Grief Counseling
Patricia Parkinson

They pass around pictures of dead people. Itís Louís turn. Louís wife had cervical cancer. His pictures are old. His wife was fat. After her cremation Lou joined Heís been on ten dates in seven months.

“How long were you married?” Dave asks.

Dave’s daughter died from a freak illness. The coroner called it “unexplained natural causes.” She was eight. Dave has the worst story and the best pictures.

“Twenty-four years,” Lou answers.

“No wonder she died,” Joanna says. Joanna has a room in her house with a crib and a change table, bottles of baby lotion and shampoo, and yellow and mint-green clothes, some pink, from those times she was so sure. When Joanna goes into the room, she folds and refolds the onesies. She has no pictures to pass around.

“OK, everyone,” Helen the moderator says, rising from the table, rapping her pen on the edge. Helenís son was killed in a car accident. “He was a pacifist,” she says, as if this makes her grief worse and, therefore, her most deserving of the moderator position. “As you all know,” she says, adjusting the lapel of her pants suit, “we have a new member.” Helen extends her arm like she’s displaying merchandise. “Let’s give a supportive welcome to Lucille.” Lucille rises from her seat next to Helen.

“Hi, Lucille,” the group says. “We’re sorry for your loss.”

Lucille smiles and tries unsuccessfully to make eye contact.

“Lucille, I know it’s your first night here, but is there anything you’d like to say, like to share, with the group?” Helen waves her hand around the room, steps back, leaving Lucille front and center.

Tears well in her eyes. “It happened on a holiday.”

The group shifts in their seats. A holiday is major. Dave puts a hand to his cheek and mouths the word “Christmas” to Joanna.

Helen touches Lucille’s shoulder. “Which holiday, dear?” she asks.

They lean in.

Lucille bites her bottom lip. “Halloween,” she says.

Joanna chokes. Coffee spews from her mouth. She puts the back of her hand to her nose. Liquid drips between her fingers.

“Is something funny?” Helen asks.

“Come on, Helen,'' Joanna says, and rolls her eyes. “It happened on a holiday,” she says, mimicking Lucille. “I mean, really. Is Halloween a holiday?” She holds up her hands and looks around the table. “Anybody?”

Maria, from Mexico, this is how she introduced herself, nods her head. “Si,” she says. “Es ah sacred day.” No one understands what happened to Maria’s loved one. Maria prays a lot. She wears a black lace mantilla and has recently gone from using black bobby pins to brown. The group takes this as a good sign.

“Halloween’s not a holiday,” Lou says. “I don’t get holiday pay.”

“Or a day off,” Dave says. The men nod. “I remember taking Alisa trick or treating. It was so much fun. Did I tell you she dressed up as—”

“Yes, you told us. We know about the costumes, the Christmas Eves. We even know about the first bowel movement this child had. Move on.” Joanna crosses her arms and sits back in her chair.

“Move on? That’s good coming from you, Joanna. Maybe you’d like to share tonight.”

“Share? What? This . . . coffee?” she says, and holds her paper cup in the air.

“You know what I mean,” Dave says, and turns in his seat to face her.

Joanna lost her last child in the bathroom.

“You’ll experience cramping,” her doctor said.

She lay on the sofa with pillows propped under her ass, elevating her pelvis, holding her baby in the bow of her spinal column.

“I’ve lost four children,” she says. “That’s all you need to know.”

“With you to look forward to as a mother, no wonder they died,” Lou says.

“Tit for tat. Good one, Lou,” Joanna says, smiling, closed lipped. “What exactly is it you want me to share? The first time I felt my baby kick? Or let me see . . .”

“Come on, Joanna . . .” Dave reaches his hand toward her. She jerks away and flicks back her hair.

“You have memories of your wife,” she says to Lou. “Of your daughter,” she says to Dave. “Even poor Lucille here with her memories of Halloween.”

Joanna scooped her hand into the toilet bowl, into water that seemed warm—
amniotic—pink, too late to touch her baby, to save it.

“And I wonder,” Joanna says, wrapping her arms around her body and holding herself still and tight, “I wonder if any of my children were even alive.”

Helen coughs. Lucille backs out of the room. Dave mouths the words “Say something!” to Lou. Maria writes on a piece of paper and slides it across the table to Joanna.

Si,” it says.

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