Community can be a lifeline through grief. A friend of mine recently lost three significant family members very close together. What an overwhelming time.
Everyone responds to loss in a different way. When my father died in another province, after the funeral and all was done, I found myself at home in my still-new community, wanting to be around family (everyone else has a spouse), and needing support but not knowing where to turn. In a sense, I took it in stride. I have moved many times, within a town or city, within a region and between provinces. I am an old hat at managing loneliness and loss, right?
Wrong. This was a big one. And it built on other grief after a divorce and losing contact with step-children and their extended family, with whom I had shared five years. I still had not worked though that one. I withdrew and became depressed.
After another move, not so far away, I set out to find a therapist. I knew I needed to talk. Sessions with her helped me with some of it, but time came for me to move on. I found a systems oriented therapy group. Hearing other people’s stories helped me to open up and understand my life and self through a different lens.
Then my mother died. Another whopper. My older sister, who has lived in her community for quite a while, decided through Mom’s dying process and death that she wanted to reach out to the community and bring them in. Mom at times had felt isolated, especially in her last years and consented. She was open to growth and healing, but didn’t want people coming in the room. As my sisters and I sang to her, my older sister kept contact on Facebook asking for suggestions of songs. There were some wonderful surprises. Someone suggested “Embraceable You.” I don’t think I had ever heard that song in reference to my mother’s life. As I sang it, she, non-verbal by this time, turned her head to me and smiled broadly. It brought her such joy. I decided I was going to change my own way of caring for myself in my grief. First I invited in my Facebook community and there were more song suggestions. Once home, my choir’s next concert happened to include several songs where grief was an underlying theme. Boy, did I cry during the first rehearsal. It felt really good. I then sought out a grief support group.
Even just a few gatherings helped me. Knowing it was okay to speak about how I felt with others who understood and were sharing their own grief was so helpful. Every family is different and sometimes grief can be mixed in with other emotions and rather complex. I also went to an art therapy workshop around grieving. Working with images opened doors to other feelings, including hopes I had for my next gathering with my siblings.
In my music therapy practice, I have many clients who are in care facilities, some of whom rarely see their families. Many of them feel lonely and depressed. I use songs and improvised melodies to help support their emotional expression, as some of them no longer have use of many words. I also encourage them to share their feelings through playing simple instruments like the drum or xylophone. It can make such a difference for them.
At times when families are around, and at end of life, I am able to support the family through playing music that is important to them: maybe it has been part of their life together, or carries a message one would like to share with another. These are really special moments, and it is a real honor to be able to be there.
At the time of my mother’s death, I was working with one very special lady with dementia whose husband had died fairly recently. Family were concerned about her anxiety and her not understanding that he had died. Her room was full of mementos of their life together, including his art work. I shared a little about my mother’s passing. It helped her to be able to open to his death and her experience of feeling his presence in spirit. She relaxed. While I have been told by staff sometimes that residents do not want to talk about death, sometimes the residents are needing someone who is open to talking about it in order to express their feelings and come to terms with their loss.
My friend is reaching out to her community to help her through. That is what communities are for, after all.
Photo of Pamela with her dying mother by Béatrice Schuler.