Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Grief Dinners

What if you threw a potluck dinner for friends, and everyone who came was grieving? Cool, right!

Well, cool if you had lost someone, because there is so little support in the community for those who are grieving. Otherwise, you might not think it was so great.

An organization called “The Dinner Party” is gathering people who are grieving for potluck dinners. Gatherings have been hosted in cities across the country. Currently there are 140+ tables in more than 60 cities, with a few smaller towns in the mix.

This is not grief therapy, but grief support. Think of it as friends eating a meal together and catching up on each other’s lives.

And yet, this is about survival. It’s about providing desperately needed support and encouragement when the world begins crashing down around us again, despair deepens, and thoughts of suicide appear. The death of someone we dearly loved has ripped a hole out of the middle of our lives, and we are fighting to hold on as the edges fray around us.

The idea of The Dinner Party is to provide a place where people who are experiencing their first significant loss can share their stories with others who understand. Your loss can be a parent, sibling, partner, child or close friend. Those who gather are often in their 20s and 30s, because they are the first in their social group to lose someone and their friends don’t know what to do to help. They end up feeling abandoned in grief, without anyone to talk to.

The hosts try to match people with similar interests, passions, and stages in life. They also have tables for folks over the age of 45, and a few tables that are intergenerational by design. Lasting friendships often form at the dinners.

The organization began in 2010 when five women in Los Angeles, who each lost a parent, met for dinner in someone’s backyard, and talked about their individual journeys with grief. They found it so helpful that they began hosting dinners in other places.

Their mission: “To transform life after loss from an isolating experience into one marked by community support, candid conversation, and forward movement.”

In the larger cities, there is someone who coordinates the gatherings. If you’re in one of these cities, and would like to come to a dinner to see if it’s right for you, look at its website for contact information: http://thedinnerparty.org. You can also host your own dinner, and the website offers guidelines to help.

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I haven’t been to a dinner. The closest host city is three hours away, but I think it would be moving and energizing.

That being said, I have been on a grief retreat with 24 people from the Refuge in Grief community, where for five days we talked about grief non-stop. Before we met, we had known each other only through the Internet and RIG’s 30-day grief writing course.

Each morning before dawn, I would come to the kitchen, make tea, and ready myself for the day. Often JoAnne or Leslie would join me and we would talk about where we were in grief and what we do when we feel stuck. Throughout the day there were various group gatherings led by Megan Devine, time to talk to each other at meals, and time to be alone to walk in the woods and process what was going on. There was no judgment made about each other’s grief, just acceptance, sharing, and encouragement. Late at night, as others were turning in, George and I would discuss the thoughts and emotions that had been stirred up during the day, as well as about non-grief matters like cooking.

I have to say that being in a place where we can see each other makes a big difference. When I’m with others who understand grief, I don’t have to be guarded about what I share. I can speak openly and honestly. And by hearing others talk about their grief, I better understood my own.

Most importantly, I found community.

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In addition to my blog, I’ve written about grief for Modern Loss, Good Men Project, Manifest-Station, Refuge in Grief, Open to Hope, The Huffington Post, and a number of other journals like Rebelle Society, and Mindful Matter. All are good places to read about grief and hear the stories of others. But nothing replaces face-to-face sharing with people who get grief.

2 comments:

  1. Nothing replaces face to face. Our Hospice has two monthly social gatherings, one for breakfast and one for lunch. People seem to get attached to one of the groups and stay a long time. There is also an active Death Cafe group in Ithaca.

    I didn't know about these potluck dinners until reading about them here. I'm glad there are these options for younger people. By the time we're in our mid 60s or older, there are many friends grieving for children, parents, and spouses, friends grieving for lost health, and friends grieving for lost homes and jobs. These people are part of the social scene in my world. I know that's unusual, and I'm grateful.

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  2. You're right, Elaine. There are groups for older people, as well as friends who have lost someone or something dear to them. I'm glad there are the Dinner Parties for young adults, as well as online journals like Modern Loss. Yet no matter our age, we're all learning how to talk intelligently and emotionally about grief.

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