Thursday, September 30, 2010

Walking into Autumn

The Visitor, ©2005, Hannah Hunter, SoulCollage®, 8" x 5"

It's Fall again. The students have flowed into our town like salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Its 99 degrees and rising. I drive downtown in search of a icey treat. The frozen yogurt shops have lines streaming backwards all the way to the "tart original." In order to slake my hunger, I grab a couple of the tiny pleated paper cups, fill them up with pecan praline and french vanilla and slurp. 

I'm preparing myself. The next day is the beginning of a group that I help to facilitate each fall and winter, our hospital's "Young Adult Bereavement Group." Tucked into that title and invisible to all except myself and the other facilitator is the word "art." 

When we first conceived of this group back in 2008, we wanted to create a space for people who didn't quite fit into a childrens' bereavement group, nor on the other hand, in an adult group. 

Because the alternating need for privacy and sharing in this age group, 17 to 24, switches on and off like a strobe light, art bridges the gap--literally between silence and speech and figuratively, between childhood and adulthood. 

I approach the group with caution, knowing that for the next 8 weeks, I'm immersing myself in the multiple worlds of these losses--attending to nuances so subtle that they could easily pass unnoticed. It's a prolonged meditation on attachment and the slow, inevitable letting go.

It's exactly this sort of attention to detail, as if we were all creating an exquisite painting, that allows me to follow the thread of each individual story, pulling here, tweaking there, hoping that in some way, the unfolding of their stories slowly, almost imperceptibly, leads to healing. The process reminds me of a biblical quote that I read many years ago in a yoga publication, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

These words conjure in a haunting way, the reality of loss--that as we make our way through--or perhaps more accurately, fumble our way through, we can only cling to something we cannot see--the hope that there is something on the other side of loss. 


  1. Glad for these students that you have created this platform for them, this safe haven to express themselves through words and art. I hear you about being one to have to "hold" their grief for many weeks ahead. I know you know how to care for yourself and that you will do fine. Be gentle with yourself while you are guiding them.

  2. What a blessing to have someone as caring and sensitive as you to facilitate the group.

  3. Thanks Lynn--I end up spending a lot of time making art and talking to my co-faciltator, trying to figure out the workings of universe in individual lives. And now is the season of my favorite kind of self care: pumpkin frozen yogurt!

    Thank you Robyn--one of the things I have to keep reminding myself is: "I am enough." One sometimes wants to have superhuman powers of empathy and compassion.

  4. Wow Hannah...I so admire your courage and compassion. I imagine the next 8 weeks could find you often heavy of heart - I also imagine that by the end, there is something else in there? Blessings - on you and your teenage charges.

  5. Hi Hannah
    The best of work.
    Heart art.
    Lives touched forever by a language that never fails.

    Enjoy your pumpkin yogurt...sounds yum!

  6. This 8 week class takes enormous dedication and is a delicate undertaking...a careful and creative way to help others through shadows and dark places...fine work ahead.Blessings

  7. this is so beautifully written and speaks to the power of art as metaphor.

  8. Tracey--You're right--it can weigh heavily on the heart--but as you say, the blessing is the chance to watch change take place in front of my eyes.

    Donna--Heart art; I like that. &--today's pumpkin yogurt was exquisite; a sweet end to a long week.

    Thank you Blue Sky--we are definitely in the land of teshuvah--the turning of the heart.

    Phoenix--Besides being able to observe change, the power of metaphor is what draws me to this work. So filling.

  9. Hannah, how blessed these young people are to have your guidance and support as they traverse these dark corners of their lives. Are you using SoulCollage with them? I can imagine that would be a deeply powerful way to cross that bridge between raw emotion and words.

  10. Laura--We do use SoulCollage--and as you rightly said, it helps bridge the gap by giving form to raw emotion. Once there is a form, it's easier for people to speak about someone--to introduce them, so to speak.

  11. Hannah, what a gift you are giving those young people. It's comforting knowing there are people like you out there doing that kind of work. Thank you and be sure to take care of yourself during these 8 weeks.

  12. Hi Hannah, it sounds like such a profound and powerful group, and a blessing for those who participate. As others have said above, I sense your presence as such glorious gift. One who provides a place of safety, strength, courage and vulnerability to be explored and experienced all on the road to healing. We all deserve some of that!
    love, Karin

  13. I love the concept of Soul collage. I had done Soul painting a few weeks back. The experience is just beautiful, and if in the presence of the right group the intermingling of the energies is just amazing.

    Pumpkin Yogurt.. thats interesting too!

  14. Dianne, thanks for your encouragement and the reminder to be gentle with myself (I need reminders!). If you ever hear of young adults who could benefit, please let them know of our program: Young Adult Bereavement Group, sponsored by UC Davis Children's Hospital and UC Davis Hospice.

    Karin, Your words are absolutely helpful and affirming. I agree-we do all need that kind of space.

    Joyita, As many times as I've participated in SoulCollage, I never fail to be surprised by the process and what it reveals.