“No, man, it’s not. And I really think it’ll help.”
“Pouring my heart out to strangers who are probably the same age as Grandpa. Do you even know me? Fuck, Sam.”
“Dean, this is different. I talked to the guy who runs it, and he seemed really cool. No one is the same age as Grandpa.”
“And what’s the point of all this?”
“The point is to be with other people who understand what you’ve been through.”
Dean scoffs. No one understands what he’s been through. “What’s the use in that? We all gonna cry in a big circle? Meditate? Maybe Ouija our dearly departed?”
“Dean.” Sam rubs his face in irritation. “Just look.” Sam shoves a flyer from his doctor’s office in his face.
Adventures in Grieving
A group of people who gather to challenge each other to live every day to the fullest. Group members meet to discuss and then implement their own adventures, large and small, with the support of others.
If you are grieving and would like to feel like you’re living again, join us.
FMI: Take a phone number below and give Cas (he/him) or Charlie (she/her) a call.
“Adventures. So, what, field trips to the graveyard or some shit?”
“Well I don’t know, Sam!”
“According to Cas, the guy I talked to, they set up things that members want to do and then go out and do them. Like, sometimes it’s camping or going to a restaurant or whatever, and other times it’s, like, bungee jumping.”
Dean’s forehead wrinkles. “Bungee jumping?”
“So when do they actually talk about the dead people or how sad they are all the time? There’s gotta be talking if you want me to do it.”
Sam sighs. “They talk, but he said they don’t force it to happen. He said when it does, it’s...organic. Like it just happens naturally. It’s not forced.” Sam hunches forward, his giant upper body supported by his elbows on his thighs. “I’ll go with you. I really think this could help.”
“You’re not fine and we both know it. I think it might be helpful to be with other people who get what it’s like and can help you get through it, you know?”
“What, am I not getting over it fast enough for you? Should I go and get laid, maybe invite someone to live with me?”
“Dean, just—just think about it.”
“I’m fine with you and Jess.”
“You barely even talk to us anymore. Besides, we haven’t been through this the same way you have. We loved her, of course, but it’s not quite the same for us. We didn’t lose a spouse.”
“I didn’t ‘lose’ her. She died.”
“Sorry. Dean, come on. Please. I just want you to feel...better than you do, I guess. I miss you.”
Rolling his eyes, Dean says, “I’ll think about it.” He shoves the flyer aside. “Are we done the heart-to-heart yet?”
“Yeah.” Sam stands, a resigned look settling in his eyes and the set of his mouth. “But please, please think about it? Don’t just say you will?”
“Yeah, yeah, fine.”
“Thanks, Dean,” Sam whispers as he leans down to give him a hug.
“Whatever,” Dean grumbles, squirming and pushing out of his brother’s arms.
This has been their relationship for a while now—Sam pestering him about “getting over” his wife’s death and Dean avoiding him as much as possible because he’s sick of hearing it. Sam pesters him about this group too, of course. Dean has to threaten to forget the whole thing for Sam to leave him alone. When he drops it with one final plea, Dean thinks that maybe that’ll be the end of it. And it is, from his brother. But it’s not the end of it from the little voice in his mind.
It’s not healthy. You know it’s not. She wouldn’t want to see you retreating into yourself.
Yeah, well, she’s not here, is she?
Retreating into himself is the thing he’s done best over the last nine months. Nine months. Enough time for us to have a baby, and instead she’s dead and I’m alone. He works, of course, because he has to and because, frankly, it helps him forget. Plus, he does enjoy his work. It’s ironic, he supposes, that he helps others decorate their houses to make them feel like home when his own house feels like anything but.
The damn flyer stares him in the face, taunting him. Every time he makes to throw it away, though, something stops him. Whether it’s a sense of guilt, self-preservation, or maybe even hope, he’s not sure. But he keeps it around. And finally, he decides fuck it because he can say he tried, at the very least, and he won’t feel guilty every time Sam stares at him with those damn puppy eyes. According to Sam the group usually meets on Thursday nights, so on Thursday morning he texts him, secretly hoping maybe he won’t be available and Dean can put this off (he sure as hell isn’t going alone—if Dean has to suffer, so does Sam).
