Grief in the tearoom

Ruth Green, Writer for Church of England Life Events

While on a recent holiday to the Isle of Wight, our family visited the most delightful tearoom one could imagine. It’s thatched roof and pink exterior simply oozed chocolate-box country charm, and lured us in with minds set on a full-works English cream tea.

Since it was a very hot day, we were offered a table outside and not surprisingly, the garden was also achingly gorgeous – a green haven, shaped by a canopy of trees providing shade, and a pretty ‘fairy garden’ complete with toadstools and strategically placed little fairy models.

We ordered, and the scones didn’t disappoint. As we shared this moment of bliss, my daughter suddenly said: “Mum, this place really reminds me of Grandma. I don’t know why, it just does.”

Grandma, my mother, died in 2014. It was, without doubt, the worst year of my life, and my grief over the loss of my mum continues to be a significant part of me.

So to be reminded of that darkness while in this heavenly tearoom was somewhat incongruent, but I knew exactly what my daughter meant. We were in the kind of place my mum would have absolutely loved. We quite often took her out for afternoon teas – she did appreciate pretty surroundings and thoroughly relished a home-baked scone. The memory made me smile, but with a lump in my throat.

After we finished our marvellous scones and paid, we made our way around the garden pathway to find the exit. Just through the trees, we came across a part of the garden that had a different feel. Hanging from branches all around were hundreds of slate hearts, each with a hand-written message on it. Each heart represented a person who had died, but who was remembered, loved and missed.

In some ways it seemed slightly odd, to have a reminder of death and grief on show like that in a commercial enterprise like a tearoom. But on the other hand, it was a really profound way to connect with customers, by providing them with space to express their deepest emotions and feel comforted that their precious memories hung on a heart in that special place.

It reminds us that the emotions of grief can bubble up anywhere, at any time and in any place. Grief may be hidden most of the time, but it is, quite literally, everywhere.

Providing space to remember, even in the simplest of ways, can mean so much to people, and churches, (even more so than tearooms), have just the right kind of ‘special space’ to do that really well.

Hanging hearts made of slate is one idea, but there are so many ways in which people can remember. Lighting a candle, tying a ribbon on a branch, writing an entry in a book of remembrance, writing a message or memory on a bunting flag alongside others, placing a single flower or even a pebble in a display – these are just a few similar examples.

Providing this space is one way to extend a welcome, to acknowledge the lasting effects of grief and to always be there for people, even if you’re not personally there. And unlike a tearoom, the space you provide can display a confident message of hope that death is not the end. That may be the most important thing people can take away with them.