Engaged Individual and Community Healing and Grieving

Dave Dorman


Elsewhere in this collaborative effort, you will experience powerful stories about how members of the University of Minnesota Art of Hosting community of practitioners have hosted conversations that matter in the classroom, as part of organizational effectiveness, and through our community engagement efforts.

This story is a little different and quite personal. It is no less the story of how I hosted myself, my spouse Marcy, and our family, friends, and community during Marcy’s brain injury, her amazing two-week recovery, followed by a second brain injury that led to her passing.

In The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter (hereafter referred to as “Art of Hosting”) we practice Reflective Listening where four people tell a story while the other three take turns listening for facts, feelings, and values. I am telling this story and inviting you to “listen” for feelings and values. The facts of the story are pretty simple.

On January 14, 2012, Marcy had a debilitating stroke. After making steady progress for two weeks, which the medical staff called amazing, Marcy had a second more severe stroke. With little subsequent progress, Marcy was moved to comfort care on February 8th and passed away on February 15th.

I hadn’t expected to be applying Art of Hosting in this way. But the timing of life sometimes isn’t what you expect.

I attended my first Art of Hosting training during the summer of 2011 and had applied some of what was emerging for me in my work with leadership development. I was especially intrigued by designing more seminar elements that tapped collective wisdom and storytelling rather than focusing on more traditional talking head content. But the real power of the Art of Hosting approach came for me when I was faced with this very difficult situation. The principles, philosophies, and strategies embedded in Art of Hosting became very helpful and comforting for me.

Applying Art of Hosting to a Health Crisis

On day one of Marcy’s stroke, several things became readily apparent to me. First, a very bad thing happened to an extremely good person. I wanted to as quickly as possible try to find some way to have something positive come from this.

Second, I was receiving multiple offers from friends and family wanting to help in some way. In typical Midwestern fashion, I was inundated with food that I couldn’t possibly eat. I needed to come up with some things for people to do and decided our CaringBridge site could be a venue for hosting conversations about Marcy while also engaging our community in her healing and encouraging our community to become engaged in the broader community. I began to think of this as engaged individual and community healing. I’m probably not the first to think of such a thing, but all of this was new to me, so I was plowing new ground in real time.

CaringBridge as a Hosting Tool

I’d like to share two CaringBridge journal entries that seemed to really resonate with folks:

Entry One (Jan. 16):

Dear Friends and Family,

The outpouring of good wishes and notes of grace for Marcy and me from our friends and family have touched me to my core. The acts of kindness exhibited have nurtured and sometimes produced tears of gratitude. As just one small example, some anonymous person shoveled our walks and driveway. The positive energy being put out into the universe for Marcy I know is being felt. The presencing exhibited during visits surely enriches Marcy’s healing. Food, errands, and deep helpful conversations provided to me are nourishing all parts of my being.

Through conversations, emails, phone calls, and caring bridge entries, it is quite apparent that the Community of Marcy is offering to help. This will be long because I have to provide some context. I want you all to know what has been important to Marcy recently.

Here are some suggestions for what you can do:

1. Donate

It would not be appropriate to list the organizations I mentioned in the CaringBridge entry. Suffice it to say that they were important to Marcy.

2. Volunteer

Lots of you volunteer currently, so please keep it up. If you are not volunteering now, there is incredible need in your community. For those of you in the Twin Cities, here is a great site that lists opportunities, including one-time events. You may want to volunteer for something and send that energy to Marcy.

3. Sing

Marcy loves sing-a-longs. Lately she has been singing almost weekly with four women; it is a passion of hers. Wherever you are, think about singing a song for Marcy. As the song says, “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anywhere else to hear … just sing—sing a song.”

4. Listen

Some college friends of mine and their spouses have been having a Winterfest get together during most December/Januarys going back to 1980. In January 2010, we each shared our Top 10 songs of all time. (In the Caring Bridge entry I shared Marcy’s Top 10.) Consider going on YouTube and listening to one of Marcy’s songs. If you only picked one, pick “Dona Nobis Pacem,” which means “Grant Us Peace” in Latin.

5. Eat soup

Last week Marcy was starting to prepare for a Soup Luck (pot luck with soup) that we are hosting this Saturday January 20 at 5:00. It’s still happening, but it’s been moved to the Regions Hospital in downtown St. Paul—same day, same time. If you can’t come or you’re not in the metro area, have some soup on Saturday and do a soup toast to Marcy.

6. Be kind

Perform an act of kindness for someone.

Marcy’s positive energy towards others needs to be directed inward for a while now, so we all need to do what we can to fill the gap in the meantime.”

Entry Two (Jan. 24):

Two months from today (March 24) will be Marcy’s 48th birthday. I’d like your help in co-creating a surprise birthday present for her.