To Sam 9:33am: I’ll go
To Dean 9:33am: Tonight?
To Sam 9:35am: I guess, if you’re available
To Dean 9:35am: Yes. I’ll pick you up at 6:30.
So much for Sam not being available. Dean sighs and agrees, then gets back to work, absorbing himself in various shades of chintz curtains. The time passes much too fast.
“Kind of dressy for a grief group, isn’t it?” Sam comments when he arrives, looking at Dean’s tan suit.
“It’s this or that,” he snarks, pointing to the worn track pants and threadbare Rolling Stones t-shirt draped over the chair in his bedroom.
“Ugh, no. Those reek.”
“Dean, you wear them all the time when you’re not dressed for work.” He sighs. “I know you own jeans and nice casual shirts. You don’t have to rotate between the ‘sleek professional’ and ‘slovenly pothead’ looks all the time. You can dress the way you used to. Nice. Comfortable.”
He doesn’t know how to explain that he hasn’t felt ‘nice’ or ‘comfortable’ in a long time, and that the only way he’s going to feel okay with these new people is if he feels a little above them. The suit helps him with that. “Sam, I’m dressed. What more do you want? Let’s go.”
They pull up to a coffee shop called Wing and a Prayer. The atmosphere is cozy and calming, yet it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. It’s filled with pottery, photos, and other stuff from local artists that get Dean’s mind turning. Some of this stuff would really speak to some of his clients.
“Hey,” Sam greets the shorter man at the counter. “Um, we’re looking for, uh...” he glances at Dean uncertainly, then back at the man, who’s wearing a black apron with a golden wing embroidered on it. “Well, um. We’re here for—”
“Looking for Cas and Charlie?” the man asks kindly.
“Yes,” Sam smiles with a sigh of relief. Dean rolls his eyes and stares at the floor as he stands with his arms folded.
“Straight thataway,” he points. There’s a colorful, beaded curtain between sliding panel doors that leads to what Dean assumes is a private room, and there’s a lot of laughter coming from the other side. He raises his brows and looks at Sam, who has the same look on his face. “Anything to eat or drink? I’ll bring it back for ya. No obligation, though. You can go in without buying anything.”
The brothers order coffee (black decaf for Dean because caffeine is bad for the body) and Dean orders apple slices to go with it—it’ll be good to have something in each hand so that if they call on him to share his feelings he can stuff an apple slice or ten in his mouth. They pay the man, whose name tag reads “Gabriel,” then head toward the curtain. Taking deep breaths and one final glance at each other, they part the curtains and step inside.
Multiple heads turn their way, and Dean already feels like he wants to crawl back under the rock he’s been hiding under. “Hi! Welcome!” a young woman with bright red hair calls out, coupling her greeting with a huge smile and an enthusiastic wave. They receive more smiles and waves from the others, and a dark-haired guy stands to get them chairs.
“Hello,” the guy says. He’s tall, though shorter than Sam (everyone is), with striking blue eyes. He’s wearing holey jeans and a gray, faded Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse t-shirt. “I’m Cas. Come on in.”
“Sam,” his brother says, offering his hand, which Cas takes. “This is my brother, Dean.”
“Hey,” Dean says, nodding while keeping his hands tucked in his pockets. It doesn’t seem to faze the guy.
“Hello Sam, Dean. Have a seat. We’ll do introductions. Pay attention, because there’s a quiz at the end.” The corner of his mouth quirks into a smile. They sit just as Gabriel comes in with their order, his disdain for the apples clear in the arched brow he gives Dean. Dean scowls in return, then takes a grateful sip of his coffee, happy to have a distraction from what he’s sure will be an awkward round of “Hi, my name is blank and my dead loved one’s name was blank.”
