Groucho Marx put it best in saying he didn’t care to belong to any club that would have him as a member.
I felt the exact opposite when I was approached this spring to be on the board of the Bereavement Center of Westchester. It has been an absolute honor to serve as the first member who had gone through their family grief counseling program and offer valuable insight both from in and out of the trenches, coupled with my professional background in journalism, PR, marketing, and fundraising. Plus, I love throwing galas and parties. It’s the perfect fit.
I can tell you their Treehouse program saved the girls and me when Mark died.
I was stubborn at first, telling the lady who organizes the program never to expect me to talk–that I was not a sharer. I was only there to help my children.
“I am fine,” I told her.
Her eyes said “Really?” but her trained voice told me it was okay. I could take my time.
Sitting there on those hard wooden chairs in a private Bronxville, NY school library week after week was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It meant Mark was dead at least every Tuesday at 6:30 pm for two 12 week sessions.
“Hi, I’m Laura.”
“Hi Laura,” the room echoed in supportive unison.
I called it AA for Dead People. Even though I’ve never been to an AA meeting, it was easier to joke about it than accept being in a bereavement support group.
It started with introductions: name, who died, when, and how.
“My husband, Mark, died on Thanksgiving, 2009. He had a heart attack at age 52.”
The structured words rang out like microphone checks, testing us grievers to hear, even if we could not yet accept what we could not change. A drowned wife whose body didn’t surface for a week. A teenage daughter’s pilly suicide. A fully employed suburban father of three who turned up dead in a crack house. Brain cancer where she hung on for three years.
The love, understanding and support we received from each other proved to be a powerful game changer as we struggled to make new lives for ourselves and for our families.
Meanwhile, our children were downstairs in their own age appropriate groups, talking about feelings while painting pictures, playing games, decorating cookies, and making memory pillows. My girls must have gone on a scavenger hunt at home, collecting everything from their father’s pocketknives and baby pictures to his mismatched, holy socks to stuff in the pillows. They even included a box of gold fish food. I wondered where that went!
Throughout time, I saw a change in my daughters too, as they grew to understand they were not the only ones who got short-changed a parent and that in order to heal, they needed to accept death as a part of life.
If I had a million dollars lying around, I would give it all to the Treehouse Program for helping so many families navigate grief. Instead, I give them my time once a month as we gear up for their 20th anniversary gala and work toward funding the free programs.
Thank you Treehouse for giving me this opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Copyright © 2014 Laura Fahrenthold