Innovative program to combine poetry, nature, touchstones to rise above grief

Grief can be a powerful emotion and often detrimental to one’s life journey. It’s also a fundamental part of what it means to be human, said Mark Lucero, a grief specialist and founder of Pathways Counseling in Coupeville.

Mark Lucero

Grief can be a powerful emotion and often detrimental to one’s life journey. It’s also a fundamental part of what it means to be human, said Mark Lucero, a grief specialist and founder of Pathways Counseling in Coupeville.

Accepting that grief, and empowering individuals with the tools to move forward in life, is the primary purpose of Lucero and spiritual mentor Charlene Ray’s 10-week program, The Poetic Path of Grief. The program, to be held from Sept. 20 – Nov. 19, will incorporate poetry, healing touchstones, nature and companionship during a path of inner discovery and enlightenment. Snapshots of what each of the 10 meetings will look like came in the form of two free introductory sessions on Aug. 2 at Healing Circles Langley and on Aug. 11 at Pathways Counseling in Coupeville.

Ray, who is also the coordinator for Island County’s school-based mental health program, believes that to heal one’s grief, one must confront it. Poetry and the other components of the program can serve as a means of unlocking repressed emotions, Ray and Lucero said.

“Sometimes it’s just a line in a poem that strikes a chord in the heart and spirit,” Ray said. “It can be heart opening and moving. I’ve had people tell me that a particular poem changed their life.”

Each class will feature a poem reading and a healing touchstone tailored with a specific message, such as opening up to the presence of loss, embracing the uniqueness of one’s grief and appreciating transformation. The touchstones and their meanings come from a book, “Understanding Your Grief” by Dr. Alan Wolfelt.

Nature, silence and sharing will also be included during each session, culminating on Nov. 19 with an all-day retreat.

The program can address issues ranging from the loss of a loved one to life transitions, such as a divorce or retirement.

For Lucero, the need for the innovative program is apparent. He said no one navigating through grief should do it alone, and that it can be particularly effective if addressed with community support. He said that historically when someone was mourning, they would wear black as a signal for the community to get around that person and support them.

“We don’t have those outward expressions anymore,” Lucero said. “Most of them are invisible nowadays.”

Lucero said there are also misconceptions about grief, including the assertion that it is something one overcomes and then leaves behind.

“Our point of view is that grieving continues for a long time, so what’s needed is to integrate the reality of the loss, come to a place to acknowledge that reality, and build that into their lives,” Lucero said.

Ray can attest to Lucero’s sentiments. She was battling grief during an interview with The Record Wednesday afternoon. Exactly 41 years prior, Ray’s father died. Ray was 13.

At the time, those around her refrained from speaking about the loss. The combination of sadness and despair took hold in Ray, who later turned her feelings of loss into a lifelong ambition of helping others in similar situations. In the time since her father’s death, her pain has become less powerful, though it is still present, she said.

“I think if anyone participates in this program and experiences the touchstones and the poems and the time in nature, they can’t help but think differently or feel differently about their grief,” Ray said. “It’s a really powerful combination.”

“If you put them together, I think it truly is transformational,” she added.

The cost for the program is $325, which includes materials. A $100 deposit is required to register. Scholarships and payment plans are also available. To register, contact Mark Lucero at 360-320-1898 or, or Charlene Ray at 360-320-4443 or


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