DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Solace in community

THE STARS, OR in this case a memory and a gathering, align this month.

When I saw the flier for the Oct. 24 Community Memorial Service in Port Townsend — 5:30 p.m., Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 2333 San Juan Ave. — I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before. Organizer Cristina Manzoni told me it’s been going on for many years.

Jefferson Healthcare Hospice and its Hospice Foundation offer the event for the whole community, she added, emphasizing it’s open to everybody.

So come to remember and honor a loved one you’ve lost. Doesn’t matter how long they’ve been gone.

Nine years ago today, a member of my chosen family was taken away from us. He was just 63. Now and again something reminds me of him, and it knocks the wind out of me. I grit my teeth and smile at whoever is around.

How can I be like this, when so much time has passed?

Manzoni, Jefferson Healthcare’s bereavement coordinator, gets it. She’s an expert in the ways of grief, thanks to her professional and personal experience. She’s made it her mission to affirm people wherever they are — and, this time of year, invite them to the community memorial.

The event is nondenominational and beautiful, Manzoni said: Harpist Shannon Ryan and the Threshold Choir offer the music. Candle lighting and a brief poetry reading are also elements, as are mementos and pictures anyone and everyone can pin to the full-size quilt on display throughout the service. Bring a copy of a photo, she told me.

Rituals, be they gatherings of neighbors or solitary pieces of time, give us anchors, Manzoni said. We need moments to be still, for ourselves and for other people — pretty much everyone — also living with loss.

Yet in what Manzoni calls our “get-over-it society,” we’ve mostly deleted rituals such as wakes, graveside services and the wearing of special clothing to denote mourning.

“Having said that, sometimes right after a loss, we go into a shock, a numbness,” she said, and sometimes, we next hurl ourselves into activity to distract from pain.

After my friend’s death in 2010, I piled up a long series of 12-hour work days, then went to the gym for the rest of my waking hours. So I didn’t feel much — until the grief caught up with me like a wave whooshing onto the beach. For many moons I sloshed around in that.

Hearing the details about the community memorial, I felt a fresh sense of relief — immediately followed by oh, no, must not talk and write about it. Too much of a downer, I feared. That’s the old buck-up-and-move-on mentality.

But I’m here to say yes, grief hurts, but also yes, it’s OK and healthy — necessary — to pause and take solace in a ritual.

Remember those old “stages of grief?” Manzoni much prefers to see the process as a fluid thing. Our grieving styles are as unique as our facial features. When ready, we might make time for art — maybe a collection of mementos — or a meaningful trip. Deep breathing and meditation: balm and salve.

At the memorial gathering, nobody’s going to ask you to stand up and speak, Manzoni added. It’s an easygoing scene, with nourishing refreshments afterward.

“The energy shifts,” she said, “and we just connect, as a community.”

In one more element of the evening, people will be invited to participate in a responsive reading. Manzoni gave me a bookmark with an example.

“So long as we live, they too shall live,” it reads, “for they are now a part of us.”

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Nov. 6.

Reach her at [email protected]