Finding grace in support group

As a hospice chaplain I am privy to extraordinary moments of grace. Some of them happen before a patient dies, and sometimes they happen for those left behind, those facing the loss and grief.

One such extraordinary moment happened in the grief support group I facilitate. This group is a diverse gathering of four, sometimes five very different people. I think of us as a small band of broken warriors with the talk among us always unscripted and sometimes slightly off-color, but always honest talk of grief.

After her husband died, Diane asked to attend the support group. I wasn’t sure how she’d take us since Diane has never been in a support group and identifies herself as somewhat sheltered. She is white, in her 70s, upper-middle class, theologically and socially conservative; and I presumed, even though completely undone by the death of her husband, still a bit provincial.

I admit I was concerned about how she might take this unorthodox gathering. And I was especially protective of how Diane would receive Patricia, an African-American, young, gay woman, a recovering addict, heavily tattooed and dealing with difficult anger issues since her mother died.

During Diane’s second group meeting the tenderness of grace showed up, touching us all, surprising me. After “checking in,” we began to talk about the tapes we play in our minds about who we are or how we’re supposed to be in times of sorrow or despair. It was then Patricia began to share what it was like when she told her parents she was gay.

The tears rolled down her cheeks as she explained that her father, a minister, had told her that she was a failure in God’s eyes and that she was going to hell; and even years later this remained the voice in her head, this was the tape that played over and over for her. After she told us of this defining conversation in Patricia’s life we all sat in silence; and it was Diane, silent up to that moment, who was the first one to speak up.

“Well,” she said, her Texan accent stretching that word into several syllables; and I confess I held my breath. “Your father was wrong.” And grace, beautiful, amazing unpredicted grace filled the room. “And you can still respect him and honor him as your parent, but the truth is that he’s wrong.”

I realized at that moment that I was wrong as well. Quick to judge Diane, I doubted that grace could show up. I had not anticipated such words of kindness and acceptance.

Last week, another newly bereaved person joined the group. This time I was not worried about how he would be received by the others. I watched as he talked and wept, as we all wept, Diane reaching over and taking his hand, and once again I knew the power of grace. Somehow, especially when we are broken and willing to say so, it always shows up.

Lynne Hinton is a minister and author: