In the old comic strip, Charlie Brown's catch phrase was "Good grief."
Good Grief is also the name of a workshop for kids that takes place twice a year here in Montreal. The workshop was developed by my friend, grief counselor Dawn Cruchet, and it's now run by Dawn's protégé, grief counselor Natalie Segal together with Jillian Lucht.
I met Dawn and Natalie when I was doing the research for my novel, Planet Grief, which just happens to be set at a grief retreat!
So, today was pretty special, because I was invited to pop by the Good Grief Workshop to speak with the 30 or so kids (and their parents) who were attending. And thanks to a generous gift from Dawn's friend, Dr. Eva Kuchar, every one of the youngsters who was there today left with a copy of Planet Grief (which I happily signed for each of them!).
I told the young participants that I became interested in the subject of grief when my own mum was dying two years ago. At the time, I was 56 and I knew I was lucky to have had a mother for so long (I'm lucky, too, that I still have my dad). I wondered a lot about what it would feel like to be a young person whose mom or dad dies. Like I told the participants today, even though they are young, they already have a lot more life experience that many adults. And I suggested that maybe they should consider turning their difficult experiences into stories (or poems, or paintings, or music... in other words, into something beautiful that they can share with others).
I also talked a little about the writing process and all the work that goes into a published book. When I explained about the importance of re-writing, a lovely young man named Brenden remarked, "I have a rock polisher and you have to polish a rock over and over till it gets shiny." Exactly, Brenden -- it's the same for stories.
Later, when I was telling the kids that I often get good ideas in the shower, Brenden made another interesting comment: "Some inventors get ideas when they are on the toilet!" I will keep that in mind, Brenden!
Ariel, who is 18, and goes to John Abbott College, told me she stopped writing stories two years, following her mom's death. "I continud writing poetry. I use poetry to express my feelings. Now I want to go back to writing as a passion -- not just as an outlet." Wow, Ariel, those are powerful, sensitive words! I'm delighted that you feel ready to go back to writing stories. And I hope that for you, writing will be both a passion and an outlet. Even though writing is often hard work, I'm hooked! Something tells me you're heading in that direction too!
Even for a writer like me, it's hard to find words to describe the spirit at Selwyn House School today, where the Good Grief Workshop took place. It's as if I could feel the kindness and support in the air, but also the pain these youngsters have been through. As I told them, I am 100 per cent convinced that as they grow up, they will go on to help other young people who are facing loss and grief in their lives.
I'm not sure if I believe in heaven or angels... but I do believe that love lives on, and that our loved ones live on in us. At the end of the afternoon, we released balloons on which we had written messages.... 'm not sure the balloons will make it all the way to heaven. But I do know that when I looked at the youngsters' faces today, I could see both of their parents in them. And I can tell you that their parents must be very proud to have raised such kind and openhearted kids.
So, if you're in Montreal this evening and you see a balloon blowing overhead, think of love and courage. Grief is definitely good.
Thanks to Natalie for today's invite. Thanks to Dawn for all you do. Thanks to Natalie and Jillian's team for being fabulous. And thanks most of all to the kids, you are AMAZING. Thanks for your inspiration. xo from Monique