As I started reading the latest “Beautiful Things” offering on the River Teeth blog, I thought of our bereaved mom group. The piece, “Surf Check,” opens: “November on the coast. Cracking cold and painfully clear. We cram 12 of us in a one-bed cabin on the Quileute reservation, not caring about personal space or what is whose. In the morning we’re up as soon as the sun starts to slide its slow half-circle around the horizon.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with us, we’re a group of 13 bereaved moms who gathered for a one-day writing workshop I led back in 2002 and have been meeting ever since, twice a year, for weekend writing retreats. Sometimes we cram into fairly small spaces, and as Julie says, “I can sleep with anybody (in our group) for one night.” Most of us prefer a couch or the floor to sharing beds. Like the other group, there are sometimes 12 of us and, yes, we don’t care all that much about “what is whose.”
In the early years, I kept a militant schedule. We wrote on Friday night after dinner and started at 9 a.m. sharp on Saturdays. As we’ve become more comfortable together–and since we’re all so busy and desperately need respite on these weekends–-I’ve eased up on the boot camp approach. We meet at 10 a.m. and on Saturday nights we play games instead of writing again after dinner.
But for several years, a tight structure was important to contain the sometimes volatile material we wrote about–-and shared. We didn’t know each other well either; writing and bereavement were our bonds. Strict boundaries helped everybody feel safe.
Now we have years of shared experience and a deep camaraderie. The writing matters, it will always be our glue, but we might write for an entire weekend with barely a mention of our devastating losses.
As I read on in “Surf Check,” the comparisons completely evaporate. Those maniacs are out surfing in the frigid Pacific all morning, their eyelashes freezing. Some of us barely stray from a couch all day, even when it’s perfect June on a North Carolina beach or mild October in the Blue Ridge mountains.
The wild surfers will gather wood for a fire later: “But now we pull our hoods tight and try to memorize the way the early morning waves build and crest.”.
In our group, we pull out our journals and laptops and after several cups of strong coffee (they drink it weak), let the waves that have been building inside us spill out onto our pages.