As I stood to leave the small well-lit loft of the nearby community center, I felt somewhat convicted that I needed to do the one thing I never wanted to do. Publicly run a grief group. I looked around the room as people slowly trickled through the door, grabbing a cookie for the road that someone had graciously hand-made or ventured to the grocery store specifically for the intimate gathering. Could I run a similar group? Zoom? How vulnerable and raw would I have to be? Why do I feel called, compelled, pulled from my higher power to do so?
I watched each person go by, zipping and snapping up their recently retrieved winter garb for the November chill that had moved into the Northwest. “What if everyone wore their pain, their burden they carried in a way everyone could see it?” a wild thought rang in my head. The images of what each person potentially was carrying started to flash by me, heartache,loneliness, death, physical pain, worry. I saw what each looked like, heartache carried as heavy stone tablets carved with those that have wronged them, piles of handkerchiefs soaked in tears from loneliness that now continuously and unseeingly ran down a man’s cheeks, crushing loss as a large bolder chained to a leg draggedeverywhere the owner went, I envisioned shards of glass protruding from the painful legs the man slowly getting up near me, and large iron chains of worry dragging behind another man as he moved forward to hug me.
As I hugged him, I remember the first time I met the man carrying worry. I remember how annoying I found his cheerfulness. He never wavered from it, he gave it to everyone he saw, but it looked different on him tonight as I saw he handed his cheerfulness out, unbegrudgingly,with his one-hand shifting his constant worry over his shoulders, figuratively moving his feet with the weight of it. He then encourages me to run a group and reminds me he shares a similar loss as he steps back from the friendly embrace. Why did I not remember? Why could I not see it? I subliminally kicked my short-term memory loss from PTSD in the shins.
I pass by my own reflection in the darkening window as I reach for my coat, because my own grief is somewhat of a blindfold. I see it as plainly as the glass shards now oozing through the younger man’s jeans as he smiles and says his goodbyes. I see a shroud coving my face and though I carry my pain openly, it skews my view of those around me. The older man carrying his tear-soaked rags has now stuffed them in all of his pockets so that in my minds-eye, he looked like a child over-stuffed by his mother in his winter snow clothes, getting ready to brave the forces and build a snowman. He has stuffed the piles of rags anywhere he can so that he can still hold his Bible open and share with me a passage. He does not seem destressed by what he carries, he owns it regally and I am at first envious of his ability to carry such pain with such grace. He is steadfast in his purpose and he does not waver, I now see that about him.
Do we all have a purpose? I believe that we do, I believe it changes, but I believe that you can feel when you are moving in the direction of what your purpose is. Unfortunately, I don’t want the purpose I now feel called to do. I never asked to be a mother in grief. I never asked to speak to others about the most terrible moments of their lives or their vulnerabilities and then turn around and share mine.
When I was in college, my worst grade was public speaking, I would write a speech but I could not deliver it. In 7th grade my stage fright had me vomiting in the janitor’s closet before Jazz band performances and solo performances, even though at the time I held first chair. Here I am 4.5 years after the loss of my daughter, and I have now been recorded for a local television station for suicide prevention, I have started talking in front of high-schoolers about peer prevention, I had to speak at my daughter’s funeral of 200 guests, though I have no idea what I actually said.
Over the last few years, I have had many people ask me to talk to a loved one or friend about a terrible loss they have endured. Each time I hear their story my heart rips a little and I add a name to the load I carry. I didn’t ask for it, but if my own pain lightens the load someone else has to carry just a tiny bit, and I have to carry my own loss anyway, why would I not share it?
I know I have been given this vivid imageryto help move forward and to not be afraid to stand up and share my scars, my own still fresh wounds. I am not special in carrying this heartache. I tell myself, “the next time you are in a group imagine if we all were stripped of all our pretenses and you could see what each person carries with him or her everywhere they go. Sadness, anxiety, wariness, untrusting, resentful, anger, fear, regret, hope, faith, sincerity, honesty, empathy and so on”.
I think altruistically or as a humanitarian, I wonder if more people actually did what they felt called to do even if it was for just that moment or season, what kind of world we would live in. Then the opposite thought comes to mind, what if most people ignored what they felt called to do? I know that you cannot spend a life-time pointing fingers and telling everyone else what they should be doing. I did not ask to be the mother of grief. I did not ask to stand up and speak about loss, pain and sadness, but I am a broken vessel that has been sauntered withtears and made into something new.
I mentally flip my black lace shroud up over my head as I descend the stairs. I am now decidedly thankful for the vivid images I have been given knowing that each of us has been given unique gifts, that we each bring and carry different burdens to the table and that we have our own calling, if and when we decide to do something with it.