On Grieving and Dating

It's only going out for a little conversation and ice cream . . .

It’s only going out for a little conversation and ice cream . . .

Our Grief Support Group Guideline #15 warns, Members shouldn’t date other members while participating in the support group.

Dating?

That’s not the precise language, but it’s close. As a grief support group leader at a hospice, I spend the first session on mundane tasks like: making sure confidentiality forms are understood and signed; having members respond in writing about their expectations; and—like the dullest of college professors—reading aloud every single do and don’t in the group guidelines.

  • We do want them to silence all electronic devices.
  • We don’t want anyone to dominate the conversations.
  • We do desire confidentiality.
  • We don’t want anyone taking recreational drugs.
  • We do want group members to let us know if they’ll miss a session.
  • We don’t want them to do any dating.

There are more guidelines than these, but you get the idea.

Groups in other agencies may have different, more, or less guidelines. And I’d bet those agencies have added or modified their original guidelines. While confidentiality has likely always been at the top of any group’s “rules,” what about silencing electronic devices? Who had concerns about that in the 1980s! Group guidelines, in the age of the Internet and social media, continue to evolve.

Our list of guidelines didn’t always include #15, but it was added to make sure participants felt safe and comfortable.

Melpomene inspired the tragic "mask."

Melpomene inspired the tragic “mask.”

When I share #15, the reactions are predictable. Members mutter “No way,” shake their heads, and even nervously laugh. Laughter is rare for a new group of grieving strangers. These are people struggling with a beloved’s death. They are roiling with unpredictable emotions. Some can’t or won’t cry, their faces like the mask of Melpomene, the Greek goddess of tragedy. Or they are forever crying, a flood zone of anguish.

And then I mention dating.

Dating! Are you kidding!

But remember, this is a weekly support group that meets for months. After sharing confidences and learning others have faced similar positive or negative experiences, bonds will form. Everyone may be hurting, but they are also human. The stranger beside you in the opening session may become a compassionate new friend by the 5th or 8th session. And in today’s world, regardless of a participant’s age or finances or zip code, these new friends can phone, text, email, IM, join Facebook or Twitter . . . and more. They can chat in the parking lot after the day’s session is over. They can also—oh, how simple—go out for coffee (or ice cream).

All of the ways to develop a relationship are “simple” . . . but for one or both individuals, things may not stay simple.

But in our groups, we ask: Please, don’t consider a relationship beyond the confidential, supportive ones found within the group members.

Why?

In a grief support group, people are wounded and vulnerable. Everyone needs time to heal.

But wait! You are only contacting a group member to be nice. It was just a friendly thanks-for-being-there-for-me text. It was just offering a cup of coffee and a listening ear. It was just a phone call to tell your new friend that you appreciated the story they told about their deceased child or spouse or parent in group today. It was just . . .

We all know one thing can lead to another. We all know we have no intention to hurt or pressure another. We all know that all we want is a little extra support.

But this mean group leader Larry says that we shouldn’t have much contact with others outside of the actual group meeting. What does he know! (Well, truthfully, I don’t know much . . . except about what I will keep repeating: people need time to heal.) The death of a child or spouse or parent or other loved one means people hurt like they’ve never hurt before. The person always in control hates that everything feels out of control. The easy-going, upbeat person wearies of the non-stop gloom. If another has observed a little of your worst in group sessions, and still wants to get to know you, then . . . hip-hip-hooray! What does it matter if you send her a friendly text? What does it matter if you meet him for a quick lunch?

Let group be a safe place, where your current mix of chaotic emotions aren’t further unsettled by another participant’s “innocent” overtures.

Does this mean no to new friendships?

That those grieving shouldn’t date until . . . well, when?

That the person wrestling with a loved one’s death will be stuck in the leaky lifeboat of her or his life, forever adrift in an endless sea of misery?

No.

If you want to develop new and possibly intimate friendships, that will come.

If you want to date with an openness to a serious relationship, that will come.*

circle-of-chairsBut during the group work—whether it’s for several sessions or covers months of weekly meetings—respect others need to . . . yes, heal. And respect your need to heal. You can’t hurry love, and you can’t hurry grief.

After these thoughts about groups and (not) dating, you may be someone that won’t join any group. You don’t like groups and/or don’t have the time and/or prefer to work things out on your own. But you still wonder about the “right” time after a death to consider a new relationship. As with so many things, I wish I had THE answer . . .

Everyone can find a hopeful story about someone that ignored the written or unwritten “rules” about taking time for healing—and everything worked out!

There are also an abundance of horror stories, where nothing worked out.

Nonetheless, waiting has value. Your healing, and helping others heal, matters.

 

*Writer (and my friend) Mark Liebenow has shared about his wife’s death and his own path of healing. His thoughts HERE about dating are helpful.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

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