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Journey out of grief

30 November, 1999

Bethany Bereavement Support Group is a parish-based ministry which aims to help and support those suffering any loss. The name Bethany recalls the visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha on the death of their brother Lazarus. In today’s world, it is not widely understood that the grieving process may be long and severe. Mary Brady ponits out that understanding the stages of grief can be helpful and reassuring.

My husband died after an illness of more than ten years duration. It began with Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion and ended in cancer.

During those years I felt I had already begun the grieving process, yet when he died, it was just as if I’d had no preparation at all. I simply couldn’t believe it had happened, that he was gone forever and that I would never again see, or hear, or talk to this man that I had loved and lived with for most of my life.

For weeks everything was unreal: I forgot things, I confused things, I couldn’t make the simplest decision, I couldn’t eat and I found it hard to sleep. And when I most needed it I couldn’t pray. I felt lost and adrift in a fog. My body was sore as if I had lost a layer of skin. And the journey out of this awful, overwhelming grief was like recovering from a serious illness.

In the early months everywhere I went, everything I saw or heard, stirred memories that set me back in a dark place of loss: music on the radio, a car that looked like his, seeing his name on letters that continued to come for him, or places we had walked together. And every day I woke to a feeling of anguish before I remembered why.

There were things that helped me cope with it: having people around me who cared, and who were willing to listen and allow me cry without trying to stop me, helped a lot. But after a few months my family and friends were upset by my endless tears and repetitions. They felt I should be recovering.

But for me the loss of my husband was a profound and life changing experience. Life had lost its meaning. All the things I took for granted were gone. It was like the turn of a kaleidoscope when the configuration changes.

Everything seemed the same but everything had changed forever. My beliefs, my certainties – my identity even – were in question. I had no answers to anything. It was like drifting in the dark on the open sea.

Then a friend told me about a group called Bethany which supports those who are grieving. I arrived at the Bethany meeting feeling that I was bleeding to death
from a deep wound that would never heal. But here I found I was not alone.

Listening to others sharing their grief, I was reassured to learn that others had experienced what I had. It was all right to feel despair and anguish, to feel anger and sadness, fear and confusion. I was not abnormal or going mad, and one day I would feel better. Above all, it was healing to cry. The meetings lessened my feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Initially a Bethany member came to my home once a week for months. She encouraged me to talk about my husband’s illness and death, and all the things I missed about him, and to cry and express my grief. She brought me things to read that she thought would help me, articles and poems written by people whose loved ones had died. They had gone through what I was going through and had survived, and this held out some hope for me; their journeys were similar to mine. She supported all my efforts to take steps to heal the wound, to visit and go places with friends, to help focus my attention outside myself, and allow the pain inside me to subside.

Two and a half years after my husband died, I walked some of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and my Bethany contact supported me in my preparations and drove me to the airport bus, singing hymns to keep up my spirits.

I had a need to collect myself, to do something that would help me know myself as a person who could survive alone, who could make decisions and begin a life that was meaningful. My Bethany supporter is now a valued friend and colleague.

Seven years later, I still miss my husband’s companionship and love, but I have now been able to do the Bethany training course so that I can, hopefully, help others as I have been helped, and this has been a big step in giving my life meaning.

The Bethany Bereavement Support Group is a Parish based ministry which aims to help and support those suffering any loss for as long as it takes. Mary’s story of her grief journey is one of such stories on our CD, The Grieving Journey. Elements of the process of grief, some music and a prayer for the bereaved are included.
Cost €12, including postage. The CD may be acquired by sending your name and address to: Bethany Bereavement Support Group, Rathfarnham Parish Centre, Willbrook Road, Dublin 14. Tel. 087-9905299. Web site www.bethany.ie 

This article first appeared in The Messenger (February 2009), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.