Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Preparing for the Shift of 12-21-2012

People who used to speculate a great deal on the significance of 12-21-2012 - the end of the current baktun of the Mayan long-count calendar, Timewave Zero, the galactic alignment, the very hopeful Hopi-Tibetan prophecy, and, some say, the end of the Kali Yuga - have been strangely silent on the subject for at least three months. This silence is probably because we know that all bets are off, and thus are subconsciously freaked out about its unkown nature, to greater or lesser extents. I realize that the date is questionable, because of differing ways in which the Mayan calendar is interpreted, how it correlates with our various calendars of European origin, what “galactic alignment” actually means, and how long it may take to come about. Nevertheless, I am approaching the date seriously, even though there is much about it I do not understand (most of it), and am simply unable understand at this time.

To me it seems ill-advised to be dismissive of it with pat responses such as, “Just like that Y2K thing – damn nonsense!” At the same time it might be premature to proclaim it as to be one thing or another with: “The Earth will be destroyed,” or “We shall awaken in Utopia as beings of light” (although the latter has personal attraction to me and describes the nature of my chosen life-work).

Because I had a part to play in the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, a forerunner of the upcoming moment, I know that I must be available for whatever may be going on around December 21. Selena Fox, the person responsible for getting the State Department to put pentagrams on the tombs of pagan soldiers, is taking what I consider to be a sensible attitude about it: first, she is celebrating the Winter Solstice, for that is indeed what the date is; second, she is honoring the Maya people by focusing on ideas of renewal as depicted in their calendrical system – a focus that ties in with the meaning of the solstice. I have decided to follow Selena's lead by making it my own starting point.

I am also, in preparation, fasting, and taking part in a sacred plant-ritual. Then, over a period of three days on either side of the date, Judy and I will be meditating in an isolated, snow-bound place without plumbing or the presence of electromagnetic waves. It would be fun to attend a rave and dance all night with fellow celebrants, but we feel drawn to do this other thing.

My guidance is to not take 12-21-2012 for granted, to have an open mind, and be present. 2012 has been the best year of my life. This is the year I became a human being. I discovered my self – lost since age eight – and, as a result, my mind is sharp for the first time in 44 years, and my whole/parts are working together harmoniously. It has been the most productive year ever for me in terms of creativity. For example, I was guided, like the Richard Dreyfus character in “Close Encounters,” to manifest in a feverish manner several non-ordinary projects, and to fill many notebooks with essays, stories, and ideas.

When Selena Fox remarked that 12-21-2012 is in part what we make of it, I flashed that this awakening in me has been the event itself already in operation – that I have been caught up in the transformation for most of a year.

I am, at your service,
Dave Pierce, Citizen of the Nousphere

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What do we mean by "Caring Support"?

Friends Along the Road literature used to say that we provide "nonjudgmental" support for those in grief. We dumped that slogan because it is impossible to fulfill. Hell, I'm as judgmental as anyone, though I am constantly working on being less so. We also dumped "unconditional." But the idea behind these statements is something we strive for, always: whether we call it "existential" support, "person-centered" support, or "caring" support, we want you to know that you may be the person best equipped to figure out how you should go about your grief and mourning.

We offer support by creating safe places called "sanctuaries," and by teaching others to provide FAR sanctuaries. We hope that in a FAR sanctuary, you may feel safe and comfortable enough to make journeys of discovery, and find ways of keeping on. If you do not feel safe and comfortable enough, let us know, and we will do our best to improve these places.

And if you feel in need some guidance, our ideology will not get in the way: we will offer resources.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Do Men and Women Grieve Differently? Not Always.

By David D. Pierce Jr. Originally published by The Grief Toolbox*, October 24, 2012.

Much is made in bereavement circles about the different ways in which men and women grieve and mourn their loved ones. Men are said to be stoic, strong, tough, aloof, silent, tearless, and on the whole incapable of expressing emotion. Women are characterized as nurturing, emotional, weepy, panicky, swooning, and possessed by a need to share their grief through talking, writing, and hugging. Do these views accurately reflect the ways in which men and women grieve? Maybe sometimes, but not necessarily: the differences are often based on individuality rather than gender.

While cultural expectations abound regarding how men and women grieve, and how they should grieve, they do not define the many ways men and women actually do grieve.

It is true that in many of the Western industrialized countries, men are often reported by wives, girlfriends, sisters, and mothers as being unable to discuss deaths of loved ones, let alone display any emotion other than general anger – and sometimes, not even that. The women in their lives sometimes worry that they are bottling their emotions, unwilling to state what they really feel because they wish to avoid being perceived as weak, or are simply incapable of showing emotion due to biological reasons.

What is not so often reported is that men do grieve intensely - and expressively. We have evidence of this throughout literature, and in the history of Greek and Roman cultures, in which strong, masculine heroes shed tears and embraced. In "The Iliad," for example, Odysseus had no conflict between his heroic qualities and the fact that he often wept for home, dead loved ones, and fallen comrades. There are plenty other examples of men who grieve emotionally.

