At the invitation of a delightful social worker, I led a discussion of a women’s group at a senior citizens center on the Upper East Side last fall. I chose the topic “solitude vs. loneliness” and I was thrilled at how much the women engaged this stranger in their midst.
I eagerly accepted another chance to facilitate conversation with this group and today was the day. They trusted me to come up with the topic again and I was so gratified to have that trust. With all that’s been swirling around me lately in terms of my knee injury and thoughts of death due to loved ones passing, what’s been on my mind is loss and how we handle it.
Did I want to go down that road with these women, mostly widowed and living alone? I didn’t want to bring them down. Yet somewhere deep at my core I knew I was on the right track.
A few people suggested it would be a nice “diversion” when I told them I’d be talking to the seniors. I shook my head. No, quite the contrary. It would be a nice indulgence. They’ll understand why I do want to talk about loss, not be diverted from it.
My cab driver went through Central Park en route to the center and it was a joy to watch the activity brought on by the gorgeous sunshine — bikes, picnics, sunbathing. When I arrived, one by one the women came in and talked about how uplifting the weather was. So when we settled in and got started, I told them I had intended to talk about loss, but given the upbeat mood I’d be happy to go with Plan B.
No, they told me unanimously. We never get to talk about this. Let’s stick to that. And so we did. The hour flew by; we even went over. I learned so much from them. They thanked me profusely. Again I heard how they normally don’t open up like that and I was beyond thrilled.
Last time I had prepared a one sheet with quotes on our topic and they had enjoyed that, so I went with another this time. Here are the words that guided our discussion:
From Virginia Woolf:
Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more.
From Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body:
“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it’ is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?
From Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart:
If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.
From John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent:
It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
From Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie:
Death ends a life, not a relationship.
From William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet:
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.