On the Thich Nhat Hanh Retreat I met Theo.
Theo is one of those people who are naturally attractive: nice smile, open face and kindly manner that invites contact. I didn't see much of him, as we were assigned different families during the retreat, but on the 3rd day, we sat side-by-side on the terrace, having coffee before the walking meditation.


Retreat
Often during retreats, personal stories are exchanged, but Theo was reticent, to say the least. When I asked him: "how is the retreat working for you?" he answered: "It's a bit different this time. I'm not on the outside looking in, but I feel as though I'm standing on the sidelines. I don't feel as though I am doing anything. I have really retreated. I lost my partner two years ago and ...". Theo told me only the very barest bones of his story, he obviously wasn't ready (or willing) to bare his all. We sat in silence for a while and then I looked at him and said: "Are you perhaps regrouping?" He was puzzled and I said: "Well, that is what an army does after a loss: it retreats and then it regroups."  Theo sat in silence for a long time and we watched the walking meditation pass into the woods without us, as Theo absorbed the fact that he was not doing 'nothing', he was regrouping....


Regroup
My little insight is actually very true, in a very practical way. With the loss of someone from our circle, be it the smaller or the larger one, we have to change the parameters of that circle. Roles change: if that person whom we lost had a specific role, that role needs to be fulfilled by another, we have to reassign that role. Or learn to live with that empty place in the circle.The group changes. We have to 'regroup'.

This is why our life is in disarray when somebody dies, or their role is changed by ill-health, or they leave the group.

(Isn't there a wonderful piece in the bible that says the armies of the enemy are in disarray? Certainly when a leader is lost the army of followers needs to regroup. It is also why it is so difficult to rejoin a circle when you try to return: they have rearranged the circle and need to adjust again when you come back.) 

Scar Maintenance
But when a loved one dies! That is the big one. It takes time. Lots of time. Years. And sometimes the group never really recovers. That is when it is time to reform the group around the damaged one. And the scar to the group will always be there. If we, as a group, do our work, it will fade a bit. But the scar is there and should be honoured.
In the beginning, the scar should and will be massaged and examined all day every day. Then a couple of times a day. Then once a day. Once a week, once a month. For each of us, it will take the time we need. Your grieving is different than mine. Not better, not worse: just very personal. But do not attempt to ignore scars. They will fester and cause damage to the group and its members. There is no plastic surgery for the scars of loss: that scar is the sign from the beloved: 'I am still here. I have changed my form but I am still here'. Laughter and joy will return. The laugh might be less often and slightly wry, but it will be there.

Refresh
The next day Theo and I joined the walking meditation together. We enjoyed the beauty of the pretty wooded area and shared smiles over different bits: he loved the birdsong, I loved the textures of the colours and trees. We shared a giggle over the way the walk went. (Mass walk-meditations don't work for either of us.)
I didn't talk to Theo again. We had each given the other what we needed. But like a very special scar, the memory of Theo goes with me: a warm, refreshing memory, because he reminded me to tend to my own scars.