A Space for Grief (This Grief Thing in Preston)
Preston. Lancashire. The River Ribble. Post-industrial city, we’re staying in an apartment on the dock. Sailing boats, the university, the market hall. A Caribbean takeaway, a Brazilian café, a fish and chip shop. We’ve taken over an empty unit in St George’s Shopping Centre. Costa Coffee, M&S, H&M, Holland & Barrett and us.
This is a space for acknowledgement. This is a space for grief. We witness. We listen. We chat when we need to. We stay quiet when we need to. We hold you. We have a cry and a laugh with you. We’re here. Preston.
This is our first shop. Before we arrive, we talk about what might happen. We acknowledge that nobody might come. We remind ourselves that we’re first and foremost trying to make grief visible, trying to refuse all the subtle and blunt and careless and well-intentioned and cruel ways it gets silenced and diverted and ignored. We tell ourselves it’s OK if nobody comes. Because even the presence of the project here, in this shopping centre, in this city, in Preston, makes it possible for conversations to start.
But people come. Hundreds come. We talk, we listen, we witness, we cry and laugh, we hold and we are held, we stand in silence when there are no words. We try things out (“Why does that T-shirt say ‘Grief Is Like The Weather’?” “Because it’s changeable, like the weather, and unpredictable”; “Yes, it ebbs and flows…”). There’s a rhythm to it. Some people skirt the entrance to the shop, keeping at the boundary, acknowledging its presence and pretending it’s not there, unsure how to proceed, hesitant, surprised by this thing (this shop, This Grief Thing; this unfathomable experience, this grief thing), surprised by how it’s interrupting this ordinary everyday place, this shopping centre, affronted sometimes (“that just makes things worse”), grateful sometimes (“I’m so glad you’re here”), responding in all sorts of ways, anticipated and surprising. Changeable. Like the weather. Like the sea. Like grief.
Some skirt the entrance, a doubtful dance (“Can I bring myself to go in?”) before entering, not sure whether it’s OK to be here. Others walk straight in, fast, and get what they need and leave, fast. Others wander by, wondering what it is, before approaching. Some skirt round grief, not sure whether it’s OK to acknowledge it, but come nevertheless to talk with us, to try words out: grief, grief, grief, GRIEF. We talk, we listen, we witness, we laugh and we cry as we hold and are held. Some return. Some return, bringing others. Some return, incrementally. The day after the day when this space for grief was too much to enter, they enter. And we talk, we listen, we witness. So many stories, so much to be heard:
All the children who have died.
All the parents.
All the brothers and the sisters.
All the partners and the lovers.
All the close and distant friends.
All the ones whose death came unexpectedly.
All the ones whose death approached slowly from a far horizon, inexorable and implacable.
All the sudden, brutal loss.
All the unspoken grief.
All the tears.
All the years of remembering.
All the words and “there are no words”.
All the different ways to understand this grief thing.
All the different cultures. All the different religions.
All the different beliefs.
All the strength of all these people in this place. Preston.
This is a space for acknowledgement. We witness. We listen. We chat when we need to. We stay quiet when we need to.
We hold you. We have a cry and a laugh, with you. Preston.
We may have gone but we will always have been here, in Preston.
We are humbled. We are grateful. We are overwhelmed.
In this ordinary shop in this ordinary place, you brought something extraordinary into being with us. This grief thing. This Grief Thing. Together we made a space for acknowledgement, where we can witness and be witnessed. We made a space to be heard and to hear and to hold and to be held. We made a space where we could talk or where we could wait quietly together for words to come or to not come.
We made a space for grief.