Grieving Together

I probably ought to tell you right off: I’m writing to you with a sore heart. When I finish this, I will go to the hospital bedsides of two beloved community members who are on life support in the same ICU. We believe they overdosed, one in sorrowful response to the other, and neither is expected to recover. Curtis was always a gentleman, a soft spoken man with a twinkle in his eye. That’s what I told his brothers and sisters when we met in the ICU waiting room yesterday. “He has a community of people in Waltham who love him,” I said, “and who already mourn the anticipation of his loss.”

Carol was one of those people. Now she is laying in a coma also, hooked up to a multitude of machines that are breathing for her, just one room away from her dear friend. Her family had not been found or notified when I visited her. “Don’t be afraid” I told her, as I put my hand inside of hers. “You are surrounded in love. And Curtis is just down the hall.”

Yes, my heart is sore, like a muscle that has been over used. And there are many in the COTW community who are nursing that same ache. We know of three other deaths from overdoses that happened just this month. We all cringe at the question or text message which starts: “Did you hear about….?” People experiencing homelessness rarely receive the traditional gestures of comfort in response to their loss: no sympathy cards or casseroles left at the front door.

So where is the hope? In seminary, my pastoral care professor told the class of would-be-ministers, that our job is to bring hope to our congregants. Korte, Tina and I, along with the volunteers who walk with us, certainly try our best: we show up; we listen with the ear of our hearts; we offer spiritual practices; we make phone calls; we search people out to see how they are handling these losses. At each memorial service, we have a time for people to come forward and share a memory of the person we are collectively grieving. Then they pick up a blue or green glass stone, spread on a small table, and drop it into a glass bowl. With each story, the mound of color grows more visible, and the pieces of this person are gathered into a whole.

Again and again, I am reminded that no one person is the bearer of hope. Hope is found in the space between us, which is made holy by our love for each other, and by the presence of a loving God. Hope is found in Paul’s hand on my shoulder when he told me about Curtis, and in Tina’s hand on Shirley’s shoulder as she passed the news on.

“Hope is found in hearts connected.”

May you be so blessed with love and connection,

Rebecca Sheble-Hall
Executive Director, Chaplain

PS: Addiction, especially opioid addiction, is an epidemic in this country, effecting all of us, housed and unhoused. If you, or someone you know is experiencing this grief, and the isolating stigma which comes with it, you are welcome to join the COTW community at our weekly meditation or monthly labyrinth walks. Just give us a call at 617-504-6877.

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