I am one such man. I have met others. We have cried together, given one another hugs, listened and shared support, and been open with our feelings. We have done this with each other alone as well as in the presence of our female friends and relatives. We know that there are men - both heterosexual and gay - who have no difficulty crying when they are in grief over someone's death, and from many other causes. Some even shed tears during movies. (I do this, too.) Men who are at ease with their emotions come in an infinite variety of ages, personalities, and appearances: they can be, for example, small and sensitive-looking intellectuals, tall, muscular jocks, or just "average guys" who watch football and drink beer on Sundays. When my daughter died, a powerfully-built policeman held me tight, and together, we wept; he was one of the strongest men I have ever met and it had nothing to do with his considerable physical strength or station in life.

Some men are inexpressive. That may be alright, too.

Quite a few women defy the stereotype of being "weak, emotional females," and prefer to grieve quietly. They may find their losses too overwhelming, or even too private or sacred, to put into words. They may never shed a tear, but instead, perhaps, go for a walk, alone, or write in a journal, or even not think much about it. My wife tends to be reserved in her expression of grief. She grieves intensely, but privately, and I respect her way of grieving, because I respect her, and appreciate her individuality. It does not mean she is emotionally "cold" - far from it; she is one of the warmest, most nurturing and considerate people I have ever known. The way women grieve has little to do with their gender, or their age, physical characteristics, or sexual preferences. As with men, cultural factors can come into play, but this is never a given, and shouldn't be an expectation of anyone.

Some women are consistently emotional in grief and mourning. Such behavior can also be quite fine.

Perceived differences in the way men and women grieve have little basis in human biology. Just as there is no "shopping gene" that causes women to automatically accumulate shoes and handbags, there is no "football" gene for men, no "Clint Eastwood” gene that makes men hard, cold, unemotional. Gender-responses may be noticeable among some men and women, but these are caused mostly by cultural conditioning, not genetics. Sure, hormonal factors can come into play, but no matter the gender, hormonal reactions can be quite inconsistent, and do not account all that much for differences in the way people grieve.

If all your life you are told, as a man, that you are unemotional, or as a woman, that you must cry, you may come to exhibit these behaviors. In reality, there are huge variations in the way we grieve, not based on gender, but on individuality. For this reason I do not, in my work with the bereaved, have separate groups for men and women. I support each person's unique experience of grief, and not cultural expectations of the bereaved. I do not wish to perpetuate damaging stereotypes. To be able to really grieve, people need to do it on their own terms, in the ways they are guided to do by the nature of their own personalities, the individuality of the people who died, their relationships with them, the surroundings, and myriad other factors.

I never thought much about death before my daughter died. Neither did my wife. Like most people in Western culture, we denied death, never mentioning the topic and always avoiding it through constant distractions such as shopping, TV, video games, sports trivia, eating, and so forth. Our focus was on making it, getting ahead, striving until our "ship came in." The idea that our daughter could die was so abominable and unthinkable that it almost never crossed our minds. Rather, we taught her common-sense ways of living and trusted that God would protect her throughout a long life. So when she was struck by a car and killed at age 14, our world stopped. Our belief-system crumbled. We beheld death, which has never left us, and faced it straight-on. We grieved. We continue to grieve.

For the first few years, my wife and I grieved in similar ways. We sobbed throughout each day and night. I would cry, and my wife would comfort me. When my tears ran out, she would cry, and I would comfort her. Sometimes we wept together, for hours at a time. But then there were plenty of times when my wife would be silent. Like a wounded animal she would go off to be alone. In the coming years, she tended to do this with greater frequency, while I continued to cry. We never questioned each other on how we expressed our feelings. Because we recognized our mutual cosmic anguish over the worst possible thing that could ever happen to either of us, we gladly and lovingly accorded one another space to figure out our own best ways of grieving.

As the years went by, we not only continued to grieve uniquely, but our grief changed. Thirteen years later, we still grieve. We have no preset ways of going about it, even from one day to the next.

In our experience of providing support for thousands of people from all over the world who are in deep grief over the death of loved ones, or for other reasons, we have found that there are as many was of grieving as there are people in grief. And yet, sometimes men do grieve stoically, and women emotionally. We hear about it often enough from their family and friends. "My husband won't cry or even mention the name of our child!" "My wife cries all the time about her mother - I think she is broken and needs psychiatric help."

Certainly, such differences are prevalent in a culture that places a great premium on people acting the same way. In the consumerist societies of the United States, Canada, and the UK, there are tremendous forces at work on each person, from the time of one's birth until the end of life, to follow specific patterns of behavior. In school and church we are taught that men exhibit one set of characteristics, women another. This is reinforced by an unceasing barrage of propaganda through television and other media. Why? Because when people can be conditioned to live and act in certain prescribed ways, they are more easily controlled, and make better, more docile, consumers. This propaganda has its origins in the Industrial Revolution and extends to grieving stereotypes, because if the ways people grieve can be controlled, and people guided to "get over it" in a "suitable" time-period, then their focus can once again be returned to the old pursuits of producing and consuming.