In the early ‘90s, in the early part of our relationship, an important song for Marcy and me was Thousand Cranes by the group Hiroshima. Coincidentally, the song has been on our radars the last several months.

An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury. You can read more about the legend by Googling Thousand Cranes. It is also a novel.

There are two ways you can participate in the project:

  1. A year ago around Valentine’s Day, for five days, I sent a photo to Marcy of cranes—a building crane, TV character Frasier Crane, White Sox pitcher Jesse Crain, Poet Hart Crane, and a woman craning her neck. I stopped because I thought it was getting old. If you choose, please download a photo or photos of anything having to do with a crane (the bird, characters, people, etc.) from Google Images, Yahoo Images, or anywhere else on the Internet and post it to a website I’ve created. This is a private website and in order to access it, you will need me to enter your email address to the site.
  2. Some of you may want to make an origami crane. Once your crane or cranes are made, place it against a piece of paper (the crane and paper should be different colors for the best contrast) and write your name on it. If you have a digital camera or smart phone, take a picture of it (or them if you make multiple cranes) and post it to the website above or email it to me and I will do it. Get kids involved. They can learn about the legend and have fun making cranes.

We may not get to 1,000 crane images, but we will have a lot. My niece Linda is a photographer and will turn the images into Marcy’s birthday present.

As always, in addition to doing this nice thing for Marcy, please think about also doing an additional act of kindness for someone else.

I’ve heard from people, especially those not in the Twin Cities that they have appreciated my suggestions for how to engage in Marcy’s healing.

Thank you for considering Marcy’s 1K Cranes.

Well, we reached our 1,000-crane goal and here is the co-created memorial unveiled at the May 5th service that celebrated Marcy.


Living The Four-Fold Practice

In early 2012, I was fairly new to the Art of Hosting practice, but as I reflect back, it’s quite obvious that I was living The Four-Fold Practice.

  1. It was quite important and necessary for me to be fully present during Marcy’s time in the hospital. Most importantly, I needed to host the hospital staff so they could care for Marcy while balancing that with hosting friends and family who visited. This may not be right for others, but I was able to host myself because I was hosting others. I’m not sure I would have received what I needed if I was totally focused on self-hosting. The tension of hosting Marcy, myself, and others was exactly what I needed. The hosting I was doing then has helped me come out on the other side of losing Marcy in a better place than where I would be if I had not hosted the way I did. The grieving journey takes place every day in different ways, but is grounded in the hosting foundation I built during those most intense times.
  2. Being cognizant of the conversations I was having with others (that participation in everything that was going on) was so cathartic for me. I never felt so lucid and “on my game” in my life, as I was during that time between Marcy’s first stroke and her memorial service.
  3. By prompting conversations and asking people to contribute in various ways through the CaringBridge site, our community grew and became engaged in ways I never would have guessed. For example, during the early days of Marcy’s hospital stay, when we wanted to have her breathing apparatus removed, I asked people to focus on the miracle of their own breathing…and they did.
  4. By co-creating the crane art project and the engagement focus I used to host our community, one result was that I heard from a number of people who made some pretty profound changes in their own lives based on what they were learning, feeling, and experiencing during this journey. My original hope to have something good happen from this awful thing bore fruit. Because I ended up with so many cranes, the good will has extended as I offer cranes frequently as a presence for holding the center of Circles in which I participate. Plus, I give away a lot of cranes as an offering of peace and health.

A key ingredient during this entire time was owning the elephant in the room—our incredibly vulnerable state. My goal in engaging our community during Marcy’s illness was to have an even better community for her to re-enter following the recovery I wished for her to have. She is not physically present to experience it, but I can say unequivocally, that the community built during Marcy’s illness and passing become more well-knit and engaged during that time and, with some dissipation, remains. As we say in Art of Hosting, we are in indeed better together. If only we would find ways to make this happen more in celebration than in crisis.

Next Steps?

I think we have seen how hosting can be helpful in finding solutions at the global, national, regional, state, community and institutional level, but it is has been interesting to me to consider how building community based on concern for one individual can be done. I’d be interested in working with others to see how we can help individuals and their communities of caring apply Art of Hosting patterns and methodologies to life-altering health issues like cancer and heart disease, as well as impactful life events like divorce and job loss.

At any given time, there are individual University of Minnesota students, faculty, and staff who are experiencing life-altering events they would not choose (as there are around the globe). Let’s tap our collective wisdom to see how hosting conversations that matter can help individuals and their supporting communities during these times of personal crisis. This is a different calling than the important work already being done to address broad societal ills like economic inequality and all of our -isms.


I have many memories of the support I’ve received since Marcy’s first stroke, but none more powerful than the day I came back to work for a few days in between Marcy’s second stroke and her passing and saw this crane mobile and large folded crane in my cube that was created by my colleagues. Workplaces can have an incredibly positive impact on the hosting of employees during their times of personal crisis.