The redhead starts. Her name is Charlie. Next to her is a dark-haired, middle-aged woman named Linda. Next to Linda is a tough-looking, mustached guy named Cesar. Next to him is an equally tough-looking but not mustached woman named Jody, who also looks middle-aged, and next to her is a younger blond woman named Donna. They sit close together. Next to Donna is an even younger man with dark, close-cropped hair named Max, next to him is another redhead, this one older and named Rowena, and next to her is Cas, who seems to be the leader. All of them simply give their names, which is a relief. When it comes around to Sam, he goes into his life story, telling them about his wife and his job. They sit politely and listen. When Dean’s turn comes, he’s not sure what to say. Is he supposed to spill his guts since he’s the new guy, or not? Since he doesn’t want to spill his guts, he simply gives his name. No one seems to expect more, so he relaxes minutely.
“Okay, so for your benefit, Sam and Dean, and as a good reminder for all of us, I’ll go over the basics,” Cas starts. “One, this is not a therapy group. None of us are therapists or pretend to be. We are simply a group of people who have the death of someone we loved in common. Two, you never have to talk about the death of your loved one or how you’re feeling, ever. Three, if you do want to talk, you’re free to do so. You can also let us know what, if anything, you want from us. You can let us know if you welcome questions or sharing, or if you just want an ear. Four, although we do set up adventures for ourselves, you’re not obligated to go, nor are you obligated to set up your own challenge or adventure. And finally, we ask that whatever is said here stays between us unless someone’s in danger. That’s it.”
Dean’s muscles relax a bit more. He, for one, is relieved that he doesn’t have to say a damn word about, well, anything. Sam looks a little more doubtful, but whatever. He can suck it.
“So,” Cas continues, “does anyone have anything they want to talk about?”
“Ooh, me!” the younger red-haired woman cries out way too enthusiastically for someone who’s grieving their dead loved one. “I became Queen!”
The group cheers her enthusiastically, clapping as she stands and dances in a circle, pumping her arms up and down. Dean looks at Sam and tries to communicate What the hell did you get me into? with only the power of his mind. It works well enough for Sam to shrug.
“For our newcomers, Charlie?” Cas smiles at the redhead, tilting his head toward Sam and Dean.
“Oh! Right! Well, I accomplished a very important life goal. I became Queen of Moondoor.” When they give her blank stares, she elaborates, “It’s for a live-action role-playing thing I do.”
“Ohhh,” the brothers say together. Dean’s heard of LARP (LARPing?) but never met anyone who does it. He’s curious, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to act interested. They might start asking him questions. He does nod politely, though, and that seems enough for her.
A few of the others share mundane things they did that week—making a meal for one, going to a grad school class, listening to five minutes of country music—and they’re met with more encouragement and enthusiasm. Jeez, does everyone get a gold star just for living?
“Alright, so we have an adventure coming up…” Cas looks at the short-haired woman. Josie. No, Jody.
“A trampoline park,” she clarifies. She smiles, tight-lipped, and the blonde takes her hand and squeezes it.
“Great. Jody, would you like some support?” Cas asks. She nods. “And what kind of support would you like us to offer?”
“Just...well, if some of you don’t mind coming along so I don’t look like a damn fool bouncing around all by myself with a bunch of kids, I’d appreciate that.”
“When do you want to go?”
“Saturday. No, Sunday. Sunday afternoon. Just for an hour. Three o’clock.”
“Alright. Is anyone available and able to support Jody?”
Almost everyone’s hands, including Cas’, go up. Even Sam’s goes up. The lady next to the Queen of Whatever is the only person other than Dean and Jody whose hand is not up. “I’m sorry,” the lady apologizes, followed by a sharp inhale and a hand to her mouth.
“Oh no, no, you take care of you, honey,” Jody says in response. “No guilt.” They offer brief, stoic nods to each other.
Cas thanks everyone, and Jody offers up the location of the trampoline park. With that, the meeting breaks. The rest of the group gives hugs to each other, Jody and Laina—no, Linda—Jody and Linda holding on longer and tighter than the others, and the older redhead joining in for a three-way embrace. Dean wonders what the story is there.
Each of the members of the group approach Dean and Sam to thank them for coming by and with hopes to see them next time. Dean is fairly certain their sentiments are genuine, though he has no clue why.
The Queen with the dude name and Cas are the only two left by the time they talk to everyone else. “Hey, I’m Charlie! So glad you guys could make it!” the Qu—Charlie squeals as she approaches. He’s glad she introduced herself again. So many names. “Is a hug okay? You’re welcome to say no.”