Fortunately, there have always been people who resisted such notions. Many whose worlds are stopped by the death of a relative, friend, or beloved pet, immediately realize that nothing else in life can compare to the magnitude of such an event. Thoughts of "getting over it," or "being strong," or "being a man," become revealed for their hollowness, and are jettisoned as harmful illusions. When one has lost the person he or she lived for, and the world collapses, concerns about "being masculine" or "acting like a proper woman," or living to impress others, fly out the window. What becomes important is learning to stay alive, and to live with one's grief.

If you have a family member or friend who is in grief, and not acting the way you think he or she should, ask yourself: Why do I have an agenda for this person? Do I really know best about how someone should grieve? Even if it is my own husband or wife? Does my society even know? Is there another way I can support this person rather than by pushing my own views?

Suppose that your husband cannot cry, cannot talk about the death of his daughter. Is this necessarily wrong? Does it really mean he is not wounded to the core? Or what if your wife is never quiet on the subject of her grandfather's death: she cries at all hours, never sleeps, has stopped doing housework and appears to have no interest in anything. Must you intervene?

While it can be helpful for some people to express emotions during grief, or at times not express it, it can be destructive to pester them about it. Sometimes a person will not cry for a year, or even mention the loved one who died, and then suddenly break down and grieve forever after. I have a friend who lost her husband, parents, and grandparents, all within a period of a few months, and she did not acknowledge her grief for 20 years. Then one day it hit her, and began coming out. It still is, years later, and she runs one of the finest bereavement sites on the Internet. A woman who read in the paper about our daughter's death began a correspondence with me in which she revealed that, following her own daughter's death, she did not leave her bed for three years. Her relatives continually pressured her to get counseling. However, she trusted her instincts, began a ministry of writing to people such as us who'd lost their children, and, after three years, emerged strong and able from the bedroom. I have known men who cried every day for years and then, suddenly, a day came when there were no more tears. Or people who grieved like clockwork: for two weeks they were in pain, and then, like magic, had no more pain whatsoever. This may seem strange to those of us (me) who consider it absolutely fine to be in deep grief until we die, but really, such a mode of grieving may be just right for some. Who are we to say otherwise?

In Latin countries, in the country of Norway, and in areas of Africa and Asia, people are often wonderfully free of cultural expectations of how to mourn the deaths of loved ones. Men and women may cry, or not cry, and it is OK; the focus is not on fulfilling cultural expectations, or “getting it over with” so “normal life” can resume, but on honoring the lives of the deceased, and being true to one's personal experience of grief.

The variations of grief are infinite and ever-evolving, and none of us should attempt to confine a person's way of grieving to fit our own notions. There are of course instances of grieving that are self-destructive, or destructive to others, and in such cases, professional help should be sought. But often, people seem to develop their own natural and relatively safe strategies for grieving.

Friends Along the Road creates sanctuaries - temporary and permanent - in which people may grieve on their own terms, in their own ways. We believe that often, the best thing that can be done for those in grief is to make them as safe and as comfortable as possible, be present, have resources at hand, and then get out of the way so they may make their own journeys of discovery.

Take heart: No matter your gender, age, sexual preference, or cultural background, you have the natural right to grieve as you wish.

To learn about Sanctuary Anywhere - how to create it and how to teach it to others, please visit www.friendsalongtheroad.org.

The Grief Toolbox offers tools for finding hope along this journey. Please visit and join their community at www.thegrieftoolbox.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to Create Sanctuary Anywhere for Those in Grief

Grief can strike at any time, any place: school, work, church, the grocery, on a plane, a bus, in prison, online - anywhere. Regardless of when and where such feelings occur, they are not wrong or inappropriate; they are natural responses to the death of a loved one, and should be respected. When someone near you is overcome with grief and having a hard time functioning, it is possible to provide sanctuary by helping him feel as safe and comfortable as possible, and being present to listen, console, and offer resources.

Bereavement sanctuaries are places in which those in grief may feel safe and comfortable enough to express - or not express - the pain of their loss, free of others' expectations. A bereavement sanctuary can be a permanent place, in which people may stay or live and be able to grieve on their own terms; or it may be established temporarily, during emergencies or at any time when someone is experiencing horrible feelings of grief.

When someone in your proximity - or on the phone or online - expresses strong feelings of grief, it is possible to use the surroundings (or virtual environment you create) to help her be more at ease. Follow intuition and cues.

In a physical setting, one who is obviously suffering may or may not care to be approached, but at least you can give him a smile and maybe a kind word. If he seems OK with your presence, make yourself available to listen. If he accepts your offer, say “Great” or “Thanks” and give your name. Look around. Try to find the closest area of least stress from the presence of people, animals, and vehicles, where the lights may be dimmer and noise softer.

In a grocery store or restaurant, for example, this might be the area by the restrooms. On a bus, train, or plane, it could be an area where there are rows of empty seats. In a church or school you might go into the hall, or find a lobby, and in a park you could sit on a bench or under a tree. Use the natural features around you to find areas of relative comfort.

Ask the person to follow. If she agrees, walk to the chosen area and ask how you may help. Ask if you may call a family member or a friend. If the person seems in trouble, you might offer to call for help (you should have police, suicide hotline, and shelter numbers programmed into your cell phone).

If the person is overcome with grief and unable to move, then use the spot where he is standing or sitting as best you can. In a grocery checkout line, or a crowded movie theater, this may be problematic, especially if the person is sobbing or shouting or screaming. The people around you may express annoyance, but you can explain that the two of you will move as soon as possible.

When grief erupts on the phone or online, the physical setting is not so important, but you can suggest that the suffering person move to a room or area inside or outside that feels more comfortable. You might wish to seek greater comfort for yourself; your ability to feel safe and calm directly affects the mood you project.

Whether you are creating sanctuary in person, on the phone, or online, relax as much as possible by taking deep breaths, and focusing on the person in grief; this will help everyone relax.

In a physical setting, offer a beverage if you can, but don't pressure the person to accept it.

Say, “Please tell me what's going on. I am here to help.” The person may or may not respond. If she does, be present: attentive but not forceful; interested, yet quiet unless asked or guided to provide helpful input; warm yet not stifling. Try to listen as carefully as possible. Do not interrupt with stories about yourself.

Allow him to express anger, hurt, confusion, unreality, and despair, and let him know by your calm presence, or with words, that it is okay. Be prepared for the person in grief to seem completely disconnected from the reality you are in. Do your best to protect him from hurting himself or others. If necessary, call 911 for help. Working well with whatever environment you may find yourself in can make an enormous difference in this regard.

Here's how my friend who inspired this article created temporary sanctuary in a restaurant:

"It was busy and filled with people. Our server took the drink order and it was clear he was preoccupied. 15 minutes passed and we didn't see him or the drinks. Finally he returned, dazed, no drinks in hand. My husband asked him if we could get our drinks. The server said, 'I didn't think it had been that long,' and my husband assured him that while it had been a long while, it was no big deal. When the server returned, he apologized and explained that he wasn't himself, that his best friend had been killed in an auto accident. We asked to hear his story and to offer some support. We told him that everything had to seem meaningless here compared to his loss. He was so relieved to know we understood, as it appeared that the other customers and servers (who didn't know of his loss) just continued to go about their business and to even be demanding of him, only deepening his sorrow. Boy did this put things in perspective! It made me wish I could reach out and find as many people like him so that I could help in any way possible."

Temporary sanctuaries can be of varying duration, and the relationships can be reestablished by checking on the grieving persons from time to time, inviting them for coffee, lunch, a trip to the zoo, whatever. It can mean a great deal to someone in grief when others offer such unconditional support.

One can become ever more able to offer Sanctuary Anywhere by cultivating an attitude of preparedness, both mental and physical, by keeping small first-aid kits on hand, by providing zones of safety such as your car or even an umbrella, and becoming familiar nearby parks or quiet shelters.

Most important is the ability to improvise, so that wherever you are, your presence is a safe place in which people may express grief. When you create sanctuary, even with just a kind word or glance, you are a friend along the road.

May we all be friends along the road.

If you would like to learn more about creating Sanctuary Anywhere for those in grief, please visit the Friends Along the Road website.

Friday, June 8, 2012

How We are Blamed for Not Being Happy

Often repeated in pop media is the slogan, "Only WE are responsible for our own happiness." This notion is one of the greatest denials of of life ever foisted on human beings. It is a symptom of the split between humans and nature, and humans from one another - a denial of the essential connection between ourselves and all life.


There ARE things terribly wrong with society in the US that we as individuals are not solely responsible for. By placing the blame on each of us for not being able to cultivate enough internal happiness and bootstrap-pulling in the face of these conditions, those who pretend to know best for us shift the responsibility from the source of the problems to those who suffer as a result of them. The poor are told that their impoverished existence is "their fault." The starving are told they are not "entitled" and are "lazy whiners." Those who seek respite in drugs and alcohol from the harsher aspects of Western culture are told that the problem is with themselves, and that society is just fine, thank you. Ironically, people are prescribed in record amounts medications to allow them to tolerate the "just fine."

We ARE entitled! As unique and precious whole/parts of the web of life, we are entitled to be and think and feel, to be regarded as sacred citizens of all nature, deserving of its abundance - and not discarded as standardized human blame-units. It is OKAY to be depressed. It is OKAY to feel anxiety. It is OKAY to experience incomprehensible grief. By doing so we realize our essential humanity, and are empowered to take action and bring about change: not just for ourselves, but for the society that would prefer to hold us at fault and at bay for not "being happy" when things suck.

