Silent departuresSometimes a member just stops coming to the groupís meetings, without notice or explanation. If this happens, we may well wonder whether the missing person is sick or hurt. We might worry that they had gone away so angrily that they didnít want to talk about it with any of the groupís members. Even if the member has left for happy reasons, involving no apparent conflict or problem with the group, we are concerned that their silent departure probably reveals some blockage in the groupís communications.
Fortunately, very few people up and leave Pagan groups without at least saying goodbye. When they do, we need to remember that even their silence may not be about us. Pressures from outside the group, from situations, events and responsibilities having nothing to do with the group, may be so emotionally draining as to lead someone to silently depart because she or he simply doesnít have the emotional resources to make any sort of parting statement at all.
A silent departure may
be even harder for a group to handle than angry walkouts complete with
nasty exit fights. The ambiguity posed by a silent departure may weaken
the groupís sense of identity and the clarity of its boundaries. A strong
need for collective closure may develop.
Inability to discuss the reasons for leavingThere are many conceivable situations in which a groupís member may feel unsafe or embarrassed to discuss the reasons for leaving. To consider just a few:
However, the very possibility itself can certainly be foreseen, and perhaps best addressed in the groupís opening Ďground rulesí by making it plain to new members that departure without notice is rude and that Ďno shame, no blameí departures are certainly an option for any member at any time.
Dealing with the leader's feelings of confusion or rejectionGood group leaders, quite understandably, care deeply about the well-being of all of the members of their groups. When members just stop coming, the leader will probably be worried about them at first. Later, if they still donít hear from the missing people, the leader may become confused as to what has happened and why, and so may begin a process of soul-searching and self-recrimination. They may come to feel that they and the group had failed to interest the people enough to motivate their continuing participation. A sense of rejection may lead to hurt feelings, or the leader and other group members may become defensive and angry at the departing memberís rudeness.
Reactions like these are normal and understandable. We are not in some way unworthy as leaders for feeling confused and rejected. In time, as the feelings settle, we can begin to figure out what we might have done differently under the circumstances. We can try to change our ways so as to reduce the possibility of this happening again. But if nothing we did caused the silent departure, then nothing we can change will completely prevent others in the future.
Managing the situation: reaching outRemember, people are not property. As Pagans, we reject the notion that there is one single spiritual path appropriate for everyone. We respect diversity and personal choice, so we do not engage in dropout control.
Still, it is natural for us to care about missing members, to want to make sure that all is well with them, to know whether their departure highlights any correctable problems in our group.
Try to contact the absent members to find out whatís happening. But donít pressure or harass them. Respect any limits they had previously set on contact -- for example, they may have asked you not to discuss Pagan business on their office phone. Judy thinks itís best to begin with the phone calls and e-mails we usually use these days. Paper letters seem so official and intimidating now that we mostly only get them from bureaucrats and lawyers. Gwyneth disagrees, feeling that high-tech communication tends to be more invasive. She notes that a person can wait to open a letter till they feel able to deal with its content.
Both of us suggest
that if missing persons do not respond to your more casual efforts at contact,
you should write a gently worded letter to them, explaining your need for
clarification and understanding. If they were valuable members, you may
want to offer the option of a leave of absence.
How much effort is appropriate?There are no hard and fast rules. Silent departure is a circumstance where great tact, discretion and respect are called for. Here are some points to ponder in dealing with it.
ResolutionUnless the information is embarrassing and confidential, share what youíve learned with the group. At minimum, let the group know whether the missing person has requested a leave of absence or definitely departed. A regrouping and healing ritual may resolve the disturbing ambiguity caused by the silent departure of a member, and further help restore the groupís boundaries and its sense of collective identity.