On Thursday, Oct. 27, Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life Hilary Martin Himan hosted the first of a series of four community grief group sessions entitled “Circles of Solace.” Future sessions will occur on every Thursday for the next month: Nov. 2, 9 and 16 from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. in Lower Agnes Flanagan Chapel, room 107. Circles are open to all members of the community, with no weekly commitment required.
“These are challenging times. Many of us are carrying deep grief and sorrow in our hearts—for our world, communities, and personal losses. The circles offer a safe and sacred place to share our grief—not as a problem to be solved, but as a vital and healing encounter with an essential experience of being human,” the LC website says in the Circles of Solace event posting.
The first session was a small group: Himan, Aidan Ringel ’25 and myself. Gathered in Himan’s spacious, calming office lit with candles, we began with a moment of silence and taking some guided deep breaths. The orchestra was rehearsing in the main chapel space above us, creating ambient background music.
“I thought it was a really nice time to center myself and take some intentional time to pause and slow down from a crazy, academic college life,” Ringel said.
Himan started us off by reading the poem “To Speak of Sorrow” by Denise Levertov. The poem conceptualizes sorrow as a physical being moving throughout a space, and acknowledging the presence that emotions can have and the space they can take up was helpful.
We were given notebooks and prompted to do a short free-write beginning with the words “I grieve.” Himan emphasized that Circles of Solace is not only for students, and she participated with us in the individual writing exercise and later in an open conversation. This created a space stripped of hierarchy or observation, and made the experience feel much more open.
The journals were completely private and we were not asked to share what we wrote. We were allowed to keep them if we wanted to keep adding thoughts or bring them back for future Circles of Solace.
“I think it’s really important to provide intentional spaces,” Himan said. “We can see counselors, certainly, but I do want to emphasize the fact that this is just a part of being human. There’s nothing pathological about grieving, so there may be times when we need support from a professional counselor but I would love to see this become more culturally commonplace.”
After writing, Himan invited us to speak on anything we felt like sharing. We took turns holding a hollowed out piece of quartz with a lit candle inside as a talking piece. When one person was done sharing, they hit a chime and set the candle back on the table so someone else could begin their turn. It was a time to be listened to and have your words held with gratitude by others, so we were asked not to respond or give advice but instead only say, “Thank you.”
“I feel very honored to be in the presence of students who are opening their hearts and being vulnerable,” Himan said. “I would love for more people to know about this.”
To conclude the session, Himan shared another poem, “Heavy” by Mary Oliver. The poem begins, “That time / I thought I could not / go any closer to grief / without dying // I went closer / and I did not die.”
Throughout the delicate, nearly musical language of the next seven stanzas, Oliver grapples with how we carry grief, ending on a peaceful note: “Roses in the wind, / the sea geese on the steep waves, / a love / to which there is no reply?”
After this poignant final moment, we reflected on the time we spent together, which was just around half an hour, and then parted ways for the evening. Both Ringel and I plan on continuing to attend these sessions. I hope that others will join us if they feel they could benefit from Circles of Solace.
“I want to plan when I grieve, but I struggle to put myself in that grieving headspace,” Ringel said. “This is a perfect way to have that planned time but I don’t have to push myself into that space. I get let into it with the two of you, which I really appreciated.”