Dave Pierce,
Friends Along the Road

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Friends Along the Road: Creating Sanctuary for Those in Grief

Like you're in a different universe from everyone else: that's how it can feel after the death of a family member or friend.
How can the world go on as if everything is normal, when this precious, unique individual, is suddenly gone? Especially when you aren’t even sure if you, yourself, wish to live?

These questions confronted Judy and I after Lilli, our 14-year-old daughter, died in November of 1999.

Only four months after we’d moved from our longtime home in Colorado to start new lives in Florida, Lilli was struck by a car and killed instantly. In a way, Judy and I also died that night, and have never been the same—nor will we be. Nor do we wish to be. That is how we came to create our non-profit public charity, Friends Along the Road.

Friends Along the Road—FAR—came into being because Judy and I needed safe places in which to grieve, and couldn’t find any, except for the much-appreciated short-term safe havens created by family, friends, and even strangers, which helped us find our way.

I was in real estate. Judy was working in a bank. But after Lilli died, our hearts just weren’t in our jobs anymore.

Some weeks after Lilli’s funeral, in Dillon, Colorado, we tried to go back to our jobs in Florida but just couldn’t. Things we all take for granted, such as making money, suddenly seemed pointless. Chatter in our workplaces by bosses and other employees was often painful to us, such as how they hated their children and spouses. Or when they joked about people being killed. Or when they ordered us to smile at all times and display no signs of grief.

The Looking for Lilli Tour

Though we had no money, Judy and I set our intention on hitting the road as the Looking for Lilli Tour to see if we could find reasons to keep living after the death of the one we had lived for. Then, a few months later, we were suddenly blessed with the means to travel—a luxury that most people in grief do not have, because they must work and pay bills and put food on the table. So we bought a fifth-wheel trailer, told our insensitive employers to go to hell, and spent the next two years traveling the back roads of the U.S. and a bit of southern Canada.

With no itinerary and lots of time, we were able to do much soul-searching. Also, we benefited from the kindness and wisdom of family members, friends, and the new friends we made along the way. After a while we came to realize that sometimes, the best thing one can do for those in grief is to make them as safe and comfortable as possible, and get out of their way so they may investigate the mystery of death and bereavement, and form their own ways of living with grief. A sacred endeavor, in my opinion—one that others should never obstruct with their own views on how people should or should not grieve.

Who are Friends Along the Road?

I, Dave Pierce, am President of Friends Along the Road, and Judy Pierce is Secretary. Our other officers and directors are Jan, Barbara, Chris, Sydnei, and Giulia. None of us is a licensed counselor. We, and the FAR organization, do not provide counseling services. We have great respect for grief-counselors and therapists, but are not interested in counseling anyone. We provide a different kind of support.

What is Friends Along the Road?

Friends Along the Road is a Florida 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity registered with the Internal Revenue Service of the United States. Our office is in Silverthorne, Colorado. We provide sanctuary and caring support for those grieving the death of family and friends, so that they may have time and places in which to rest, seek consolation or healing, and possibly reevaluate their lives.

Why is Friends Along the Road?

After two years of feeling both subtle and overt pressure from members of our society to “get over it” or “put it behind us and move on” or “be healed,” Judy and I realized that the death of our beloved only child was not something we cared to “move beyond” or “have closure with”—such ideas seemed absurd and hurtful to us. They still do. I realized that, because I am in part the sum of my experiences, to “let go” of the unimaginable pain of losing Lilli would be, in a way, like pretending that she had never existed—and of course quite impossible. In fact, I came to embrace the pain. It transforms me. It is more important to me than any body-part and keeps me alive and awake and aware.

I went from being a happy, money-focused person who always believed his ship would come in to a bittersweet person who wants to make a difference. And I’m fine with that. It is my reason for continuing with life. Same with Judy: she decided that if we are going to live in this world of death, gravity, pain, and occasional joy, we might as well get serious about being here and live with meaning and purpose.

By August, 2002, Judy and I felt good about our vision of supporting people in grief. Together with the fine individuals who served as our original Board of Directors, we started FAR, established a physical as well as an online presence, and, in our spare time, began doing our chosen work. The work of our hearts, minds, and souls.

For 10 years now, FAR has been creating safe places in which people may grieve on their own terms: in person, over the phone, through the mail, and online with a website, a blog, active Facebook sanctuaries both public and private, and a private message board. The bereaved whom we serve are our friends along the road. We learn a great deal from each one. From every one.

On death and grief

Death and grief are our society’s most taboo subjects, more so than sex was in the Victorian era. While people can joke about death and laugh at grizzly slasher films (a kind of “pornography of death”), most people in places such as the U.S. and some of the other advanced countries are unable to seriously face the subjects for more than a few minutes before freaking out and changing the conversation. It is because many in Western culture deny the fact that each of us will die, and that we will all lose our loved ones. Jokes and slasher films are ways of psychologically “triumphing” over death without having to actually consider it; they are tools of the denial. As are pleasure-pursuits such as TV, video games, and an obsessive zeal for eating, sex, and sports-trivia. Anything to distract the mind from death.

