By Daniel Raskin

The Commonweal cancer support community became a vital part of my life when my partner, Ann Weissman, died from cancer three years ago last February. Ann got ovarian cancer in 1993.  After treatment and recovery she returned to a full life and was well until she had a recurrence in 2008. Ann went to retreats twice. Although welcomed to retreats, I chose not to go, to give Ann as much space as she might want, to be there completely for herself.

Ann and other alumni formed the San Francisco-Peninsula Support group, which often met at our house. She became very close to two other members. The three met for dinner on Friday nights, in addition to the monthly group meetings.  I remember coming home towards the end of their dinners and noticing there was something special in the air, something that drew me in. The three attended to each other when someone was in the hospital or homebound. I was thankful to Ann’s friends, because they shared dimensions of her experience more than I could, because I don’t have cancer.

Ann’s friends spoke at her memorial. In the months after, I stayed in contact with them. They anticipated I might need help and had told Ann they would not desert her family. We became friends and have assisted each other when we needed it. We’ve made hospital visits with treats to eat. We’ve brought chicken soup when someone is home with a cold. We go to movies and music. We share writing as a common interest. My friends helped me through months of grieving.  My brother and these two kept me sane, on the safe side of the edge. I would never have met them had it not been for Commonweal.

I met the larger community at my first Alumni Day in the fall of 2012.  I got invited after I wrote a poem about grief that people liked, and I am guessing, because they liked Ann. The poem was in Michael’s Letter to Commonweal Friends, September 2012.

Alumni Day at Commonweal is the perfect place to be. I feel welcomed, embraced, and acknowledged. I feel I am among people who love each other, who know about loss and death, who laugh and cry with each other, who know what is happening to me. I don’t have to defend, justify, or even explain myself.

I walk along the bluff, look at the cows on one side and the endless ocean on the other, where Ann and I once walked when I picked her up from retreat. I remember her and it seems she often takes this opportunity to visit me. She likes to hear about my life and our sons. I get her advice. I’ve been to Alumni Day every time since my first. I go to Commonweal events. I don’t know another place where I could have the same experiences.

My Commonweal connection led me to another equally important part of the new life I am making since Ann died. My two friends introduced me to writing classes and close communities of writers in San Francisco, where I learned to use creative writing for living through grief and for healing. I made dear friends in my writing community, another surprise gift that grew from within the Commonweal Cancer Help Program.

You never know where your life will go.  Thank you Commonweal.

May 2015

Header photo by Corinne Bayley