Not long ago, the hospice where I work sponsored a Saturday conference on grief.
There were workshops, from hands-on experiences like creating memory scrapbooks to offering current research-based insights into the whys and whats of grief. A labyrinth was available for walking, inviting symbolic journeys for individual reflection. I co-lead a section on writing to explore personal grief through words.
I think most participants had a meaningful time.
However, I’m confident many knew about the conference but were “no shows.” Maybe they wanted to take part, but didn’t possess the energy to leave the house. Maybe they wanted to take part, but hesitated about going alone. Maybe they wanted to take part, but couldn’t stand the thought of being around others. There might be strangers present, which could be overwhelming. There might be friends present, which could be overwhelming. They didn’t want to cry. They didn’t want to be around others who cried. They were afraid there wouldn’t be anything worth learning. They were afraid they might learn something and be confronted with change.
Excuses, like springtime weeds, are prolific.
I wish more people than the seventy or so who attended had come, but I was amazed those seventy did register. It is hard to leave your home and spend time with an event that reminds you of one of the worst times of your life.
We featured a keynote speaker—Armen Bacon—who was as engaging as she was honest. Ms. Bacon’s a relatively well-known local “personality” and had recently published a book to excellent reviews. I enthusiastically recommend her “Griefland.” With co-author Nancy Miller, she wrote the story as a reflection on their newfound friendship and a common grief: both were mothers who had young adult children die.
Ms. Bacon emphasized one thing in her heartfelt speech that struck me deeply. She said . . . I may look good on the outside, I may look like everything is okay, I may appear not to be saddened by my son’s death, but all of that is a lie.
A lie. Actually that’s my paraphrase. She probably didn’t use that word. It’s close enough, though.
As I stood in the rear of the room, I wondered how others perceived her. Would those in the audience believe the truth of Ms. Bacon’s lie?
You see, Ms. Bacon dressed quite nicely for our event. Jewelry. Make-up. Color-coordinated. Hair just right. Darn it all, she looked good. And she spoke well. She shared relevant quotes from other authors and from her book. She was spontaneous and relaxed. She made eye contact. Hey folks, she earned an “A” for her keynoting. By background, I’m a pastor and have delivered thousands of sermons, and have heard a thousand more sermons from other preachers. I may not be a color-coordination or jewelry expert, but I know when I hear well-coordinated words that are like precious diamonds delivered to a congregation or audience.
But did that audience believe Ms. Bacon’s truth about her lie?
I’ve gone to other conferences where someone who has suffered a great loss anchored a stage and shared the story of his or her pain. The audience had flocked to hear the speaker. They wanted to learn. They wanted to hope. They wanted to confirm someone had survived the worst of grief.
But I suspect there are always some in any audience—at our recent conference and in all similar conferences—that were a thimbleful or even a bucketful envious of the speaker. Why envy? Because the person who had obviously overcome death and disaster wasn’t the listener, but instead was the speaker! Wasn’t that nicely dressed, color-coordinated, engaging person at the microphone better or stronger or smarter than anyone else in the room? She (or he) was “healed” and no longer hurting. She (or he) had conquered the bad grief from the past and now lived in a “normal” present with optimism about the future. How dare they survive and thrive!
I’m fairly confident our speaker, the lovely and poised Armen Bacon, remains a wreck. Earlier, I paraphrased her words, but however she said them, she shared a deceptive truth and a truthful deceit: perhaps I look good on the outside, but inside I still hurt. Her son died several years ago. At times, it probably feels as raw as the day before yesterday.
True love is forever. Grief, true love’s grim companion, is also forever. Does grief get less worse? Yes, enough so that some can sit in front of a computer and write gracious words or stand in front of a microphone and speak vulnerable words. However, whether writer or reader, speaker or audience, there is more than enough hurt to go around.
I wish I could make everyone who is grieving attend a helpful workshop or conference. But at times—and I know this—it’s simply hard to leave the house.
Thanks, Armen Bacon, you reminded me that none of us are alone in our pain.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)
Image of Ms. Bacon from here.by