Not so much the case in the Latin countries, such as Mexico, Spain, and Italy, where extended periods of mourning are the norm, and there is less pressure from society to “process” the grief and get back to work. Norwegians, too, tend to be much more understanding about aspects of death and grief, as are those in some third-world countries. There are villages in parts of Africa and Asia, for example, in which all the inhabitants will stop working for weeks at a time to mourn loved ones with tears, story-telling, singing, dancing, and feasts.

The US, and to a lesser extent, the UK, are quick-fix societies in which funerals and wakes usually happen rather quickly, and, after a week or so, the bereaved tend to go back to their jobs. Usually because they have to: they have bills to pay, family members to take care of. Or jobs that require it. Sometimes, though, it is because they “pour themselves into their work.” Which is okay. Many people love their work and find solace in it. However, this is not the case with everyone, and grieving persons shouldn’t have to work simply because others tell them it is the best thing they can do for themselves in their “time of grief.”

Grief is unique for each individual. It is intensely personal. For those who believe in God, facing the fact of losing someone is a matter between themselves and God. For those without religious or spiritual beliefs, the matter is ultimately something they must come to terms with on their own. Each person goes about it in his or her own way.

FAR honors the unique ways in which people experience grief and mourning, and makes safe places in which they may grieve in whatever ways they need to.

Sanctuary Anywhere

Grief over the death of a loved one can strike at any time, any place: at home, on the bus, at school, in the grocery, in a restaurant, at church, in a movie theater, on a plane, in prisonanywhere. Regardless of when and where such feelings occur, they are not wrong or inappropriate; they are natural responses to grief, and should be respected.

When someone near you is overcome with the terrible pain of loss and having a hard time functioning, it is possible to create sanctuary by making that person feel as safe and comfortable as possible, and being present to listen, console, and provide resources.

Friends Along the Road practices the idea of Sanctuary Anywhere, and teaches it. We believe that anyone can easily learn the basic skills necessary for improvising zones of safety for any person, anywhere, who is suddenly crippled by the overwhelming emotions and physical symptoms of severe grief. Visit the FAR website at www.friendsalongtheroad.org for details.

FAR Sanctuary for Those in Grief

Bereavement sanctuaries are essential for those who do not have the time, means, or place in which to grieve as they may need to. Safe comfortable places and plenty of time can help them discover ways of coexisting with grief. Creating sanctuary on a physical site, and demonstrating that situations of caring support can be created by anyone, most anywhere, is an important part of what Friends Along the Road is all about.

Judy and I, as well as the other FAR Directors and Officers, and the many friends of FAR, intend to create working models of this ideal. The first physical FAR Sanctuary, and others to follow, will be a places in which those in grief may stay and, possibly, come to live, in safe, friendly environments in which they simply grieve, in whatever ways work best for them.

FAR Sanctuaries will be designed with the awareness that guests may desire to carefully re-evaluate their lives. Practical means of facilitating helpful frames of reference will always be available so that they may explore ways of living more resourcefully, and with greater well being.

Sanctuaries will not only provide private places for rest, recuperation, retreat, and contemplation, but will offer onsite activities in stimulating sociable environments.

Guests may, if they choose, participate in community-building endeavors such as discussions, games, arts and crafts, and the various tasks necessary to maintaining a community: gardening, care of animals, cooking, cleaning, maintaining buildings and equipment, and in certain instances, decision-making. They will be given opportunities to learn skills and develop financial strategies to help support them both during their time at the FAR Sanctuaries and in whatever environments they may later choose to live.

While some guests may decide to join the FAR organization, efforts will be made to ensure that those with families and jobs keep these obligations clearly in mind and do not drop out of society altogether or out of their own personal responsibilities.

Applicants seeking the support and solidarity of FAR Sanctuaries will be screened using criteria that will not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, or sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, religion, or income. The criteria for screening will be designed with the help of mental health professionals. Those individuals deemed as possibly suicidal, or otherwise dangerous to themselves or others, will be immediately referred to the appropriate professionals.

FAR Sanctuaries and other bereavement facilities will always have established relationships with licensed healthcare professionals, including one or more physicians, and a referral list of carefully selected professional counseling services.

Relief Fund

FAR also seeks to establish funds to provide relief for those in deep grief. The monetary relief program will be made at such time as the corporation has attained sufficient grants and donations to begin making disbursements. Thereafter, funds will be distributed to preselected individuals or groups, or on an as-needed basis for those in crisis situations.

The FAR Mobile Sanctuary for Those in Grief

In the fall of 2012, Judy and I, and our cat, Honey, will be embarking on a new adventure: the FAR Mobile Sanctuary for Those in grief. We will be setting forth in an RV or camper and traveling slowly from town to town as a kind of old-fashioned medicine show, giving presentations to churches, Rotary clubs, and other organizations, attending events and outdoor festivals, and being a zone of safety in which people may grieve on their own terms.

