The Fellowship of Grief
I am no stranger to grief. In the mid-2000s I lost five family members over the course of three years: my mother in January 2006 (she was 90), my father in June 2007 (he was 91), my brother and his wife, who died in a house fire in October 2008, and in January of 2009, my tiny, still-forming niece who, it turns out, had a severe genetic defect. Two decades prior, I had lost another brother—that time to suicide. So yes, I know grief.
Losing five loved ones in three years was pretty rough, to put it mildly, so I took a risk and joined a small bereavement group offered by our local hospice. It was such a relief to be with people who needed no explanation for the often massive feelings I was having, or for the numbness and shutdown that took over at other times. They all got it. They were all in the midst of it themselves.
Yet when we first met, we were each so rooted in and overwhelmed by our own pain, so raw, that we could not connect in normal ways. Initially I didn't actually feel good when sitting in the room with them, but I did feel less bad, which was a treasure during those early painful weeks and months. And eventually I could see that in our fellowship of grief, we shared a profound and mysterious intimacy.
The room where we met was small, square and rather bare. It's one beauty was a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. That small room allowed us some safety and intimacy and, with its backdrop of trees and a small lake, a longer view. That room—and our grief—was our common ground. Stark. And yet, somehow, beautiful.
Although I don't wish the pain of grief on anyone, I have to say, with some hindsight, that there is something deep, special, and yes, I can almost say beautiful, in those times of loss. You can barely function. You are crushed under an impossible load of pain and loss. And yet...and yet...if you are not totally isolated, if you have some degree of support, you can, every once in a while, even in the midst of the pain, somehow be more alive than ever, in a way that is difficult to explain.
Once the formal eight week hospice group was over, five of us decided to continue meeting on our own. Alice, Bob, Charlie, Dawn and Otis—the ABCDO Group, we called ourselves. We met once a month for almost two years, sharing fellowship and some delicious meals, and then sporadically for a few more years, gradually learning to laugh and enjoy life again, together. We've been out of touch for a while now but they remain dear, dear friends in my heart. I wrote this poem for them, recalling our early days together.
The Fellowship of Grief
We are here.
In a circle.
Squared by our walls.
With a view.
Each of us an ocean, bared,
with unaccountable losses.
Thrown as flotsam,
each on her own,
his own beach.
Like a fish suddenly flung out of water.
Each grain of sand an agony,
we form a world of beaches,
Next time I'll write about the synchronicity of chain removal.
photos: K. Mitch Hodge, unSplash
Daan Stevens, unSplash