That time I banned Mark from support group

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?

Thanks.

**********

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?

 

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23 thoughts on “That time I banned Mark from support group

  1. Mike has only been to one support group. He was never “banned’ per say, but I just don’t think it benefits him to talk about our problems with others that he doesn’t know. It’s strange really, because it’s like the ONE thing that benefits me. Talking about her with anyone and everyone. The “grieving differently” thing truly ringing…well, true.

    It’s difficult to know what one needs to hear, in a room of people with different experiences and timeframes. I’m so glad Mark was there, and I’m so glad you were, (and are) and I’m so glad that maybe he’ll be back someday (even if it’s in five years). I have gained so much from knowing (and listening to) you both.

    And what he said that day was totally, “bog-worthy”. Obvi. xo.

    Love,
    Nora

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s funny that I had to “ban” him. He actually really enjoys many of the people he’s met (including you, obvy), and he’s often jealous of our coffee dates. He’s big on talking, and I think likes support, but, maybe like Mike, the group situation comprised of a few too many strangers changes things a bit for him, and I can just see him going into fix-it mode, which makes me so nervous (and which is also so funny, because he doesn’t really do that to me, or in small group settings). I think he’ll be back someday, maybe even before five years. That is, if his work schedule slows down. Granted, we’ll be having another prep-conversation before he returns 😉

      And, yes, it’s funny. I continue to find support group very helpful – men and women can be very opposite.

      AND, I edited my post to link to you blog post – Two Hour People 🙂

      Xoxo,
      Christine

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  2. A really fascinating and thought provoking piece, thank you. We have not attended a group, mainly we felt unable to cope with other people’s grief in the early days and felt we would indeed wallow and become overwhelmed. As it happened we were fortunate to be offered the support of a clinical psychologist who is attached to our neonatal unit and had very regular sessions with her from day 1. We are fortunate, she was excellent and provided a place to share our raw grief as well as frankly keep an eye on our sanity. She was also able to recognise the symptoms of PTSD early in my husband and provide good support to him. To answer your point about grieving differently – I think the answer is absolutely yes. Like you I was sure we would be the same, but how wrong I was. I don’t know if it’s gender related all the time but very broadly I think it is and our psychologist and subsequently the counsellor we now see say that is their observation too. Men need to fix things, women just need to be listened to sometimes. It can be hard to grieve differently but it’s great you recognise it and don’t fall into the trap of telling each other they aren’t ‘doing it right’. Sorry, that was long!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could totally see how it’d seem overwhelming to cope with everyone else’s grief in the early days. Maybe that was part of our problem when we attended. I honestly think we were both so rattled, how could we have expected it to go well? There was just so much stress and exhaustion involved. I am so thankful you’ve found what sounds to be an excellent clinical psychologist though – the fact that she’s such a good fit with your personalities makes all the difference in the world, I’m sure. Interesting that some of our experiences have been so similar – thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So great that you wrote this, especially because your husband ok’d your post. I am sorry for your loss. Bet is was therapeutic to write. I have never been to a support group, but I am getting close to possibly going to one in order to confront mental illness. Maybe it’ll help me? I know writing about it does.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have lost count regarding how many times we were warned that men and women grieve differently. I think hearing it so often made it easier to accept when in our case, it proved to be true. Like your Mark, mine is a doer and a fixer. He wants to find the positives and hold on to them, he has hope and optimism, but his grief is just as real and heartbreaking. At first I wanted to resent his ability to seemingly “do all the normal things” after Larkin died, but I quickly realized being able to do those things didn’t negate his grief or pain.

    You have such a gift for writing about your experiences, and the great support debacle is no exception. So yay for promise keeping, and thanks for sharing despite the anxiety it caused. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My husband has never gone to group. He would be super uncomfortable and when he gets that way he makes stupid jokes and doesn’t think before be talks. That being said, he totally would have gone with me that day in July, but lucky for him a girl named Nora invited me to go with her. Since I was going “with” someone, he felt better about sending me on my own. Also lucky for him, he works late on Wednesdays. I don’t think he will ever go and I’m okay with that. We grieve completely differently and by differently I mean I wonder if he grieves at all. He tries so hard to be strong for me and Carter, which has to be exhausting, especially in those early days.

    I didn’t think anything odd about Mark that day in September. 😀 I would have never know you guys had a blow out on the way home! And if he ever does come back, I’ll be sure to forget about this post. 😉

    Love and hugs to you both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank God for Nora (and for you and many others). I think Mark’s fine with me going alone too, because he knows I’ve found some good people. Though he may return at some point… I agree that so many times, men try to be so strong. I really think they’re grieving, but they, in general, do not always show it as much – that is for sure.

      I am glad you didn’t think anything odd. I’ll admit, I was being extremely sensitive that day. I was already stressed and on edge. And, in my defense, it is a VERY real possibility that at any given moment Mark could take the floor to discuss aforementioned topics :), which might be okay, but it might not be, depending on who’s there (and the group’s always quite unpredictable).

