Don’t make the mistake. It’s not anger you see on my face. It’s attitude.

My wife died suddenly in her forties of an unknown heart problem. If you don’t know what to say to me about that, if you feel uncomfortable when I’m around because I make you worry that your spouse is about to die, then stay away. You’re probably a kind and caring person. If you don’t know grief, then all you need to say is, “I’m sorry that Evelyn died.” Then I will know you care, but leave it at that.

What I need are people who are willing to listen to me share and accept what I’m saying without correcting me, and without telling me what I need to do. I do not need to hear how my wife dying is for the good, or how I will feel better one day. Right after someone I loved has died, I need people to sit with me and help me bear my grief.

Most people have no clue what grief is about in our society. Thankfully, there are more resources available now for those who are grieving than when I began a decade ago, especially grief blogs on the Internet and a few decent books. The occasional essay on grief gets published in regular magazines and newspapers, and online at places like the Huffington Post. But we still have a long way to go in accepting grief.

Some of the Grief Journals that I like the most are Open to Hope, The Manifest-Station, Modern Loss, and Widow’s Voice. They are providing places where people who are grieving can share their stories of loss and be heard, and they write with such clarity and intensity that it’s breathtaking. These journals help us realize how large the grief community is.

There are Grief Radio Shows, like Linda Schreyer’s “Blog Talk Radio” on Rare Bird Radio, and “Good Grief with Cheryl Jones” on VoiceAmerica, that interview people writing about grief.

There are also Grief Groups where those who are grieving can get together and interact with each other, like Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation and its Widows Camp.

What I want to talk about in detail is Refuge in Grief (www.refugeingrief.com), an Internet support group I’m involved in that started up last year and is coordinated by the insightful Megan Devine. Once you participate in the introductory 30-day grief-writing course, where every day a new prompt comes for you to explore your grief and write about what you discover, then you can join the other offerings at Refuge.

When we get together as a group, there is the support and caring that you would expect from a close community. The uniqueness here is that everyone in the group has suffered a tremendous loss, so we understand grief, and by sharing with each other we learn about the wider scope of grieving that is going on in the world. I share about a wife who died too young, while others speak about losing a parent, sibling, child, or stillborn. Our deaths have come from illnesses, accidents, suicides, birth defects, even murder.

The members of this community support each other as we go through the horrible losses of our loved ones, listening with compassion and kindness at all hours of the day and night. We’re a sounding board for each other. Because we live around the world, and are connected by the Internet, someone is almost always online.

Although I’ve been writing about grief longer than most, the members of the group help me go back and understand my early months of grief better. They encourage me push further into experiences that I did not understand then, or was not willing to go. A second offering, with weekly prompts, challenges me to write about grief so that the non-grieving world can understand. My hope is that our writing will further the dialogue in our society and encourage people to not be so afraid of grief.

Besides creating a place to share our stories, and helping people work through their grief journeys by writing about them, we share with each other what helps us get through the hard days, weeks, and months. We are a circle of broken hearts.

What continues to amaze me is how people, who are still dealing with their devastation in the first year of grief, are able to set this aside and comfort others. Sometimes we talk about our struggles so directly that it is hard to listen, and I have to step away for a time because it is so raw and heart breaking.

Lately I’ve felt an attitude growing among us, not of anger, but of defiance, and the feeling that if others can’t, or won’t, help us deal with our grief, then we’re going to find people who can. We are grateful that we found each other. We have a fierceness of purpose, but there is also softness, because at times grief pops up out of the shadows for all of us and pulls us down to our knees, brought back by some faded memory or forgotten song.

One of the terms we came up with to describe our group is “The Tribe of After,” because we are dealing with life after the death of a loved one. We are resolved that no matter what happens, we are going to battle death, and we are not going to give in.

 

 

 

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Mark Liebenow

Mark Liebenow grew up in Wisconsin. When he moved to California, he often went to Yosemite and discovered the transcendence of Nature that John Muir wrote about. It was during this time that his wife Evelyn died suddenly of an unknown heart problem when she was in her forties. Liebenow now lives in Illinois where he helps friends preserve heirloom seeds on their organic farm. He writes about grief, nature, and the theology of fools. Liebenow is the author of four books, the most recent being Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite, about going into nature to deal with grief. It was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2012. His essays, poems, and literary criticism have been published in journals like The Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Disquieting Muses Quarterly, Clackamas Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Rain Taxi Review. His poems have been set to music by composers Stephen Heinemann, “Mirage,” an eight-minute work for chorus and soprano saxophone; John Orfe, “God of the Night,” a choral piece commissioned by the Choral Arts Ensemble of Rochester, Minnesota; Robert Levy, “Maybe Sadness,” a jazz song that has been recorded. He has won the Chautauqua Nonfiction Prize, the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize, the Literal Latte Essay Prize, the Sipple Poetry Award, received honorable mentions for the Editor’s Prize at The Spoon River Poetry Review and the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, an Illinois Arts Council Award, and named a notable essay in Best American Essays 2012. Liebenow studied creative writing in the graduate school at Bradley University and English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He holds M.Div. and M.A. degrees., and speaks before groups and gives workshops on a variety of topics.

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