A Pseudo Intellectual Goes to Grief Class

Let the story begin…

Strong and Independent

I don’t do circles. I don’t sit in circles and share. I develop strategies, implement, pivot when required and, more often than not, I succeed.  I am a competent woman who has held responsible positions in the workplace.  I am disciplined and analytical. This is how my life works.

Besides I do not need to get in touch with my feelings.  I already know how I’m feeling (sadder than I ever thought was possible).  Sitting in a circle and playing the ‘woe is me’ card is, definitely, not for me.

The Conundrum

The problem is I’m spending my days wandering aimlessly around my house, only meeting up with friends who bother to call and invite me out.  I also spend a lot of time crying (of course) and watching television at all hours of the night.  Why at all hours of the night? Because I am afraid to go to sleep. Why am I afraid to go to sleep? Because every time I wake up, I am stuck in the same damm nightmare. And for the life of me, even when I’m able to implement part of my ‘plan’ to rebuild without my husband, I don’t feel any better. Sometimes I even feel worse.

The Power of Story

The OT (occupational therapist) who worked with my husband came to the house yesterday to pick up a piece of equipment she’d loaned to him.  As she was leaving, she turned in the doorway and nodded her head ever so slightly.  She gave me the once over.

“When my sister died, I was really angry.” She began. “She was a mom and in her forties.” She shook her head from side to side, her eyes shifted momentarily to the floor before coming back to confront mine.  “Someone suggested I try going to grief class.  They said it was kind of like school,” she deadpanned. “I like school,” she continued. “I’m good at it so I thought why not give it a try.” She paused again and exhaled, sighing as one does when accepting difficult realities. “It helped. You might want to look into doing something like that.” It was the first time someone had suggested something of this nature. Up until then I had no idea such a beast existed.

It turns out the funeral home I’d ‘used‘ offers their clients these types of classes for free as part of their services. “Maybe it will be alright. Maybe learning from someone who knows about this loss thing would help. I like learning. I’m good at school. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.” I am a wee bit hopeful.  I register and decide to go. “Besides” I tell myself, “I can always leave if it’s not for me.”

Welcome to Grief Class 101

Grief class is a place where you sit in a circle.  “I did not sign up for this.” My mind repeats ad nauseam. Everything within me moves into a state of high alert. But I am wrong. Yes, grief class is a place where you sit in a circle but more importantly, it is a place where a professional grief counsellor teaches you about some of the far-out things that losing someone you love does to your brain, your heart, your sleep, your body, your friends, your inability to function AND THAT IT’S NORMAL.  Who knew?  Not me.

The first really important thing I learn at grief class is that during the grieving process the intellectual or thinking part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) is ‘underactive.’ This makes decision making difficult and impacts one’s ability to accurately assess a situation.  In my case, it feels like the ol’ prefrontal cortex – the place from where I’ve been making incredibly difficult decisions for years now, has ceased to exist. Poof! Gone. To where, I have no idea.

I’d realized this had happened about a month before my first grief class.  I remember whispering to a friend over the phone “I think my brain is working at like 30% capacity. What’s worse is that I have no idea where it was at last week.”  It’s funny that we sometimes whisper when we’re afraid to reveal some dreaded fact as if doing so might make it less true or at least go away. After some discussion we concluded that my brain was, like the rest of me, just tired and needed a rest.  More than likely, he suggested this possibility and I took solace in it. It sounded both reasonable and held out the promise of hope.

Fortunately, his guess was a good one. However, it was only part of the truth.  I HAD TO GO TO GRIEF CLASS TO LEARN THE GREATER TRUTH. The loss of a loved does weird things to your brain physiologically. This tiny yet monumental piece of information helped me feel so much better. This is normal. I am normal. I am not losing it. There is hope. I don’t need to whisper about this anymore.


Let’s talk, you and me

Maybe you’re thinking “still sounds pretty awful.” Well… grief is pretty awful and sometimes grief class is also pretty awful but mostly it’s brilliant.

Grief class is a place where between lessons the heart broken still laugh at life’s idiosyncrasies.  It’s a place to meet others having a similar bewildering life experience and to share stories.  For me, simply knowing that I was not the only one living this odd existence was incredibly helpful.Listening to another’s story made me feel less alone- a part of a club I’d never intended to be part of.

Grief class is also a safe place.  There are rules. Just like at fight club, what happens at grief class stays at grief class. This makes it possible to start re-learning how to trust.

One More Reality

If for no other reason grief class is worth checking out as it shows those who are grieving that regardless of how many letters there are behind one’s name, that the only brain in the room that is functioning belongs to the facilitator.  Though frightening, turns out this is an opportunity to let go of the charade to that everything is okay and allow someone familiar with the terrain lead.

Till next time,

Stay well,


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