Mary Potter Kenyon

“It must be difficult for you to interview a couple going through cancer or someone who has lost a child, opening up old wounds,” someone said to me recently. On the contrary, I request these stories. In fact, losses and cancer battles have been revealed to me during entirely unrelated interviews, and if hugs are not an appropriate reporter’s response, then I’m glad I missed the memo. I am, first and foremost, a fellow human being who intimately knows what it is to face the unseen enemy of cancer or lose a loved one.

“When will I be done grieving?” the anguished cry echoed through the room, and seconds ticked by uncomfortably as the rest of us remained silent. We’d grouped our chairs into a circle after one of my presentations, and from the introductions were aware this woman’s loss had been the most recent. We looked to one another, avoiding her pleading gaze, waiting for someone else to give the answer we didn’t want to say, or hear.

“Never,” the gentle whisper finally came from a woman who’d lost her husband 20 years before. Seeing the look of horrified shock on the other woman’s face, she hastened to add, “I live a full life and enjoy so many things, but I never stop missing him.”

This year marks five holiday seasons without my mother, four without my husband David, and three without my grandson, Jacob. I am sure there are those who might wonder why I still dread celebrations. Whether I like it or not, I am no longer the “Queen of Christmas” as my husband once labeled me. But no one in that room would wonder at my lack of Christmas cheer. Every single head nodded in agreement when I said “Grief might not end, but you won’t always feel the way you do right now.”

That’s what happens when you’re in a room full of people who have also experienced loss — there is the understanding nod, a hand reaching out to comfort. There are tears, but there are also hugs and reminders that healing is taking place. “You won’t always feel the way you do right now” might be all that woman needed to hear to help her get out of bed the next day, and the next, and the one after that.

My personal experience of grief has not made me an expert on the topic, but I’ve definitely become a student in the study of bereavement, and my multiple losses have irrevocably changed me. In those first months after my husband’s death, I stumbled down a dark path, hands splayed, feeling for a light or something to hang onto. In my case, light came from journaling, prayer and the pages of a Bible. In the process of grieving, my heart was not just broken, but broken wide open, and I discovered a gift in that; an ability to touch the hearts of others and a compassion and empathy that surpasses anything I’d ever imagined. Strange as it sounds, I never feel so alive as I do when I speak on grief.

I will be sharing my story of hope and healing and ideas for getting through the holidays when grieving at two area presentations that are open to the public.

On Thursday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m., I will be speaking at St. Mary’s Parish Hall at 119 West Fayette Street in Manchester. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, I will be at the Jones County Youth Development Center in Monticello, with a meal at 6 p.m., followed by a 6:30 program, sponsored by the Monticello library and the Above & Beyond Home Healthcare and Hospice. For the Monticello event, call (319) 465-3354 to reserve a seat.

— Mary Potter-Kenyon is a staff writer for the Manchester Press, Dyersville Commercial and Cascade Pioneer. She can be contacted at mary.potterkenyon@wcinet.com.