By Audrey Walls, M.Ed, MFA

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since I started working at Full Circle. Since then, I’ve gone through two laptops, two offices, three desk chairs, seven events, thirteen staff meetings, 296 social media posts and innumerable cans of seltzer. But when I first started my position as Communications Manager, I really didn’t know what to expect. What I definitely didn’t expect was the conversations I’d have with neighbors, friends, fellow parents, and complete strangers.

Where do you work? It’s a common refrain that we often can’t escape, no matter how much we may want to avoid the small talk. It comes up everywhere: the kids’ birthday parties, the doctor’s office, the checkout line. A small non-profit. I used to say. Oh really? What’s it called? 

Full Circle Grief Center. 

A pause.

Grief Center? At this point, I can watch their minds behind the scenes doing the calculus while trying not to expose their instinctive reactions of either shock or dismay or… something that looks like a combination of pity and curiosity.

You work at a… grief center?

I double down. Yeah, I do. I run their communications. Website, e-mail, print, social media. And I really like it.

You do?

Now they’re DEFINITELY curious. How can you work at someplace called a “grief center” and actually ENJOY your job? Unheard of!

It looks a little something like this.

Last Halloween, I was walking around with the parent of my daughter’s neighborhood buddy as we dodged candy chutes and Pikachu costumes. She asked, nonchalantly, how work was going. Do you still enjoy your job since you left the university? (I was previously working in higher education.) 

You know, I am, I said, quite plainly, very much so

I’d imagine it’s a very… She hunted for the word while she considered her half open fun sized Snickers. A very somber environment? 

I laughed. Quite the opposite. 

She raised an eyebrow and chewed caramel. I took a deep breath and pushed up my daughter’s wolf mask, which I was now half-wearing, half-carrying.

Somedays it feels a little heavy, sure. But it’s a place filled with a lot of love, and memories, and care. Everyone who works there either knows the pain of losing someone, or works directly with people experiencing that loss. Everyone knows how precious time is and how important kindness can be. Everyone cares. A lot. I’ve never laughed so hard at meetings. I’ve never gotten so many thank you cards in my life. It’s kind of a jerk free zone. 

She rolled her eyes at the last point. Really? I mean, sure, you work with counselors and therapists, so everyone has a superhero level of empathy I’m sure, but it can’t be perfect.

Oh, I never said it was perfect. But it’s still pretty amazing.

And although I have not yet come to Full Circle as a client or a group participant, I have found that the energy of care and compassion is palpable throughout all the work that we do. It’s been an honor and a challenge to accurately carry that collective voice through our website, social media, and emails. Over the past year, I have also grown incredibly eager to do what small part I can to destigmatize the conversation about death and grief, even when it pops up in conversations that begin with “Where do you work?” because it is such a small lift compared to journeys our clients and families take on a daily basis when they come to Full Circle.

After my daughter visited our offices for the first time for a rained-out (but still very successful) Miles in Memory celebration, she commented on the car ride home. You know, your office doesn’t really seem like an office.

I peeked at her in the rearview mirror. Oh yeah? What makes you say that?

It has couches and chairs and colors. And art. And books. And everyone is so friendly. 

Like any good parent, I countered. Well, a lot of other offices might have those things, too. Don’t you think?

She looked out the window through the rain and shook her head. No, it’s different. It’s comfortable when you’re there. It’s like you leave home and then go to work at another home. You’re lucky.

And when you’re right, you’re right, kiddo. I am.