From Strangers To Forever Friends

By: Jennifer Haake

I think the general perception of support groups is what we typically see in movies.  A group of people sitting in a circle looking so sad.  I remember walking into my very first support group meeting after we lost Charlie.  It was about a month after he died.  I was still in utter shock and disbelief.  His sisters had just gotten home from the NICU and I was in a daze.  I walked in and saw these people standing around looking happy and laughing! I thought… what in the *insert expletive*?!  How can these people possible be happy?  How are they not crying and throwing chairs across the room?  Then it was time for the meeting to begin.  Immediately the room turned serious and calm. My heart raced.  My palms were sweaty.  I was almost ready for hysteria.  And then it began.  During that first meeting, and every meeting that followed, we shared our children.  We shared our stories and how or what we were feeling.

In a room of strangers, I found solace.

I cried.  Oh, I cried so hard that first meeting.  I could barely share what had happened.  When I finally did, the sharing continued around the table.  The thing was, every person at that table shared a similar story to mine. They all had been pregnant and didn’t leave with their baby. Some, like me, were at the very beginning of their story.  Others, like Tom and Abby, were a few years out and were the mentors of the group.  A wonderful NICU nurse named Nancy sat with us and offered support.  It was Nancy who first told me about the group and encouraged me to attend.  She said “just give it a couple meetings and see if it is for you.”  After awhile, I looked forward to those meetings.  I looked forward to the validation that I was, in fact, not losing my mind.  That the gamut of emotions I was feeling was normal.  These people shared in my joy and in my sorrow.  They made me feel so much less alone.  They made me feel less like a failure.

Any bereaved parent will tell you that the first year is sheer hell.

Navigating all of these intense feelings is difficult in the best of situations. You feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde most of the time.  There is no rhyme or reason to how you feel or react on any given day.  Grief is not linear and often you go back and forth, and all around, and end up at the beginning again.  Each first and every milestone you miss drops you off in some alternate universe.

They get it.  The people around the table get it.

I was part of that support group for 3 years, and only stopped because we moved 500 miles away.  My grief journey improved dramatically because of the people around that table.  I owe so much of my healing to Tom, Abby, Nancy, and a few other constants in that group.  I still consider them my friends.  I firmly believe that those you share that experience with from the very beginning are yours forever.  They held me up at my worst.  They provided me with comfort when I needed it most.  And they assured me that my out of control anger was normal.
If you are at the very beginning of your grief journey, I highly recommend you find a support group. Use these links to find about more about the Share Online Support Groups and locate Support Near You. To quote my dear Nancy, “just give it a couple meetings and see if it is for you.”

About Jennifer Haake
Derek and Jennifer Haake are proud parents of three daughters and one son.  They have been happily married for almost 15 years. You can often find them and their daughters rooting for the Cardinals and the Blues.  They both want nothing more than to share their story and help others. Derek, serves on the Board of Directors of Share, while Jennifer volunteers and is a parent companion for Share.

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