PITTSBORO — In a low-lit room at the Chatham Community Library, a dozen local residents gathered Saturday to share their experiences of grief, death and dying over cupcakes and coffee.
The event, called Death and Cupcakes, was facilitated by local organizations heart2heart and Abundance NC with the purpose of embracing honest conversations around death, offering a space for community connection regarding the processes of death and dying.
Cathy Brooksie Edwards is the clinical director of heart2heart, as well as a licensed counselor and bodyworker. The nonprofit heart2heart offers holistic services to individuals seeking support as they navigate the “living path” of a diagnosis or disease through death.
To Edwards, part of the reason the event is so crucial is that she sees it as helping to dissipate people’s fears around death.
“I think, as humans, we’re so compacted that we forget that death is a part of life,” she said. “And people are really scared.”
Sitting in a small circle in the library’s Holmes Family Meeting Room, participants shared what brought them to the event, including losses of partners and friends, and how they are processing their grief. Between personal testimonies, Amy Durso, a musician and member of heart2heart’s staff, played and sang songs centered around nature and loss.
Edwards opened the event by inviting individuals to share perspectives, whether they revolved around acute grief or expanded grief, describing acute grief as “deep” and expanded grief as “wide.”
It’s important to remember that grief is not just an experience that happens because of the recent loss of a loved one, Edwards said.
“Grief is the loss of an idea or the loss of who we thought we wanted to be,” she said. “Grief is not just there for a certain thing. Grief is something of any change, we can have grief about anything.”
This year marks the first time that Death and Cupcakes has been held since 2019. The event, free to the public, was sponsored by Friends of the Chatham Community Library; Aromatic Roasters provided coffee, while Carolina Cravings Co. provided cupcakes.
But it’s not the only one of its kind in the area.
Abundance NC, a community hub based in Pittsboro and incubator for local non-profits, is led by executive director Ally DeJong. Since February 2022, Abundance NC has held a monthly healing circle at The Plant called “Stories of Grief & Healing,” which encourages individuals to come together in a “community-centered” space and share personal experiences of love and loss.
“For me, I feel like there’s a lot of healing in knowing that you’re not alone,” DeJong, whose own father died from colon cancer six years ago.
Part of the conversation Saturday also revolved around grounding participants in their body, with facilitators leading individuals in deep breathing exercises and other sensory activities.
Research has shown that experiences of trauma can leave a lasting mark on the physical body, with connections to chronic health conditions.
“If we don’t do that [ground ourselves physically], our emotions just stay boxed up,” Edwards said. “So if we do those kinds of practices, then it allows our body to kind of breathe a little bit and if we’re willing to then let it out, it really helps.”
For Nancy Jones, 71, being able to share in the event with others was helpful. Jones, who lives in Pittsboro, lost her husband from aggressive prostate cancer on Easter Sunday in 2020.
“It was wonderful to listen to everybody’s stories, because it does give you encouragement, and the compassion and the recognition that you’re not the only one out there,” Jones said. “That was one of the things that I thought to myself right away — I’m not the first person to go through this.”
While Saturday was the first time that Jones has participated in the Death and Cupcakes event, she said she has been part of a number of meditation and writing groups, as well as being involved in several prayer groups at her church. Having those connections and being close to her children and family in Pittsboro has been beneficial in processing her grief.
As the holidays approach, Edwards emphasizes the importance of not being in isolation while understanding and experiencing grief from death around this time of year.
“Loneliness leads to depression,” she said. “So try your best to do something in community or to be out with people. Talk about your loved ones.
“If it’s around loss, like if it’s the first Christmas that we don’t have dad, then bring dad to the table, you know, like talk about [them],” Edwards continued. “You don’t want the people that are dead to be gone, it’s important to tell stories.”
Reporter Maydha Devarajan can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @maydhadevarajan.