I had taken a seat in the plastic-moulded chair, waiting for the meeting to begin. In the center of a room was a circular table covered in grey. In the center of a circle, a candle burned, again surrounded in a small circle of smooth river rocks. Whether they were collected from nearby stream beds, or manufactured and sold on the shelves of craft stores, I was unsure. I simply noticed their existence.
‘Welcome to bereavement for beginners’, the young facilitator said, jumping me out of my wondering.
Curious how the passing of time morphs a memory. I can’t recall the exact name of the support group. I do remember how shocking it felt to belong to a group of people titled ‘bereaved’.
After introductions, and open sharing, we were led through an exercise. I followed directions having been told to choose a small river rock of my own. We were to create a totem of support for when emotions felt too large. I selected my stone and, using a white paint pen, wrote the word hope across its surface. I circled the word and tucked the rock in my pocket. When I left the class, I sat in the parking lot and sobbed.
I left the stone in the center console of my car for years. It’s collected dust and become friends with pens lacking ink and a melted chapstick or two. Its presence serves as a reminder to generate hope as I’ve driven from place to place, moving further away from my early days of grief.
This week, I started a Grief Educator Certificate program with David Kessler. In the first teaching I learned a new label for my bereaved status. He says the term for the grief we experience after the two year mark is ‘mature grief’. I snickered to myself when I heard that name.
Mature? Grief? Wasn’t mature something to aspire to as a young child?
Mature people have it all together. They have arrived. Even the dictionary uses the auspicious claim of being ‘fully developed.’ My grief does not feel complete.
My grief has, however, become a source of motivation to seek wisdom and share what I’ve learned. My longing has brought me to classrooms and support groups I never could have imagined before. Old skins have shed, leaving new layers, still tender to the touch as I figure out what to do with this gift of darkness.
Over the weekend, we drove up the canyon nearby with the goal of simply sitting by the river. I needed to hear the woosh of water colliding with rocks as it carries on to what’s next.
Under hazy skies, I made my way down steep stairs to the riverbed. Stepping over small stones, I placed my toes into the icy water and took a seat.
Fingering the rocks, I made a pile of smooth ones, perfect for skipping.
I placed three in my pocket for keeping. Perhaps I’ll carry this selection forward as I move about, from here to there.
In Colorado, the ripple metaphor is common. Throw a stone, see how far your impact can reach. I hadn’t thought of the stone from my first beginner grief group in quite awhile. The word hope was an anchor that got me from there to here.
And now, as my grief matures, I’ve found a new collection of stones to toss into the flow. I’m learning how to serve others in their pain. I’m applying radical self-compassion to my own wounds and connecting with others who believe the answers to our hurts are found in first saying, “Wow. This is unbearable.”
I’m standing in rivers, with toes icy and lungs full, using what I’ve learned to make new ripples. What a beautiful thing.
PS. There are still spaces open for the July Writing Workshops – As We Carry On: Using Words to Explore Your Grief with a Compassionate Lense. Register here.