My network of friends and relatives had never experienced the death of a spouse at a young age and were doing the best that they could to support me in every way they knew how.
With no fault of theirs, I found that there were many questions and thoughts in my mind that I struggled to ask or share with them.
Because they had never experienced what I'm going through, I felt that they may not be able to relate and I also didn't want to put an additional burden on them.
I like to think that I am observant. They had good poker faces when they were with me but I found each time I asked a question, their deep sighs betrayed their poker faces.
I can't imagine what it must feel like to be helpless whilst sacrificially supporting someone grieving. I’ll like to pause for a moment to give a round of applause to all my grief heroes.
The death of a spouse whether anticipated or sudden can make you feel lonely or isolated.
I know what it feels like to be in the midst of an amazing network of friends and relatives and still feel like I have no one to turn to.
Over the years I've learned to prepare even if it means covering the basics of any new terrain that I find myself in.
Now, I find myself in the deepest dark tunnel of grief and it feels nothing has prepared me for this. It felt like I was sitting for an exam that wasn’t on the curriculum.
The torrent of questions flowed in like how water flows over rocks and other natural features of a river.
They felt like being on an adventurous Whitewater rafting course, which was extremely long, complex, and difficult.
With waves of emotions that are large and unavoidable accompanied by unannounced frequent drops, holes, and steep chutes.
I was hungry for answers, hungry for information to help me understand what is happening to me, what lies ahead, and how to navigate this uncharted water of my grief.
One of the major questions I had on my mind was, is there anyone else who has gone through a similar journey as me? Where are they? Can someone connect me with them?
I found night-time tormenting. It felt like a pulsating carnival of gloomy emotions mixed with adventurous Whitewater rafting type questions. There were times that I would pluck my hair and beard hoping that the questions would end.
Looking back now, I am grateful that I did not lose my mind.
I found the internet to be my best companion as most of the time, I felt that the answers I had received for the questions I was asking were not enough.
I am also grateful for the internet because I can’t imagine how someone who has a similar thirst for information survived before the era of information. I can’t imagine it.
There have been genuine offers of “call me anytime” from the close support network of family and relatives. I know they meant it.
You see my experience is that these questions arrived in such a manner that I felt they were urgent and had to be dealt with there and there so can you imagine me picking my phone to call you at 2:30 AM with passion-burning questions?
I couldn’t bring myself to it
I resolved to scour the internet for other people who've gone through a similar journey, just like when your phone or car key goes missing and you search frantically for it.
I wanted an insight into their journey, I wanted to know about their response to grief as well as their coping mechanism.
I read many personal and professional grief blogs, watched videos, listened to podcasts. The information helped me a great deal
I found a lot of information and found myself saying ‘YBH (Yes but how)’ to most of the information. I had more questions.
Now a third of my library is full of grief-related books. There was one night when I read a whole book cover to cover before sunrise.
I knew I was searching for something. I don't know what I was searching for but I knew I would know it when I found it.
It reminds me of a time in the early stages of our relationship when Chidinma and I went shopping for an outfit.
I can't remember what the event was but let’s agree on this occasion that it was an outfit for a wedding we were due to attend as guests.
I asked “Babey what type of outfit are you looking for?” to which she responded, “I like to wear a dress but I'm not too sure yet, can we go shopping together over the weekend?” and I said “How many stores are we likely to check?” she responded “maybe 2 or 3 max,”
I said “great, let’s go shopping.”
What I didn't know was how long finding ‘the’ dress was going to take.
I remember driving to the store and asked “babey how long do we intend to spend here?” she said, “not too long, we are only going to 2 – 3 stores.” I said, “ok, let’s go shopping oh la la la.”
Our shopping experience began on a high note. The first stop was snacks and milkshakes. We went into the stores. We would browse different isles and eventually end up at the dress section.
She would pick two or three. Try them on and I gave my feedback on which one I thought was better. We often found ourselves back at the same store as she compared and contrasted the outfits.
