September 9, 2012

In the Company of Strangers. ~ Juli Arnold-Kole

“You are really angry at the world.” Well, yes. Yes, I am!

A stranger had told me that insightful observation a few short months after I lost my beloved father to leukemia. Honestly, my initial reaction was not one steeped in defensiveness or denial. It was more like: Thank you for showing up. Thank you for seeing what is, as it is. Thank you for naming it out loud.

One of my most frightening experiences when my father died was coming to terms with the stark loneliness of the grieving process.

No one could go through this experience for me, nor did most want to walk along with me during this intimate passage. I felt that those who knew me well secretly wanted the old me back. You know, the one who didn’t spontaneously burst into tears at the dinner table, or in my office cubicle, or simple sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.

Hell, I did not want to go through this either. However, trek through it I must.

During the journey, I found immense comfort surrounded by a group of grief strangers— folks who had recently experienced a deep-deep loss themselves, just like me. We were a very diverse group, randomly thrown together with grief as our primary common denominator.

I didn’t understand the complete extent of their own grief, because it was theirs, and theirs alone.

But I do know that we held each other up like no other, which allowed for any sort of individual process to unfold, and we witnessed in awe and with deep-felt honor each others’ milestones, epiphanies, setbacks, tears, rants, triumphs, whatever.

In this group, there were no filters, no old stories to contend with, no crap of any kind. There were no toes to step on. No niceties to adhere to.

We were blank slates for each other, bringing everything and anything to the table. Whatever needed to be expressed was: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This was a very unique rite of passage we  embarked on together. A metaphorical vision quest of sorts. Our going out into the wild, entirely on our own.

Hanging out in some kind of liminal space. Knowing we have to do this grieving thing by ourselves.

But I found solace in knowing that I was held by guides of like-minded others who were there acting as a container for me. They were there so I could process what I needed to process. So I didn’t fly away or become paralyzed by my grief, but rather remained grounded in my desire to go through my grief in order to get to some other side.

Whatever that other side is.

Perhaps it is a subtle craving for the Capitol T: Transformation. Either way, they were and are there for me.

Who knew I would find the truly genuine amongst a group of complete strangers?

Thank God for a blank slate.

Photo: Heather M. Smith-Matthews


Juli Arnold-Kole is an animal advocate, writer/editor, former ballet dancer and sometime trickster, based in Boulder.





Editor: Lara C.

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