On grief and villages

I am approximately 44 million miles away from where I want to be today. I would actually rather be on a couch in Idaho, sitting with my arm around the shoulders of my dear friend who just lost her husband yesterday to stupid, greedy pancreatic cancer. I would love to go honor our friendship in person and pay tribute to Tony's life well lived, the door opened and closed far too soon. 

Admittedly I was in that frame of mind when today I stumbled across a remarkable article about a Cincinnati school engaged in supporting and embracing a group of grieving teen boys. (Well, not stumbled, exactly. I found it via Longreads, which is such a great website and service, have you heard of it? They compile the best of longer articles published in magazines and online each week.)  I think that The Rules of Grieving: They Are Still Boys should be a must-read for social work students. Or, come to think of it, for any parent/neighbor/teacher/friend/human.

photo by Carrie Cochran via Cincinnati.com

photo by Carrie Cochran via Cincinnati.com

The article underlines the truth of the old adage "it takes a village to raise a child." For a while there the notion that it takes a village was diminished and appropriated for cheap political dithering. But, the fact is, it really does take a host of people to raise a child. Between the ages of 10 and 20 I think this is especially true. Teachers. Advisors. Friends and their parents. A collective of other supportive adults, nudging, applauding, and pointing the way to adulthood.

Count them throughout the article: the women who start the bereavement group. The anonymous parent who insists on making chocolate chip cookies for the group meetings. The teachers who come in, willing to show their vulnerability and share their own experiences, like this one:

photo by Carrie Cochran via Cincinnati.com

photo by Carrie Cochran via Cincinnati.com

"On this day, math teacher James Jewell sits at the table. Buckley and Munafo-Kanoza invite teachers to the group meetings to show the students that adults have grief to work through as well. They do it for another reason, too: It is a good reminder to the teachers that some kids might seem like they are having a hard day because, in fact, they are having a hard day.

Mr. Jewell is holding a pair of binoculars. He tells the students that he grew up with seven sisters, so he and his father were close. When he was about 13 or so, he would go trapping with his father to sell the skins for money. “We grew up rural,” he says to the astounded boys.

One morning, Mr. Jewell tells the group, his father mentioned, casually, how he wished he had a good pair of binoculars. So the boy saved his money from the skins, right up to the dime, and one day bought the best pair of binoculars at the local hunting shop. The store owner, Mr. Jewell remembered, offered to pay the tax on the binoculars since the boy didn’t know such a thing even existed.

Mr. Jewell’s father died when he was 19, and now he sat before the boys, in his 60s, telling the story, holding the binoculars, tears running down his checks. “These bring back a lot of fond memories for me,” he said. “I’m crying now, but these are really good memories.”

The boys sit mesmerized. An adult — a teacher, no less — sharing a story they could be telling themselves. And he remains so affected by the death of his father, who has been gone for so long. For the students sitting around the table, it feels like proof that what they are going through is real."

Here's to the village, yours and mine. We are each, after all, both recipients and contributors to it. As my mom used to say as she gathered up a meal to bring to someone who needed it, "it's just what we do for each other."

And I'll add this postscript today: I'm so glad to have been in that village with you, Tony. Thank you for blessing our family, literally and figuratively. We love you, friend.