We had done this to what felt to me like we had seen 1000 stores! My excitement and energy had dropped significantly. All I could think of was “please can we go now? When is this shopping going to end?”
I began to drag my feet as I watched my excitement sprint towards impatience.
We had by now spent more than 3 hours. I remember as we were about to enter another store, I had made up my mind and preselected whichever dress she held in her right hand. I had had enough and wanted to leave.
I had many thoughts on my mind which included ‘should I tell her to carry on her outfit hunt on her own so that I could either a) explore other areas of interest on my own or b) go home and I’ll come back to pick her when she’s ready
Did I tell her? Nope! I stayed.
I was very tempted to tell her. I'm so glad that I didn't tell her. Why am I glad?
We did the usual browsing through the different shopping aisle. Remember, I had made up my mind to select the one on her right arm. We were now by the dress section and selected her top three, she came over and hugged me.
She rubbed her hand on my hair and said “Tolu, Biko,…… (said a few more words in Igbo and Yoruba) just a little more time. I will know when I find the dress and you will know that I know that I found the dress”
What did I do?
It felt like I had received the best massage in the world. I had been reset by her gentle beautiful words and touch.
You see what I mean by the girl has my mumu button! I was re-energised and ready to go again to the next store
I tell you when we eventually found the dress, I knew that was the dress without her even telling me that was a dress that she had chosen.
Okay back to the point
In addition to the blogs and the podcast, I particularly found being able to speak with an individual or a group of people who were on or had a similar journey liberating.
There were a lot of ‘ooh’, ‘ah-ah’ moments as the things they shared resonated with my experience.
I found that I was more open and freer with them. I no longer felt like I was the only one. I learned how they were also coping and adjusting to life after the death of their spouses.
On this next leg of the journey, what I intend to do is to offer this support to anyone who has found themselves on a similar grief journey. I intend to start a Bereavement Peer Support Group which will start on the 25th March 2021.
Coping with grief can be an impulsive experience
I know first-hand that it can be an overwhelming experience to deal with the grief caused by the loss of a spouse.
I have found talking about issues and concerns in my heart helpful and I would like to give you room to dialogue about anything you need on the day with other people on a similar journey.
The support group aims to create a safe space to share stories, experiences and receive mutual support amongst peers who have experienced a similar loss.
I thought of some questions to answer which may be on your mind about this bereavement peer support group.
You may be wondering, Tolu have you healed enough to be able to help someone who’s grieving the loss of a spouse?
Healing is an ongoing process. I know how relieved I felt when I began to find out that I wasn’t alone on this journey.
It felt like a heavy load had been lifted from my aching shoulders when I could say “me too” when I spoke with someone on a similar journey.
Is the support group only for those who have recently been bereaved?
There is no timeline for grief. The impact of bereavement continues for many years and some people may only be able to talk about it after many years.
You’re welcome to join this bereavement peer support group regardless of how short or long your bereavement has been.
Is the support group like a counselling session?
No. Think of this support group as a confidential and non-judgemental space where you are connecting with people with similar experiences with the same goal to support and share.
The support group isn’t a replacement for counselling or therapy if you need one.
Is a support group right for me?
Attending bereavement support groups isn’t right for everyone because we are all different and may not be ready to explore this option.
Why should you join this peer support group?
The death of a spouse can make you feel lonely or isolated. I know what it feels like to be in the midst of an amazing network of friends and relatives and still feel like I have no one to turn to.
I suppose this support group isn’t for everyone but only for those who would like to connect with people who have similar experiences for friendship, sharing coping strategies, and mutual support.
What will we talk about in the support group?
I don’t have all of this figured out yet, but the conversations will majorly be about sharing your story and experiences, how you’re feeling, and how we are learning to cope with grief.
The goal in my mind is that we feel more empowered and create a sense of community.
What if I don’t find the support group helpful?
You don’t have to stay or return if you don’t find the group helpful. But you may find it helpful further along in your bereavement journey.
Do I have to pay to attend this support group?
The support group is free to attend