From Grief to Gratitude – Moving Forward in The Light

By Steven A. Hitz, Founding Director
Author of Launching Leaders

September 16, 2023

Early this year, acting from a yearning to include more hope and light in my life, and a way to reduce loneliness and build friendships, I formed a light-seeking group of six gentlemen aged 42-70.  I spent over a year vetting in my mind who might be a part of this group. 

The purpose of our group was defined, and we started meeting. We call our group “Porch Lights” and meet monthly.  Each month another member leads the discussion.  We sort of made up our own rules of engagement from such greats as Parker Palmer and Marcus Arrulius.  We meditate a few minutes to ground ourselves at the beginning of each meeting and to be present.  Then, each one in the group shares something of what’s going on in their lives.  Everyone listens with real intent. 

We established basic “rules of behavior” in this group there is no judgement, no one upmanship. Just transparent and thoughtful engagement.  No member is required to share or speak at all. Sometimes listening is the best way to share.

When we meet, each is given a bean bag, and if at any time one makes a point or comment that another finds they NEED to chime in on (pardon the interruption), OR feels like they are not being heard, they throw the bean bag into the center of the room and a discussion ensues (note, the bean bag has only been thrown once). 

The point of the group is to bring LIGHT into the conversations and each other’s lives from any direction.  It is not a “church” group, though we are each men of faith. We have had discussions on religion, faith, culture, personal challenges – beautiful aspects of light gleaned from good books, and perhaps most meaningful of all, the excavation of one’s soul as thoughts and experiences are shared.  Absolute trust to be vulnerable is what makes this gathering unique. It’s the most beautiful group I have ever been a part of.  I share this because it is foundational to what has happened since.

In this group each member knows of the challenges and grief our family has endured since the passing of our dear son who took his life at age 39, three years ago.  By no coincidence, this group has given me light, without even knowing it perhaps, to answer an inner call my wife and I have had to finally turn this grief around and have the burden lifted.  Though our personal faith has grown through this experience, we felt there was yet another part of this journey to explore.  Those of you who have read my previous articles regarding suicide ideation, know of the process this path has taken.

As we decided to act on the light that has been garnered, by no coincidence, we accepted an invitation from my oldest son and daughter-in-law to go to Switzerland on the third anniversary of our son’s passing to celebrate Skyler’s birthday – also the day of his passing.  This was Bear’s favorite country and he spent lots of time there with some family.  My grandfather is an immigrant from Switzerland, and we claim this as our “motherland.”

August 20th will go down as a day filled with sacred meaning.  My oldest son had taken a trip to join Skyler in Switzerland a few years prior when he knew his brother was in trouble.  Together they walked Skyler’s favorite paths in the green and forested hills and mountains.  As we embarked on the trails he walked, there was no set agenda.  We brought his ashes to spread in his favorite spots, but otherwise had no set schedule as to how this day would go.  We felt deeply that this should be a day of celebration and not sadness.  Though in remembering, it’s hard to not also experience sadness due to our separation and deep love for one another.

This space we now found ourselves is where our boy found solace in his state of mental despair.   This is where he found peace and enlightenment.  He found an open chapel in the woods and meditated there.  This place is where he found the courage to face a world he simply did not understand.

As we walked, we found a beautiful unoccupied cabin porch overlooking the valley.  We borrowed it for a moment.  Ginger pulled out her phone and played her favorite recordings she had of Skyler.  We laughed and cried.  It was sooo good to hear his voice.  I took out a journal that had never been opened.  Leather bound and purchased at a spiritual garden store in Maui, I had saved it for a special occasion.   As I penned my thoughts, it was as if Skyler took my pen and helped record the moments.  All of us felt as though Skyler was penning or saying to us “Enough already” – “no more grief” – “no more long faces.”  “I’m just fine and all of us should move forward in joyous gratitude.” 

I closed the journal.  It was time to keep walking.  My son and his wife took a higher path where he and his brother had walked years before, and Ginger and I took a little lower one.  Each of us found a spot we knew Bear would appreciate being laid to rest.  Ginger and I found a grouping of three beautiful trees on the hill and laid on our backs beneath one of them them.  Seeing only the clouds drift above us and the tree standing over us, and the breeze on our face, we shed our final tears of grief and took up Skyler’s charge of gratitude.  We laughed and cried and hugged. 

We had our own little ceremony, left a part of Skyler under this tree to become a part of it over time, placed some fresh cut flowers and walked away, hand in hand.  Ginger said she finally felt the burdens of grief lifted.  We were tired from walking all day but felt renewed and filled with a hope that was palpable.

I credit my oldest son and my “Porch Lights” group for providing the impetus for this pilgrimage.  This experience was a fitting close of one chapter and the opening of a new one – yet to be lived and explored.  We always remember the prior chapters, but we must keep reading and moving forward, living into the unknown.  Occasionally, we will need to toss in a bean bag and allow some grief to be voiced.  We must allow for the authentic and what comes naturally. But overall, as we gather together, we shall evoke the light which has been garnered with a renewed sense of gratitude, not grief.  The light will continue to flow and fill us as we live into the best life our son expects us to be living.

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