Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksgiving for Community

Since this is Thanksgiving season in the U.S., I’m giving thanks for the internet community.

I am doing an online book-study with three friends who live in other parts of the country (we’re reading Joyce Rupp’s Open the Door). We have a private blog where we each write our thoughts about the day’s readings, and then we read one another’s writings and leave comments. It’s a sort of 21st century book-group.

The unique thing about this book group is that all four of us are bereaved mothers, and we met through blogging. Four women who never heard of one another, met through our blogs, started to read each other’s stories, and fell into one of the deepest, most intimate grief-support groups I’ve ever heard of. Without the internet, this would not have happened.

There are formal groups for bereaved families, such as The Compassionate Friends, and the Journey groups that our local Children’s hospital organizes and invited us to join. But I knew that my husband (and son) were not interested in joining a group, and I’m not much of a “joiner” myself. The thought of sitting in a circle, facing the tears of other bereaved parents and family members just didn’t fit my idea of “comfort” at the time it was offered. The Compassionate Friends has wonderful online resources, which I have consulted, and from which I’ve benefited. I just couldn’t bring myself to attend a group in person.

Grieving parents are every other parent’s worst-nightmare-come-true. Admit it  –  we know it’s true. We see it in everyone’s eyes, especially right after our child’s passing. Going to the grocery store or any public place in our community is very painful for us, in part because we can see that dread, fear and recoil in people’s eyes. We don’t judge it – it’s natural to want to look away – but it makes for a very solitary journey. Of the few who are willing to walk with us, even fewer are equipped to do it. There are people who are attracted to disaster, like watching a car wreck, and those folks must be kept out at all costs. Then there are the ones who want to feel noble for “helping” us – KEEP OUT. The ones who want us to go back and be as we were before, who want us to “get over it,” – KEEP OUT. The few who can actually stand the turbulence of the journey of a parent’s grief are rare and precious. I am thankful that I have a few dear souls in my life who can stand it, who have been faithful through these hard first years, and who still are with us.

This book-group of bloggers, who I have grown to love, includes Chris, who writes of her beautiful Sarah at, Karen, who writes of her gorgeous Joey at and Robin, who writes of her beloved Josh at . All of our children died differently. All of them were at different ages and places in life, and in the world. Chris, Karen, Robin and I have different spiritual, marital and family backgrounds, yet all of us are united in our heart-breaking, life-altering, solitary existence in this hell we have entered, and all of us are seeking meaning, and finding comfort, in one another’s thoughts, words, feelings and experiences.

Meeting women who ”get it,” whose happy, former lives have been as disrupted as mine was, who now inhabit the foreign land which I inhabit, was like finding an oasis in the desert. We understand, without judgment, the disorientation that ensues following the death of a child. No matter that one death was due to cancer, one to a rogue wave on the coast of Italy, one to Sudden Death from Epilepsy, and one to suicide, we understand a mother’s suffering. (I will say that a child’s death from suicide is a different kind of hell than any other, but as mothers, we understand the pain of loss of our precious child, whatever the cause of death.)

If you haven’t found a community for your special need, it’s much easier to create your own nowadays than it was ten – or even five - years ago, because of the internet. Personal blogs, Caringbridge, CarePages, and Hopeful Parents itself are evidence of this. It is richly blessing me to participate in this book study with three women of diverse backgrounds who understand what I'm experiencing. I hope this encourages you to seek and find, participate in or create, the community you need. You deserve to be heard, and your thoughts, words and stories will likely bless others.

Karen Gerstenberger blogs at She is the president of Katie's Comforters Guild at Seattle Children's Hospital, a guild formed in memory of her daughter, Katie, and dedicated to providing homemade blankets to every patient in the hospital.

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