When the grieving gather together, we talk about our struggles. We cry together and offer support. We even celebrate, giving thanks that we have found this community.

Those who are grieving know how unsettling it is for grief to seep out in front of strangers. Friends have shut us down, or turned away, because our emotions were too strong or went on for too long. But when we are here, among our tribe, we can be honest.

What you give me, my companions in grief, is freedom to be emotional and freedom to be silent. You give me permission to express my grief in any way that I need, and you will not judge but listen. You give me fellowship as you share your grief. Knowing that we’re in the same boat steadies me.

You give me trust when you talk about your struggles, not because I have answers, and not because my wisdom is so great, but because my presence is important to you. You give me patience when you wait as I fumble around trying to describe what is rumbling inside me. You give me insights into grief’s gnarly wilderness and help guide my way.

You give me courage to go deeper into grief. Sometimes you poke when I don’t go deep enough. I scowl, but then I try because I know you’re probably right. You give me your tears, and they release my own. You give me smiles. Open and warm.

You give me love, and anchor it in a place where it won’t be washed away by the next incoming tide of grief. You hold my hand, and this says what no words can. You give me hope. This horrible thing that has happened to us, this devastation that has battered, ripped, and torn our lives apart, has not destroyed us. You give me your strength because I see your fierce determination to battle death’s demons.

And when you wrap me in your arms, you give me the greatest gift of all — compassion.


Mark Liebenow’s work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and named a notable essay by Best American Essays 2012. His account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with grief, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press.

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