I return to my chair and decide to read more of "The Andy Cohen Diaries" while I wait for the other sad people to arrive. I wonder to myself if being early to a Navigating Grief workshop is the same level faux pas as being the first to a party, and I grow more anxious. A nice portly woman with espresso colored skin walks in in a turquoise blazer maybe from Chico's and chunky jewelry. I swear counselors all read some manual on how counselors are supposed to dress and that manual most definitely needs to be rewritten.
"Hi, I'm Leslie." she says, her tone going up at the end almost like a question.
"Hi, I'm Hannah, nice to meet you", I reply shaking her cold papery hand.
In response, she laughs oddly, this strange deep chortle. "Ahuhuhuh."
I wonder if her laughter is because I'm completely engrossed in the "Andy Cohen Diaries" or because I have a booger, but either way I'm turned off. I want to say to her, "Because that's really the first impression I'd like at this Navigating Grief workshop, lady-- unwarranted laughter, possibly at me." She has a giant fanny, though. I'm obsessed with her middle-aged giant fanny in her pants probably from Chico's.
A wispy blonde girl with a kind face shows up and a boy whose hair looks like when I used to straighten the side bangs my mom cut for me in our kitchen in 7th grade. They say hello and immediately start reading the first page of our pamphlets. I instantly don't like them. I see them as characters out of a Jody Piccoult novel. Why am I such an asshole? I'm the worst at grief, ever. They start chatting quietly. I want to urge them to act like we're at the DMV and just talk however loud they want. This is grief, friends! There are no rules!
I eventually break the silence and say, "So, do y'all know each other?" More importantly: why did I say y'all?
"Um, yeah." she smiles shyly. "He's actually my boyfriend."
"Oh!" I exclaim with far more excitement than I could genuinely express. "That's really great of you to come along. That's really nice."
They look at me warmly as a pair and give me a somber nod. This is her first thingy, too and now I love them. Another girl brought Cheez-its in an irritatingly clean little tupperware, and I wonder why I didn't think to bring a snack. My doctor said I need to eat healthier and eat every few hours and drink more water because I'm getting acid reflux and it's giving me perpetual vocal raspiness, which isn't ideal for my burgeoning career as an ACTRESS. I'm happily skinny fat but also like, I have health issues and feel ashamed and I'm always afraid of cancer. I wait for my friend to arrive, feeling like the horse (*Artax) in The Neverending Story who lets the sadness overtake him and sinks to his death in mud.
Eventually, the motley crew of grievers come together. There are ten of us total. An older gentleman, probably in his mid-fifties, we'll call him Fred. He walks in and sits next to me, and you can feel the heaviness emanating from his slouched, defeated posture. A younger woman, mid-thirties, we'll call her Jan. (Jan has a very sparkly wedding ring, and I hope it's not her husband who died.) The previously mentioned couple, Mike and Sarah. My friend, Taylor who arrives smiley and adorable in one of her mom's old tops. I still consistenly wonder how she manages to have that happy-person glow when she's so fucking sad... I take note to ask her about her skincare regimen later. Then there's the girl next to Taylor at the far end of the table who couldn't be more than thirty. I'm naming her Sally. And finally, a mother and daughter, they'll be Rachel and Linda. The daughter looks to be about my age, twenty-five, and the mom is well, a mom. Probably pushing sixty. They have the aesthetic of sweet suburban people who probably used to send out annual Christmas cards as a family. The daughter is stunning, but obviously a tomboy, buried in a bright orange oversized sweatshirt, a memento from some sporting event she did. The mom has delicate glasses on a beaded string, and hip artisanal jewelry like turquoise rings.
Leslie and her assistant Anne take the head of the table, and begin to lead us through the first page of our pamphlet. They then do a ritual where they light the three candles-- one for us for being here, one for our "journey", and one for the person we lost. I cry when we light the candle for the person we lost. I really miss my mom and don't want to do Christmas without her.
We go through the pamphlet and go over symptoms of grief. Basically, Leslie and Anne tell us everything is normal, which is comforting, but I also get frustrated and yearn for concrete solutions. They open the conversation up to us, and I find myself monopolizing it and feeling like a grieving Hermione Grainger. Again, not a good look. Slowly, everyone starts to come out of their shells and tell their stories. Jan is a mother of three children, and doesn't know how to tell her daughter that she's just too sad about the loss of her mom ("Grandma") to make a gingerbread house like last year, and do the advent calendar. I want to help her, somehow. I'm refreshed by Jan, knowing that the pain I feel for losing my mom at twenty-five would feel just the same if she had made it to my wedding, if she had been there to meet my children. Fred lost his dad. So did Sarah, so did Rachel. Rachel's mom, Linda lost her husband. Sally, the younger girl next to Taylor, certainly the quietest, eventually is able to utter through her tears that she lost her husband on her wedding night. They were married thirteen hours, and Christmas would have been their five year anniversary. She wonders how to tell her in-laws that she doesn't want to see them, and that she doesn't want to do Christmas. I want to hold her. I want to charge a small fortune of super greasy Chinese food on my eternally unpaid credit card and then build her a fort. I tell her she's so brave to be willing to admit to herself that she doesn't want to see her in-laws, and that she should give herself a pat on the back. I say this, and instantly hope I don't appear sanctimonious and pious.
I start to really care for all these nameless people. I want to take them to dinner and give them back rubs or give them some no-bullshit comfort like Judd Hirsch does as the shrink in Ordinary People. But I let Leslie give us her advice, and I let it land and resonate. And then I just miss my mom more and hope that all of these people we are all missing so deeply are looking out for us. I think of how great it would be to just do a hard left this year as far as Christmas traditions go, and wish we had the money to rent a cabin in Wisconsin so we can listen to records and play cards, and mom will never have been there for Christmas so maybe the gap won't be as big and maybe it won't hurt so much. I'm scared to be in my Grandma's house without mom on Christmas day. And to go back to my mom's house to watch my little sister open Christmas presents on Christmas morning, knowing there won't be anyhting for me under the tree this year. I'm scared. I really, really am.
I emerge from the workshop with a sense of pride, like I just went on a long, cleansing jog (lol), and can't wait to tell my shrink. He will be so proud, and probably tell me some great story about a zen master to give me extra clarity. I go home to my roommate to decorate our Christmas tree, and get swept up in the glitter of it all. And then at the end, when our apartment looks truly magical, I get really quiet, and I cry for mom. I try to remember what Leslie told me-- that grief is a wave, and I just need to continue to ride it. Mom would have really loved our tree, I mean it.