amy tells how her husband, Johnny, was on dialysis and sick for a long time. She says that although she knew Johnny was going to die, she was not prepared for how she felt after he did. She has panic attacks, she cannot sleep or eat, her heart beats too fast; only her daughter whom she looks after keeps her from jumping out of the window.

Next is Florence, an older, heavy-set woman, also an African American. Florence has a quiet dignity. She tells how she was cooking supper for her husband the way she always did, only that night it happened to be his favorite meal-fish cakes, sweet potatoes and green beans-and how her husband, also called Johnny, told her he was just going to run to the corner for a minute and buy a lotto ticket, and then she tells how she waited and waited for him, supper getting cold and getting spoilt, and after an hour and a half had gone by, the telephone rang and it was a call from Bellevue Hospital saying her husband had been hit by a bicycle and was in the emergency room. Her husband underwent several operations but he never fully recovered. Her husband, who was six feet five inches, a big man, deteriorated horribly, Florence said; he no longer looked or acted like himself, nor was he able to care for himself. After her husband died, Florence, like Amy, could not eat or sleep; eventually she had to take antidepressants; and although she feels calmer now, the feelings of grief and loss remain.

Sue, a Korean-American woman, starts out by saying how all their lives she and her husband worked hard; how they saved their money in order to give their three children an education and how this year, finally, their youngest son who is twenty-three years old got a job and Sue and her husband could stop sending him money. Sue and her husband were looking forward to spending the money on themselves, giving themselves some small -small, she repeats the word-pleasures, like ballroom dancing lessons. Sue is a tidy-looking woman with short dark hair; 1 guess, she is in her late fifties or early sixties-about my age; I am sixtyfour. Then her husband got sick, Sue says. A tumor on his kidney was removed, he had chemotherapy, the cancer did not appear to have spread-Sue speaks matter-of-factly; she and her husband were able to resume the ballroom dancing lessons. …

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