Husband's death leads to new life's work

OlympianNovember 12, 2013 

Joan Hitchens

JOHN DODGE; STAFF WRITER

Joan Hitchens opened her new Olympia business, Navigating Grief, on the afternoon of Nov. 2, which also happened to be the Day of the Dead, a time in Mexican tradition to celebrate and remember loved ones no longer among the living.

For Hitchens, the day marked yet another milestone in a life journey without her husband, Dave Hitchens, a pioneer faculty member of The Evergreen State College professor, who died in February 2012 after a long and dignified bout with terminal lung cancer.

“It’s been an amazing journey and it still goes on,” Hitchens said of a grieving process that she first shared through her writing and online postings, then took to another level, training as a life coach that specializes in grief.

Now her experience and training has morphed into a vocation, offering community support, workshops and private coaching to others experiencing grief from the loss of a loved one.

“I think I’ve found a good landing spot,” she said.

The landing spot is first floor office space in the historic Pattison-Davis House at the corner of Eastside Street and State Avenue, housing the Discover, Create and Share rooms.

The Create Room is home to a private and personal membership program called The Loss Club, one of those clubs that nobody asks to join. Hitchens jokingly calls it a Starbucks for grief, a place for a cup of coffee or tea, a place to write, talk, read, share stories or sit and reflect. It’s a place where it’s okay to cry, something that feels out of place in a real coffee shop. It’s also okay to feel happier or brighter than you thought was possible. The healing from the death of a partner, a parent a child, can start here.

It’s open about 7.5 hours a week with morning and afternoon hours. The initial membership is good for three months, and can be renewed in one-month increments.
Memberships are also available for caregivers to gather with other caregivers engaged in end-of-life care.

Members in the TLC Club will also have access to a private group online journal, a place to vent at all hours of the day and night.

The Share Room is a slightly different venue for support groups to meet under the premise that grief shared is grief abated. The living room—like setting helps those present remember that the emotions that accompany grief are normal feelings, and part of the grieving process.

The Discovery Room is a room with resources, a lending library, a place to pursue the intellectual side of grieving. One of these days soon, it will be adorned with a wing-backed chair from David Hitchen’s home office. Joan Hitchens tried to move it the other day, but couldn’t get it through the doorway at home. She smiles — something that comes more easily for her these days — then says it was if she was having a tug-of-war with her deceased husband over where the chair belongs.

Hitchens offers another program called Tear Soup, modeled after the book; “Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After a Loss.” This is an opportunity to meet in an informal social setting to talk about current events, share a light meal and learn more about Navigating Grief. It’s designed for someone new to loss and not sure how to proceed on their grieving journey.

There’s a little “STOP” sign sharing the words of author Rudolph E. Tanzi for people to read as they leave the office. It says:

Stop.

Take three breaths and smile.

Observe: Bring awareness into your surrounding and being.

Proceed with kindness.

I first met Dave and Joan Hitchens in September of 2011. The former TESC history professor was on hospice care, accepting his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer with a grace and stoicism few could match. He was the perfect teacher for a lesson on how to die.

“He was very calm through it all,” Joan recalled. “And that teacher part of him is still alive here in this room.”

Joan Hitchens is far enough along on her grief journey to smile and laugh. She’s eating healthy. She’s lost 30 pounds. She’s come to grips with some challenging physical ailments, including arthritis in both hips. It’s been hard, but she’s learned to live without Dave. She’s the teacher now.

For more information on Navigating Grief programs, visit www.navigatinggrief.com

John Dodge: 360-754-5444
jdodge@theolympian.com

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