Last week I texted with an out-of-town loss mom friend, and we vowed to meet in person one day. Because we’d love to meet. And we’d love for our husbands to meet. One reason being neither of our husbands attend support group. Hers has never attended. And Mark attended just once, which I told her there’s a story behind.
So she told me to write the story. Which I did. (Because I’m a promise-keeper, damn it.) And now I’m experiencing anxiety about posting it, because perhaps it makes us look dysfunctional, or it portrays me as the controlling bitch I’m NOT. But Mark read this, and he’s fine with it. And I worked too effing hard on it to scrap it. And I think it illustrates how men and women might grieve differently and how partners might fight during times of extreme stress and exhaustion resulting from grief. So here goes…
When someone first warned me Mark and I’d grieve differently, I thought, “Ha. Not us. We’re totally the same person (kind of).”
Though I quickly realized that while we often grieve and process alike, we also differ in a few ways – one being support group, which, to be fair, may be unrelated to gender (though the facilitator explained men often don’t attend her group as frequently as women for whatever reason) and more related to Mark and I being unique individuals. Because, certainly, some women don’t benefit from support group, while some men benefit greatly. And there’s no right or wrong.
But, anyway, our hospital holds support group for bereaved parents once per month. September’s meeting was the first we attended. And September’s meeting was the last Mark attended.
Because, after September’s meeting, we got into a fight. It started in the parking lot (with us power-walking through the rain, whisper-yelling, forearms flailing, as if attempting to swat imaginary swarms of horse flies). It continued through our drive home (with us not-whisper-yelling). It extended through the wee hours of the morning (with me giving Mark the silent treatment as I angrily texted a friend nice enough to commiserate with me). And it ended the next morning (with apologies).
I’d looked forward to September’s meeting, because I craved in-person support. And, although I knew in advance the meeting would include fewer men, I wasn’t concerned. I knew if I needed support, Mark must too. So I informed Mark he’d be attending with me. And he readily obliged.
And I didn’t give it another thought – that it might not go well. Mark’s sweet and sensitive and likeable and feels comfortable sharing his thoughts and feelings, while others often feel comfortable sharing with him. So much so Mark’s practically a magnet for hearing others’ deepest secrets – strangers or acquaintances often spill to him about family skeletons and financial struggles and impending divorces and infidelity and losses and medical diagnoses. It’s strange, really.
So I had damn good reason to believe Mark would survive, and maybe thrive, in support group – in a room full of people sharing their feelings.
Though I had two concerns – Mark’s passionate, outgoing personality and his fix-it mentality. So, prior to the meeting, I reminded him, “This is our first meeting. Let’s stay quiet and see how it goes. You can follow my lead.” And, I advised, “Under no circumstances should you mention Dr. Collins.”
To be clear, I’m one of Dr. Collins’ biggest fans. I just aimed to eliminate one tiny risk – that Mark would take the floor to discuss his passion for promoting research and awareness and education as well as quote statistics related to stillbirth and also regurgitate all the information he’d learned from Dr. Collins about umbilical cord accidents (a shit-ton), at which point, I envisioned another bereaved parent, not as interested in/ready for this information growing even further upset/overwhelmed by all Mark had to offer. And, to me, the notion of “support group” seemed more feelings-oriented anyway.
So Mark asked, “Not even if it seems someone could really benefit from hearing about Dr. Collins?”
To which I replied, “No.”
To which Mark pushed, “What if someone expresses frustration over being unable to find information on umbilical cord accidents?” (Didn’t happen.)
To which I replied, “Well, then it might be okay…”
So here’s some notes on September’s meeting…
About 25 people attended (more than usual).
Before the meeting, we received a list of “rules”, one being, “Don’t mention names of doctors.”
The meeting, for the most part, progressed as expected. As requested, Mark remained fairly quiet.
Though mid-way through the two-hour meeting, Mark began interjecting more often, beginning to reveal his fix-it mentality. He offered what seemed (to me) like subtly-solution-oriented words (resembling advice – ahhhhh!), which made me nervous he might piss someone off. (Because I thought support group was more about saying, “I struggle with this too. I’ve found XYZ works for me.”)
At some point, Mark leaned over and whispered, “Should I talk about Dr. Collins?” to which I whisper-yelled back, “No!!!”
