By Robin Gaphni.
She pulled into the parking space and turned the engine off. “Third time’s a charm,” she thought. The first time she drove here, she sat in her car, watched the people file in and 90 minutes later watched them file out. She never even unbuckled her seatbelt.
The second time she waited until she saw, what she hoped was, the last person enter the building. Then she unbuckled her seat belt, opened the car door and walked across the asphalt parking lot. When she got to the door, she gripped the heavy brass handle and froze. She stood silently there for about five minutes, her heart racing, her hand molded around the door knob, her body absolutely unable to move forward. After a bit she slunk back to her car and drove home.
But today she was determined. She glanced over at the door. It was one of those solid, double doors that often grace the entrances to churches-tall, heavy and formidable. But this was not about religion. She had talked to the leader of the group three times and had been promised it was not religious at all, it just happened to be held in a church.
So before she could conjure up any more excuses for not going into the building, she opened the car door, grabbed her backpack and walked briskly across the parking lot. She pulled the heavy church door open and stepped foot in the airy entrance. It was dim and she couldn’t see well. The sanctuary to her left was pitch black. But across the hall there was a light under the door and she assumed that’s where the meeting was. She walked to the door, hesitating only for a split second before turning the handle and walking in.
It took a second for her to adjust her eyes. The chairs were in a circle and there must have been about ten to twelve people seated around a table with a candle. All of them held backpacks on their laps.
A woman stood up and walked over to her with open arms. “Are you here for the grief support group?”
“Yes,” she said with obvious relief in her voice.
“Welcome. We’re so glad you’re here. I know this is a big step. Please sit down. We’re just about to begin.”
She looked around and saw no one she knew and yet they all looked familiar. She sat down and put her backpack on her lap. As she did, she noticed that people were opening their packs, unwrapping and revealing the hidden stones.
Everyone’s stone was different. Some were smooth like river rocks, others were jagged, quite a few were shot through with quartz, while several were covered with pitted speckles. Some were big, almost too big to carry; while others could fit neatly into a pocket. Some would skim the surface of water like a skipping stone, leaving a long trail in its wake. Others would sink to the bottom like an anchor, the evidence of their existence plunged deep beneath the surface. She opened her own backpack and pulled out her stone. It was black obsidian and it was heavy-far heavier than it appeared. Its heaviness went with her everywhere. It defined her life now.
The leader welcomed everyone and asked people to give their check-ins on how the week had gone. Suddenly the room became full as loved ones were introduced.
Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.
Cancer, illness, an accident, suicide, cancer, cancer, old age, an overdose.
It should have felt overwhelming, and yet it didn’t. The people in this sacred circle understood the role of the stone in their lives. They knew that it was okay to bring it everywhere. They knew it would always be with them in some form or another. No one here was going to tell them to leave the stone at home. No one here was going to tell them that it was just too long to continue carrying that stone around.
For ninety minutes they shared stories of their loved ones. They passed their stones around the room, marveling at the smoothness of one, and the jaggedness of another. The room was full of emotion and it wasn’t all sad. There were tears and laughter. There was anger. There were happy memories and difficult ones. All of the complexities and uniqueness of human existence were revealed by the sharing of the stones.
For the first time she felt like she had companions on this journey. She realized there were others who felt what she felt. She stroked her stone reveling in its gravitas.
Soon the leader announced that their time was up. It was time to put their stones back in their backpacks. As she wrapped her stone up, she noticed that it felt slightly lighter. It didn’t take all of her strength to pick up. She glanced at the others and saw that everyone’s stone seemed a bit more manageable for the trip home.
She knew then that she would survive. She knew that maybe one day her stone might be small enough to fit into her pocket and that it would go with her everywhere, always serving as a reminder of the life she had lost.
Following the death of her 21-year-old son Matthew in October 2010, Robin turned to writing. At first, it was only for herself and served as a way to process and try to understand what happens when something as unfathomable as the death of a child happens. Then 17 months later, she went “public” and started a blog called Grief & Gratitude. The piece, The Circle, came about at a writing retreat she attended in December 2014 based on her experience facilitating Grief Support Groups.