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.
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.
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.
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.
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 prison—anywhere. 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.orgfor 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.
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
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.
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:
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.
Friends Along the Road