On the carpeted floor of a building that once was a church, 20 people are sitting in a circle holding hands. The only light in the room comes from three candles flickering in the center of the ring. The light is soft and dim, yet still it is reflected in the tears washing down Linda's cheeks.

"All we've lost is Tom's pain," Linda says to the group in general, speaking of her husband, who died of cancer at the age of 37 just three days earlier, at home in bed in his wife's arms. "There was no fear that last week. Tom was a great master and teacher to us all. He remained as loving as he could. In his last moments he kissed me on the cheek."

The time is Thursday evening, and the people sitting in the darkened room are members of the "friends and family" group of the Santa Fe Center for Attitudinal Healing, a little-understood organization that seeks to bring comfort to victims of catastrophic illness or accident, and to the people closest to them...On this night, the friends-and-family circle is the largest, for the group's regular turnout has been swelled by some of Tom's friends, and by his parents and sister and her husband, who have come from another state.

"Tom's death was like a birth, I think, except for the sadness," Linda says. "But at a birth there is so much hope."

"There is no other experience like being with someone when they die," says Brenda, who remembers how it is, for she was at bedside a month ago when cancer took her sister's life. "The loving and the sorrow blend in some way, and create a peace. All we can do is just be present at that very moment, without tugging either way. When she finally did leave her body, it was a form of celebration. I even said under my breath, Hallelujah. Her body was so sick."

"I had Tom cremated the same day," Linda continues. "It felt so good that we had finally burned the cancer. We put some of his ashes in sacred Indian land, and we'll put some in the Ski Basin in the spring, when we have a picnic. And if anybody here wants some of Tom, they can have some. We have plenty." There is laughter in the room, healing laughter.

This year marks SFR’s 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. Dealing with loss during the holidays? Gerard’s House and Southwestern Counseling Center offer free/low-cost grief counseling.