For many of us, death and grief are an integral part of our stories. These stories have shaped who we are and affect the decisions we make. Just as the process of loss and healing varies between people, the decision to share and talk openly differs.
I fall on the “very open” end of the spectrum of people who talk about their experience and who include the topics of loss and grief in casual conversation. An important aspect of my personal healing process is bringing the people around me into my experience. For me, sharing this journey is an important element of closeness of a relationship. As in any friendship, it is a part of sharing the facts of my life, in the same way I share where I am from, that I have a younger sister, etc. Of course, this process varies from person to person.
Beyond sharing my personal story with friends, I make the choice each year to celebrate my dad’s life and the wonderful community I have found at all stages of the process to help me heal. Celebration is yet another way to share, bring people into my personal experience, and to open a space for others to share/experience loss in their own lives.
So, each year, I make the choice to celebrate.
I gather the people close to me, whether we have directly spoken about my experience or not, to celebrate the lives of people who have passed away. While the celebrations have varied between years, friends, and counties – they have not varied in tone, intent, and feeling of being part of a larger community.
Each May, for the first five years after my father died, my family and friends celebrated his life (and the life of my uncle) through a golf tournament and dinner party. This sacred time was put aside to remember my father and to spend time with the people I loved most. The event morphed from a memorial to a lively loving reunion of friends over the years – and at the same time replaced my sadness with the joyful sense of community.
Since then, the tradition of celebration has taken on various forms, including, a dinner celebration in 2010 in Mexico City and in 2011 a toast to my father from the mountains of Cusco, Perú. 2012 marked a number of changes in my life, including going back to school, which meant meeting hundreds of new people – and sharing pieces of my life and experience with many of them.
This year’s celebration, marking 7 years, was an opportunity, for me, to share the important aspects of community and healing (as well as grief and loss) with all of the wonderful new people I met over the course of the year. Additionally, celebrating created the space for me to learn about the role that grief and loss have played in the lives of others. The celebration was a wonderful mix of new and old friends – many of whom brought dishes that reminded them of someone they had lost. One friend made a BBQ sauce that reminded her of her dad, while another made a fruit salad, something she had often shared with her mom. We set up a board for people to paste sticky notes on to share memories of people who have passed away. By the end of the night, the sticky notes covered the board with childhood memories, moments that vividly still exist in the minds of my friends.
The overall tone was festive and joyful, allowing people to share and experience as much as they wished to. It goes without saying that we all handle grief and healing in different ways. For me, the creation of a safe space, a loving community, where sharing experiences is possible, is the best path towards healing. Even if the people and places are new, the act of publicly celebrating loss and remembrance is very powerful.
Toasting to life, friendship, and adventures!