‘What Remains’ – thoughts on a creative peer support group
Among the inspirational presentations at our AGM 2018, held on 29th September in Manchester, was a showing of the remarkable and moving film, “What Remains”. Developed and co-written by Gillian Brooks and her children, the film is a courageous and deeply personal exploration of one family’s loss of a husband and father to suicide. The film now forms the basis of a creative six-week peer support group, held in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and co-facilitated by Gillian, who is herself a bereavement counsellor, together with artist Sharon Marsden. Jeff Turner, of community arts company verd de gris writes:
We wanted to share this feedback with you. It was written by someone who comes to the ‘What Remains’ creative peer support sessions in Hebden Bridge. It really helps to inform the impact and benefits of adopting a creative approach to support local people living with loss through suicide. The words come from Helen, a regular attendee to the sessions:
“I sometimes wonder, does this Saturday group help me, it’s hard, this whole thing is hard, it’s bewildering, layers upon layers, you think you have finally begun to come to an understanding, to accept, and there’s another layer, more incomprehension, more pain.
There’s something about the simple act of writing, without expectation, without the need to choose carefully for maximum effect the words you will use. To be given a subject, a time limit, to write without the expectation of a tidy narrative, just let the words flow. Give form to these subconscious thoughts buried beneath those layers of anguish, that impossibility of understanding. To share, articulate that which your mind has brought into being and see, mirrored in the words of others your own heartbreak, her questions become your answers, her why, becomes your because.
There’s an added dimension to the grief of the suicide survivor, because that’s what we are, all of us, survivors. Sometimes it feels as if you’re the only one. There often feels an impossibility around articulating feelings raised by suicide. Our loved ones were destroyed by this world. In the same way as others are destroyed by cancers, accidents, all those horrible incurable diseases which attack and kill. The difference being, our lost ones suffered psychologically, often for decades, unimaginable pain, and even we who loved them the best could never fully understand the ways in which their minds twisted until in final despair they ended their pain the only way they believed they could. Finally alone, beyond our hope and love, smashing into a thousand pieces our hearts in the process.
And that’s the extra dimension to our grief, we didn’t protect our children, weren’t there for our friends, maybe we gave up on our husbands, our partners, didn’t love our parents enough. Illogical, as anyone who’s lived with, and loved a person with complex mental health issues knows the exhaustion, the constant hope, will this be the time I finally break through their pain and self disbelief to help them love themselves as others love them? To know when to hold and when to let go? But here lies the impossibility of discussion with friends. It’s too monstrous, too much for anyone to comprehend, what if it was their child? Their partner? God forbid, nobody wants to believe such a thing could be possible.
A few Saturdays ago, and I hadn’t really wanted to attend the group. We watched Gillian’s film, met her family, her lovely Joe, lived her story. Driving home, the colours seemed brighter. I realised I was looking forward to the simple pleasures of meeting my partner for coffee, talking with friends, watching the world go by. The next day nothing happened, washing, cleaning, getting ready for the week ahead, ordinary Sunday stuff. As I sat in my candlelit room after my late afternoon yoga practice, I realised I had such a good day, looking forward to sharing a good meal and a glass of wine.
And that’s exactly why groups like the one Gillian runs are so important. Sometimes we paint or draw, silently, someone will begin to talk, sometimes a conversation develops, sometimes we sink back into silence, no pressure, no awkwardness, and it is in that silence I see that although we’re very different people, there are so many similar threads running through our individual experience.”
See Jeff’s original blogpost on www.verddegris.org