In a room full of suffering people, in a room full of sorrow, I saw more light. Yesterday I attended a seminar hosted by Hospice that focused on grief and the holidays. Hospice offers several options for bereavement counseling and I have participated in some individual sessions but this was my first experience with a group.
I got there a few minutes early and took a seat in the front near a box of strategically placed Kleenex. As I waited for the seminar to start, I looked around the room and realized that everyone there was a survivor of someone no longer surviving. Everyone there had recently lost someone very dear to them, just like me. It seemed that most people were older than me although I noticed two girls, probably sisters, who were much younger. We were all on our journeys to find peace with the fact that we are building new lives that don’t include the loved one we lost. We are all looking for ways to do that. I didn’t do a head count but I estimate maybe 50 people were there, five of which were men. How is that interesting? Is it because more men die before their wives or is it that they don’t attend events like this if their wife goes first? Men are like that, you know. We are tough and strong and can fix things without the help of others or counseling. At least that’s what some of my gender thinks.
I guess I shouldn’t assume that everyone there had lost a spouse because that wasn’t the case. Many people were present because they lost their mother or sister. One woman had just lost her 17-year-old son and that was probably the saddest story of the day. It’s impossible to rank loss and sorrow, to say that one person’s is not as bad as another’s. I do have a hard time with some of the people who have lost a parent at an older age. One woman spoke of her pain at losing her mom who was in her early 90′s. I am not saying that her loss is not important and significant to he but we can not expect people to live forever. 90 years old is much longer than most people get and a celebration of that life is much more appropriate than an extended mourning. Certainly nowhere near the impact of losing a 17-year-old son.
The speaker for the seminar, Bob, was a chaplain in the Hospice organization and he had visited with Coleen and I and a couple of occasions. Once in the Hospice facility and once in our home the day Coleen passed. Bob offered us comfort then through some very kind and thoughtful words and prayer and I liked him. That was one of the reasons why I was interested in attending his talk. Yesterday, he focused mostly on grieving and how it can be more complicated around the holidays but also how it doesn’t have to be. Bob told some stories of how other people handled things and said there is no blueprint, just to do what seems to feel right. I liked some of his suggestions, especially the ones that I was already doing. He stoked some sadness but was very optimistic and encouraging. There were three things in particular he said that I liked enough to write down and share here:
He quoted a Rabbi whose name I did not catch, defining grief as “love not wanting to say goodbye.”
He told a story of a woman explaining some of her sorrow and hurt. “I’m no longer somebody’s one and only.” That statement hit very close to my heart as it was exactly the point of a post I had put up the day before, Being Loved. Exactly the same message except it took her a lot fewer words to say it.
He talked about having the holidays without our loved one and making it a little different, because it is different. He said “You’re making new memories.” That was also very endearing to me as it was a variation of the Ricki Lee Jones quote “You never know when you’re making a memory,” which Coleen loved so much and we have framed in our bedroom.
At the end, they told us we were brave to have attended the seminar. That it took a lot of courage for us to come and confront our pain and grief like that, to put ourselves out there. My friend Barb told me the same thing when I mentioned to her that I attended that. I guess that’s true, it took some courage to go. But the value of sharing yourself with other people in similar circumstances to mine and to be both encouraged and encouraging was immense. I listened, I watched, I learned, I contributed. It was a good experience.