The Roadside Memorial Project

As the three of us tour about with the FAR Mobile Sanctuary, we will also gather stories of people killed along roadsides and represented by the many colorful crosses, markers, and other memorials that fill our nation’s roads and highways. Each memorial represents a unique individual with a story—but the stories are largely unknown, except by families and friends.

Along our ever-changing route, we will be sending out press-releases and giving media interviews so that families and friends of those memorialized may come forward, if they wish, and tell us about their loved ones. Judy and I will also be collecting the stories of the families and friends in order to find out how they have learned to live with their grief. The stories, as well as our adventures on the road, will be chronicled in a new book: Looking for Lilli II: The Roadside Memorial Project.

FAR will be honored to make free online memorials of your loved ones at the FAR Website. Please send us any photos/details of roadside memorials in your family: we have international database for these “descansos” and will put any photos of them online with as much info as you wish to provide.

To read more about Friends Along the Road, and our work

FAR Facebook Private Sanctuary:

To read about Lilli, our beloved daughter, go to the Lilli Pierce Memorial Website at www.lillipierce.com. Though the subject matter is sad, the Lilli Website is a happy place!

The Looking for Lilli Tour chronicles the adventures—and misadventures—that Judy and I experienced during our two years of traveling around the country looking for reasons to keep on living at www.lillipierce.com/lfl1.htm .

How to Contact Friends Along the Road

If you would like to talk with us about loved ones who have died, or your experiences of grief from death of a loved one and other causes, we will do our best to listen.

Phone (toll-free): 877-532-4453

Email: friends@friendsalongtheroad.org

Mailing address: Friends Along the Road, P.O. Box 3003,
     Silverthorne, CO 80498

How you can help

You can help make the FAR Sanctuary, the Relief Fund, and the Roadside Memorial Project possible.

Friends Along the Road is funded entirely by donations and grants. If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution, please contact us. FAR needs help in any way you can provide it: monetary gifts, volunteer time, Sanctuary land, Sanctuary items....

Got a camper or RV sitting around on your lot gathering tumbleweeds? Give it to FAR, and write it off your taxes!

To show our appreciation for your support of the physical Sanctuary, the Relief Fund, the Mobile Sanctuary, or the Roadside Memorial Project, your name will be added to our website, and your company will get a free ad.

To make a donation to FAR, You may make a check or money-order payable to:

Friends Along the Road, P.O. Box 3003, Silverthorne, CO 80498

PayPal Donation Page: www.friendsalongtheroad.donate.htm

As Lilli told me in a dream after her death, as we climbed the verticle rock wall of a cliff: “Dad, we are all in this together.”

Thank you for being our friends along the road.


Dave Pierce,
Friends Along the Road

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review: "A Beautiful Mourning" by Elizabeth Weber

A Beautiful Mourning
By Elizabeth A. Weber
2010 iUniverse, Inc. (New York: Bloomington)
Click here for sales information.

Review by Dave Pierce

Elizabeth Weber's A Beautiful Mourning is the first book on bereavement that did not cause me turmoil as I turned the pages. It is also an inspirational and literary delight.

People who are not in grief tend to avoid books on bereavement and carry on as if they do not exist. Those who are in grief know of these books but can feel challenged by them. I know I do. Each time I start a text or manual on grief, or begin someone's odyssey through mourning, I feel burdened by the expectation of temporarily suspending my own views so that I may impartially asses the material at hand.

There was no such burden for me with A Beautiful Mourning. From the moment I read the first paragraph my attention flowed effortlessly, bouyed by the author's natural, graceful, unassuming approach. The story of Elizabeth's life with her husband Bob, Bob's death, and Elizabeth's journey into mourning, is so genuine that it carried me swiftly from chapter to chapter. Then, just for fun, I read it again.

When Elizabeth's grief coach offers her an opportunity to explore her grief with an approach called "Seasons of Grief," developed by Carol McLelland, Ph.D., she immediately invests it with her own spirit by being present and paying careful attention to her inner and outer environments. As Thoreau decided to live deliberately in the woods, Elizabeth, a naturalist of the soul, takes her cues from life itself.

Elizabeth begins in winter:
I will honor my need to stay in bed. I will honor my need to stop and to mourn, and I will do it with full consciousness.
As she wraps the blanket of sorrow around her she descends into an abyss and wonders, "...How far will I go?"

In March she grieves wholeheartedly, crying as often as she wishes, "marching to the drumbeat" of her own grief. With spring she finds that she doesn't have to try to feel better - the eruption of nature does it for her. She feels a surge of life in her veins.

Toward the end of May, Elizabeth becomes restless. "Now I realize that equally as important as diving into mourning is coming out of it." Following her internal guidance system she decides it is time to start a new chapter in her life, and moves to the mountains. Things fall into place. She finds a room in the house of a charming young couple, makes friends, and eventually finds the right house to purchase.