Sam agrees easily. Despite her size, Charlie dominates the hug, wrapping her entire tiny body around Sam. It looks...nice.
“How about you, Dean? Again, totally okay to say no, even if I am the Queen, which I know is intimidating.”
Dean can’t help but smile at her cheekiness, which he doesn’t do much of these days. “Sure,” he says, opening his arms. She claps her hands in delight before enveloping him in a hug so comforting, he almost forgets to let go. She doesn’t seem to mind. He finally does, loosening his grip and stepping back.
“You guys give the best hugs!” she squeaks. “Thank you both for coming. Here’s my number if you ever need it”—she hands them business cards—“and don’t be shy about using it! I’m totally down with chatting about anything! Oh! Here comes Cas! I have to run, but I’ll see you on Sunday at the trampoline park, Sam, and hopefully I’ll see both of you next week!” She bounces away as Cas approaches, the two of them slapping hands as they pass.
“She has the energy of eight toddlers, doesn’t she?” Cas grins, looking after her before bringing his attention back to the brothers. “I just wanted to thank you both for coming. We were happy to have you, and I’m certain I speak for everyone when I say that we really appreciate you not asking all the details about our grief today. It’s kind of strange to tell others we just met about something so personal to each of us.”
“I’m sorry, but isn’t talking the point?” Sam asks at the same time Dean swats his brother and says, “See? Told you that shit’s awkward!”
“Learning how to feel alive is the point,” Cas answers Sam, then turns to Dean and agrees that yes, that shit’s awkward. Dean’s relieved that this guy Cas seems pretty cool. “Although I will tell you, Sam, that on Sunday you may see some sharing of emotion. I don’t know about words. Or there may be no emotional expression at all. Grief is funny like that.”
“Oh.” Sam seems baffled, though Dean’s been trying to explain this to him for months. He’s never lost anyone significant to him, except for Mom, but he was just a baby and doesn’t actually remember her, so maybe he doesn’t get it. Dean feels validated by Cas’ response, glad that someone else seems to understand.
“Just roll with it. Jody will tell us what, if anything, she needs from us. Sometimes just being there is enough. We’re there to witness the adventure that the person in mourning is undertaking and support them in whatever way they need. We’re not there to fix their grief and ‘make them better.’”
“Oh,” Sam says again.
“I know it might not seem like it works, but it does.” Cas smiles and nods as he picks up his mug, tucking it into Sam’s and stacking them both into Dean’s, which he then places atop Dean’s plate before leading them toward the beaded curtain. Dean, still thinking about how different Sam and Cas are in their understanding of grief, realizes too late that the group leader is picking up after him. He grabs the bowl of creamers and the jar of honey left on the table and hurries to follow.
“So thank you again,” Cas says after accepting the contents of Dean’s hands with a smile and walking them to the door. “I hope to see you again, but if I don’t, I wish you all the best. Also, if you have any questions about the group or just want to connect, here’s my card.” He hands them business cards, as Charlie did. “Reach out anytime. Sam, I will see you on Sunday. Please, please call me if you decide not to come. People not showing up when we expect them is kind of a big deal for us. Dean, if you change your mind about the trampoline park, feel free to stop by.” He smiles as he waves goodbye to them, then locks the door behind them.
As he gets ready for bed that night, Dean pulls the business cards from his jeans—Charlie’s, a drawing of her with nerdy glasses in front of an old Tandy computer with the words Wham! Bang! Pow! in starbursts floating around it, and Cas’, a cartoon of him at some sort of drawing table—and stares at them for a while. He puts them down on the end table next to the framed photo of him and Missy at Sam and Jess’ wedding a year and a half ago, then picks them back up and hovers them over the trash can next to the bed. “What do you think, Miss? Should I go back or just forget the whole thing?” he asks the photo. He smirks a moment later. “Yeah, of course you’re on their side. Night, Miss.” He tosses them in the trash and climbs into bed.
But he can’t deny that, for once, he feels something other than emptiness in his heart.