      Sending you many hugs. XOXO

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  6. I have not been to a support group, boondocks living is not helpful in that arena. We were warned, by a kind and caring nurse after our first loss, of the differences every person, and couple, together and separately grieve, to respect the other’s version, even if it’s different than what we are experiencing. I appreciate that warning.
    I don’t know if our differences are because of gender, the fact that he is well versed in losing a plethora of people who were very very important to him throughout his life, or if our Crazy just takes different shapes.
    We have had conflicts, quite honestly none I can recount without putting a he was completely fucking wrong spin on it, but at this point right now, we are in a very accepting space in both directions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When we lived in WI, we both attended a support group that met monthly. It was equally open to moms and dads. After we had our first rainbow, we would alternate each month who attended. Eventually, my husband didn’t feel as strong a need to attend, so I was the primary attender. Starting prior to our move, and continuing to present, the loss community where we used to live has become very mom-focused. While support group is still open to moms and dads, a lot of the off-shoot groups are ONLY women, which infuriates me, but I won’t get on my soapbox about sexism in the loss community here. I’ll just state that the public gives dads the message that they are supposed to be strong for the women, non-emotional so that the women can be, and they aren’t supposed to talk about anything. So, if this is the message dads are receiving, why would they want to open up and become vulnerable. END RANT. I think that each and every person grieves differently, regardless of gender. In some ways, my husband grieves similar to other moms at group and I grieve like some of the dads. And visa versa. Every person is unique, but we share similarities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brianna, Thanks for your comment. I’m so sorry your local loss community is so mom-focused. That infuriates me too. I feel the more all-inclusive it can be, the better. You make a very interesting point too – I think society ingrains certain messages from such a young age that they’re often difficult to overcome, even though these messages are NOT actually beneficial to anyone and their healing journey. I often wonder if Mark would benefit more from group if it was more well-attended by men (which would only be possible if there weren’t these messages out there so more men felt comfortable attending). It’s like a vicious circle. xoxo

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  8. Gender absolutely makes a difference in grief. Women are honest, bold, unafraid to appear broken and thrive off of sharing emotions—men tend to grieve alone and often refuse to address emotional pain publicly. I think men really believe that they are expected to fix broken things so they hurry to convince themselves and others that things are on the mend, but duck tape and rubber bands won’t make lasting repairs. Men don’t even realize they’re pretending, they naturally suppress that which makes them feel weak. Men often take on crusades to busy their minds and leave little room for having to think about the loss. For me personally, I wouldn’t share the awful things I experienced with my wife because I honestly didn’t want to think about it, and I thought I was protecting her from the nightmare. I thought I was doing the right thing. It took me a few years to realize my mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting. I can definitely see some of what you said in Mark, though he is okay about letting himself break down every so often, which I think is healthy. He has definitely “taken on a crusade” or two as well, which I also view as a positive.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I really enjoyed your post and could definitely identify. I’m glad you were able to share this and also get past it between the two of you.

    Reading your experience reminds me of some I’ve had regarding the differences between genders and the way we react to each other. Which in turn brings to my mind a little episode my cousin Irene went through. Maybe it’ll give you a chuckle. (I’m safe telling this; she’s computer-illiterate.)

    My cousin called me up one day fuming about her latest boyfriend. (Irene was 70-ish and still going through men one after the other.)

    She: “He said we’ve been together for a year and a half already. But that’s not true! We haven’t been going together that long. Why is he lying to me? Maybe I should drop him; I can’t trust him if he’s going to lie to me.?

    Me: Well, how long have you been going together?

    She: “As near as I can figure it out, we’ve only been going together for eighteen months.”

    After I got done explaining to her that eighteen months IS a year and a half, and laughing about it after I hung up, I had to admit my husband and I have gone through too many arguments over the years where we are in fact saying exactly the same thing — but we’re stating it differently. When we get down to the basics, we WERE on the same page in our thinking but our way of expressing ourselves is different.

    By and large men are fixers. It’s the way their minds are wired. Sometimes you wish they’d just listen and not keep proposing solutions! But fix-it men have invented things and solved many of the world’s problems over the years, too.

    I tend to agree with your husband: there’s a time to share feelings, but it doesn’t pay to keep on picking at scabs. There is a time to accept what is and let it heal over. I feel we’ve become a society too obsessed with “how I feel” and if we’re for sure handling issues well. Some people get trapped for years—decades even—focusing on their pain.

    And by the way, my sympathies on your loss. I’m just popping in and haven’t got the whole story, but I’ve had some losses too and know it isn’t easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christine, Thank you so much for reading and for commenting! I am so sorry for the losses you’ve suffered in your life. Loss is never easy. Thank you for your story about Irene – the year and a half vs. 18 months gave me a good laugh, which I needed.

      While I still think there’s some value to processing your feelings, at least in the earliest days, I totally agree with you that, at some point, processing could lose it’s value. Turn into over-processing perhaps?

      I actually love Mark’s fix it mentality! But the last thing I’d want was for him to offend someone, which I thought was a real possibility in such a space of sensitivity. And I was hoping he would just do the “feel your feelings” type thing for at least one meeting – but nope. I agree – this world needs fixers – fixers indeed do extraordinary things.

      Thanks so much again for your comment! xoxo

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