During summer she begins taking walks to a pond, where she observes life in all its buzzing beauty, and conceives of an imaginary book with a whimsical title: Everything I Ever Needed to Learn I Learned from My Pond. She also begins arising earlier, takes up yoga, and starts unlearning old habits.

In the fall Elizabeth realizes she hasn't cried for months. The holidays are approaching and she is filled with festive spirit; she is reluctant to return to deep suffering.

Interspersed with the seasonal observations, and consequent changes in her emotions and insight, are memories of her life with Bob. Several small stories convey just what a wonderful man Bob was, and what a fine husband. Their days living in Hawaii are idyllic. Bob's generous spirit, and good humor are evident in the story of how, near death, he ordered a kind of miracle vacuum cleaner for Elizabeth. There are also episodes of sorrow, crisis, and awakening. Elizabeth passes through a health difficulty, a relocation possibility of false promise, and a terrifying plane ride. Throughout all this her grief flows, ebbs, and resurges.

A series of vignettes gives a glimpse of Elizabeth's own humor and personability. Following a rock-throwing incident, she begins taking an active part in the lives of two neighborhood children, which results in sessions of weed-picking and trash-gathering, trips to the movies, and Elizabeth's awe at the spontaneous joy of a young boy who bursts into dance at every occasion.

At the end of the book Elizabeth takes part in a special ceremony. She writes that "Both ancient wisdom traditions and the study of nature contain the know-how to help us 'navigate through life's ups and downs.'" She now sees beauty everywhere, but notes that
Something unexpected will trigger me and the floodgates will open wide. I cycle back into grief and I go through the whole process again and again. The excursions back into deep sorrow do not discourage me. I view them as sacred journeys....
In this way she does not relegate her grief over Bob's death to some past that has been "overcome," but acknowledges that, with her new-found appreciation for life, she has come to recognize the ever-changing ways in which we remember and honor our loved ones. She also give us the inspiration to make our own journeys into the nature of grief, and learning in our individual ways to live with it.

A Beautiful Mourning is a beautiful book filled with observations of nature's renewal, life's surprising and sometimes mysterious vicissitudes, and the many unique ways in which human beings can dance with difficult or changing circumstances. The book is also seasoned with elegant and pertinent quotes from the likes of Rumi, Meister Eckhart, and Carol Hannaford.

I'm hoping that Elizabeth will keep writing books because she has the talent of combining penetrating insight, entertainment, and literary ability that is rarely found in even the best bereavement literature. More importantly, she is life-affirming in a way that makes me want to live naturally, yet deliberately.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Shut up and listen.

As an advocate for the bereaved, I cannot speak for them, because each person experiences grief uniquely, but I can speak up for them. More importantly, I can shut up and listen.

I would like the world to listen to the bereaved instead of advising them. People grieving the deaths of loved ones, having been booted into a reality others cannot fathom, possess an awareness unknown to most. This is often interpreted as an illness needing healing when in fact it is wisdom about the fundamental nature of the universe.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Year 2012: On Happiness

Many people nowadays have a view of happiness that involves, essentially, "letting it all hang out." Those who are grieving the deaths of loved ones, however, may find it difficult to celebrate with abandon and wild glee: sobered by thoughts of those who are gone, and of all we have lost, we find the pleasure-seeking that used to seem so important now feels hollow, and not worthy of the pain we endure to get through each day of mourning.

There is another kind of happiness that I believe deserves consideration. It is a golden mean in which we do not seek the heights of joy, and avoid the lowest of the lows, by keeping an even keel. It involves living a life of integrity, keeping in mind the principles and values that are useful to the community and humankind, and maintaining a balance between the head and the heart. Doing the very best with whatever we have. In that way we have purpose, reason to keep going, and can feel a measure of satisfaction for what we are able to achieve.

We may still bottom out at times, and occasionally feel great joy, even ecstasy. Feeling joy is wonderful when it happens and it is a tremendous blessing! But for the most part, if we follow a generally middle path, we have real direction, and a greater chance, in my view, of making it through this indescribable thing called physical life.

What I am proposing is a coping-mechanism against the horror of our losses, yes, but I think it is a noble path. For me it is one I feel ever more drawn to follow, because I know that if I dwell continuously on my family's tragedy it will destroy me...and that has nearly happened three times. I will always be a grieving father. Part of me will always be screaming and raging against the universe. In fact, I have inside me a silent scream that shall remain, because it is seared into my essence. But the thought of others, of each of you, your precious lives, and the thought of what our lives might achieve together, gives me inspiration to channel my thoughts toward you, and toward helping this earth-life be better for all of us. The grief will never leave me, nor do I want it to, but at least I have a means of being useful, and that gives me the chance for another kind of happiness: one that feels more authentic.

I wish all of you a very blessed new year. Together we can help it be a better one than any of us has ever known.

Dave, FAR
December 31, 2011