The Group and Grief – Badly.


“I exist as I am, that is enough.” – Walt Whitman

Last week was the first time I attended my extensively prepared, staffed, and expensive Dialectical Behavioural Therapy Group with a heightened sense of emotion. Usually I have a bit of medication at the start of the half hour train journey to Derby, then relax before I have to walk past the awful-looking “Bubbles” Massage Parlour with its leopard print porch interior, towards the Hospital. There are people on the train, obviously. Some of them are ok, and some are dealing with their own demons, but apart from having the back of my seat kicked for fifteen minutes one time, there hasn’t been a need for reaction of any kind, or for any self-created problems.

Last week was different, though. Last week I drove there.

The morning of the Group I’d gone with my partner to sit next to the bed of a dying relative, a relative we liked/loved/cared about. The visit wasn’t a simple act of ‘doing the right thing’ when the prognosis got out. We didn’t feel like we had made a special effort, or any effort at all. The relative in question was old – 96 – and we’d been visiting her fortnightly for around three years anyhow, since she’d moved up to a care home in Derby, just to pay back an immense amount of kindness she had shown to my partner when, as a little girl, my partner really needed it. See, that wonderful old woman had picked up the pieces of an eight year old’s fractured life when that little girl’s mother had been killed in a car crash,  when love was thin on the ground. She was worth a million of most people I’ve ever met. The old Lady was fun, even at 96, she had a keen mind, a great sense of humour, and I got a lot of joy just sitting there listening to her and watching her smile as she heard about things we did or didn’t do. My partner had made her eyes shine with affection and pride every time we turned up. That much was obvious.

That day she was, unknown to her for certain, slipping away. The doctors had told the family she didn’t have long. You could sense it even if you weren’t aware of what the medical prognosis was, because the room closed in around you as her eyes watched things in the ether; she talked of her husband being  close, and she was promising to tell him how proud she was of all of us. My partner sat with the old lady as she drew heavy breaths in her bed and shook her head with frustration that she couldn’t talk as much as she wanted to. They couldn’t, and wouldn’t, ever have the time to say everything all the years had meant to them. My partner lovingly held her frail hand and they sat for a while in silence looking at each other. “Just leave me,” the old lady said, eventually. “We have had so many good times… Go and live your life….don’t waste your time on me any more….”

“Don’t talk, it’s ok,” my partner said. “I’ll just sit here for a while. You don’t have to talk.” She clasped her hand tighter and sat closer to the old lady laying there underneath the pastel sheets.

She hadn’t eaten for three weeks, and barely drank. At the old Lady’s suggestion we opened a small can of Tonic Water, shared it out between the three of us and said cheers together, but I couldn’t see what we were celebrating as she sipped tiny, shaky sips from her plastic cup.

It took a harder man than me to not cry, and I did. I sat across the other side of the small room on the floor, crying quiet tears into the red care home carpet, eventually getting up, kissing her goodbye, leaving her room, signing out on the register, walking to the car in the rain.

So, in the resulting heightened emotional state of mind, intense, held-back, simmering somewhere in a place I had learned a very long time ago to put the feelings I wasn’t supposed to have, we drove away from that old lady and slowly headed for my weekly Group.

Near the Hospital I took a wrong turn. We ended up cresting the rise of a railway bridge that led onto a massive industrial estate of huge factories; aluminium monoliths to the God of Progress and Cash. The place was so repellent that even the birds seemed to give it a wide berth. I didn’t see the police van until the last minute. The guy in the back pointing the camera smiled sarcastically as we drew level. Another one in the bag for him. Another criminal caught. Important business was afoot, and he was seeing that the evil in the world was destroyed. Oh yeah…. thirty-five miles an hour in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t even know what the speed limit was, but one look at his face told me I was another one in the net. Instantly, the rage rose up like a deep ocean swell, like any time any one of a million times you, as my friends, would never have known. Every time a knife edge for me – tune in, freak out, get beaten, as the man said. I turned the car around and drew level with the van again, slowing down…intending to pull up and get out. My partner was ahead of me. “Don’t stop,” she said, putting her hand on my leg, that was all it took. We drove up into the Hospital grounds.

I started ranting as we pulled up, crazy talk, really. Swearing vengeance towards anything, for any reason at all; feeling the full bore power of uncontrolled hate and red-mist rage. “Fuck the Group, I’m going home,” I shouted. “Fuck them. Fuck treatment. Fuck everything.”

“Go inside,” my partner said softly. Here she was, ravaged by grief and completely unready for the death of her Aunt which was fast approaching, unhindered by medicine, love, or God, and she was supporting her shit boyfriend – a guy who should really be capable of being someone normal. What was she thinking even having me as a partner? She deserved better. I kissed her goodbye, said sorry, got out of the car, and walked to the secure camera entry point for the Psychology Department. I would take the train home. Inside the waiting room two other Group members were sitting, ready for the challenges of the next two hours. “Hi, Ben. Good week?”

“Usually I’d say yes, even if I was lying to you, just to make things easier for all of us, but today the answer is fucking no.”


In the Group, for two hours solid, I swore, I ranted, I belittled, I argued. At the end, the three Psychotherapists kept me back on my own and told me they appreciated my input, praising me for simply turning up; complimenting me. They were wrong, I was an appalling human being. I shrugged it off and left for the train ride home, praying someone would get in my face before I could get inside my house and lock the door. I took a long look up into the rain coming down straight out of the dark like long silver arrows, and wished they were solid and sharp and real.

The old lady died two days later. Her son cried down the phone and got it mirrored back to him by my partner. It was genuine, from the soul of whatever this life is about, from both sides. Obviously. When I heard the finality of the whole thing I wanted to go out out and express that feeling of pain: to hurt someone. I had a target list. They may even have been willing. I wanted them to make a good, hard fight of it. Punch for punch hitting home. But in the end all that was left were the gently expressed tears of my wonderful partner and the confused thoughts of anyone who has ever lost someone close.