When the meeting adjourned, someone across the table asked Mark, “Who was your doctor?” (During the meeting we mentioned we’d been pleased with our care.) I nudged Mark, reminding him of the rules. But the asker reassured him, “It’s okay – the meeting’s over.” So Mark and some others talked about our doctors, their doctors, other doctors, Dr. Collins, and statistics (which felt okay, because they all seemed into it). But I kind of envisioned this as almost out of a movie – like after the sex addicts anonymous meeting, half the attendees are breaking the rules, getting it on in the parking lot.
I headed towards the facilitator and some friends I’d met prior. And Mark eventually joined our conversation. The facilitator asked me, “Are you doing any better at work?” So I started explaining my struggles. Though Mark quickly interrupted – to explain how well I was doing. So I shot Mark an irritated look and reiterated how much I was struggling. Though, again, Mark insisted I was indeed doing quite well, and, while he was at it, explained he too was doing quite well at work.
So, all these things resulted in my huge meltdown and our fight, which resembled some version of the following (repeatedly)…
C – What was that all about?!?
M – What?
C – You!!! What is your problem?!?
M – What do you mean?
C – Here I am, sharing my work struggles, and you’re like, “Oh, she’s doing sooooo well,” when you know damn well I’m not doing well. You made me look like an idiot! I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life!!!
M – I was just trying to be positive.
C – Support group isn’t about being positive. It’s about being HONEST! Do you really think I’m doing well?!
M – Not really.
C – Then why’d you insist I was?
M – I guess I wanted to give people hope.
C – But it’s only been eight weeks. We aren’t the fucking beacons of hope. We need support!!!
M – But what about hope?
C – Well some people did give hope. The ones several years into this. Don’t you remember?
M – I guess. But you never give yourself enough credit.
C – But it’s not about giving myself credit. I was trying to honestly answer a question!
M – But I don’t know if it’s productive to wallow.
C – It’s not wallowing. It’s called sharing your feelings. And it’s the point of support group!!! And you’re doing sooooo well at work too? Really?
M – You know I struggle almost as much as you do.
C – I know. So why’d you pretend you’re doing so well?
M – Like I said, I wanted to give people hope.
C – But you don’t have to give people hope. That’s not the point.
M – Then what’s the point?
C – Support group is a safe place. Where people can share their struggles with others who’ve been there. The point’s not always to give hope or come up with solutions. But I could just see you… About to boil over with all your solutions! Fixing everyone and everything in your mind!!!
M – But I’m a fixer.
C – But people don’t come to be fixed. They come to share with others who’ll listen. And not all problems can be fixed! You’re going to piss someone off!
M – But I didn’t piss anyone off. Did I?
C – No. But it’s only a matter of time.
M – But I don’t think it’s healthy to just talk about problems and never solve them.
C – But verbalizing problems IS healthy.
M – Even if you never solve them?
C – Yes. It’s good to process them. And why the hell did you ask me if you should talk about Dr. Collins? Didn’t we discuss this?!?
M – I thought people might benefit.
C – But it wasn’t the time or place.
M – I wanted to provide information.
C – I don’t think you understand the point of support group.
M – I guess I don’t.
C – You definitely don’t. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. You’re never coming back. Ever. You’re banned. I’ll go back. Because I benefited from it. Sorry I forced you to go.
M – That’s fine. I don’t want to go.
C – Good. Maybe in five years you can come back and be that freaking ray of sunshine.
M – Maybe so.
So, there you have it – our support group debacle. But we forgave quickly. And now we chuckle about it.
Especially because, soon after, a fellow attendee mentioned Mark in her blog. Apparently he’d said something especially thought-provoking that night. And it all proved I might’ve overreacted thinking Mark had pissed someone off. Rather, he’d provided blog-worthy insight. Who knew?
But, four months later, I continue to attend support group alone. Though, I’ve lifted the ban, invited Mark back even, yet he remains adamant it isn’t for him. He explains it doesn’t benefit him as much as it does me. And he agrees he still doesn’t really understand it.
So Mark continues to grieve in other ways. Sometimes similarly to me. Sometimes differently. He serves on the board of Star Legacy Foundation, exercises, focuses on work, visits Matthew’s grave, and cries on my shoulder when necessary. (Though, most the time, I cry on his.)
So maybe it’ll be good for Mark to meet this other bereaved father someday. Or maybe a season will come when Mark returns to support group. When/if this season comes, if you’re from our support group, could you pretend you didn’t read this? So it’s less awkward?
Do you and your significant other attend support group? What other things does your significant other do to help process his/her grief? Do you think the differences in the ways you grieve relate to gender?