In the midst of grieving, words can feel like obstacles. For an upcoming reading of works by writers touched by loss, staff at the Gibsons and District Public Library have a practical plan not to let words get in the way.
Due to record-high registrations for the event on May 24, library workers will roll bookshelves aside, clearing space for extra guests.
The Living With Grief workshop series launched in January as a pilot project sponsored by the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society, with support from the Town of Gibsons. David Roche, the Roberts Creek-based writer and comedian who was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2021, led the nine-member group.
“I didn’t know exactly what to expect,” reflected Roche. “I have led writing groups before, but I knew this was going to be more focused. I started by having people introduce themselves and then I set the rules: first-person, present tense, sensory detail. Then I gave prompts. Write for two minutes about the person you’re grieving. About their hands. How they dressed. What music they listened to.”
One of the participants, Kathleen Dufour, had long been urged by friends to record her stories. As she searched for words to describe the loss of her mother, she found that Roche’s encouragement was a catalyst.
“The more I tried, and the more I read out loud in this grief group,” Dufour recollected, “David was able to pick things out to help me emphasize specificity in the larger pieces I’d written.”
Although Joan Bech, another participant, had been married to a professional author, she eschewed writing as a personal outlet. Following her husband’s death and subsequent enrolment in Roche’s workshop, words began to flow.
“The biggest thing for me was being able to write down your stories and being able to share them,” she said. “It was the sharing, putting voice to what you had written, and having other people accept it, that helped me accept my loss.”
Roche said that the group began as a writing class, but quickly turned into a community. “People were already in the deep end of the pool,” he observed. “They had a deep desire and a deep need to express what’s in their hearts and on their minds, and got so much support from other people to do that.”
Ryley O’Byrne, who is grieving her father’s death, has been part of another writing group with Roche for 15 years. She will be one of the readers at the upcoming library presentation. O’Byrne said that the group format encourages contributors’ experiences to become intertwined, with therapeutic results.
“If anything big in life is transpiring,” she said, “and sometimes it’s more focused on our creative projects and other times it’s life and well-being, we share whatever anyone wants to share. We don’t necessarily do critiques. We are just supporters of all of our practices.”
Participants wept frequently. “We even had several men who cried,” added Dufour. Roche encouraged it.
For Bech, the writing workshop nudged her to start volunteering with the Hospice Society. Using language from the workshop’s inaugural session, she described the colours of her existence becoming more vivid. “That to me was like a healing in itself,” Bech said, “because I could see others healing. By watching others evolve and change, it helps me.”
The Living With Grief public reading takes place on Wednesday, May 24 at 6 p.m. at the Gibsons and District Public Library. Registration details are available by browsing to gibsons.bc.libraries.coop.