Company Loves Misery

For this Colorado Springs publishing house, grieving is fundamental.

At the small Colorado Springs offices of Bereavement: A Magazine of Hope and Healing, the excitement started last year, when a writer for the prime-time show Promised Land placed a call to publisher Andrea Gambill. The television drama is a spinoff of the surprise CBS hit Touched by an Angel. Both programs feature angels that perform miracles--or some lesser but still kindly acts--to help people out of predicaments of their own design. Lessons are learned.

The writer was seeking permission to use a poem called "Rise Up Slowly, Angel" in a script for the show. Gambill had published the verses in Bereavement in 1992 and then again a year ago in a compilation of 51 inspirational verses called Food for the Soul. "The writer promised to call to tell me when the show was going to run," she recalls.

He forgot. The episode ran on November 19; Gambill went to the movies and missed it. But the following day she received a frantic call from CBS. "They told me that their switchboard had been lit up by people calling to ask where they could get a copy of the poem," she recalls. "The network wanted to know if they could give out my address."

That started a stream of response. Three months later Parade magazine ran the first four lines of the poem. "And that," Gambill says, "started the tidal wave. Before that, everything was nice; it was just right." Other publishers should have such troubles: The 5,000-copy first printing of Food for the Soul sold out in four weeks.

In the subsequent rush of orders, Bereavement Publishing ran out of stamps, envelopes and metered postage. "We have two phone lines, and they were just ringing constantly," Gambill says. "And while we were on the line, the messages would just pile up. We had to clear our voicemail after every call because it had filled up." When the company recently took shipment of its second printing of the poetry book, 700 back orders were waiting to be filled.

For Gambill, a 62-year-old grandmother, the hubbub was an affirmation. "At any given time in this country, there are thirty million people who are grieving so much that it interferes with their everyday life," she says. "They don't show it. But they are searching for something, anything, to help them."

Gambill has tried to provide spiritual reassurance for a decade now. She started Bereavement, which she calls "a support group in print," in Indiana in 1987, eleven years after her seventeen-year-old daughter, Judy, was killed in an automobile accident. Five years ago Gambill moved the operation from Indiana to Colorado Springs.

In the past decade the company has grown slowly but steadily. In addition to the magazine, which features poems and stories submitted by grieving readers and ten regular columns by various experts on death and sorrow, in 1990 Bereavement began publishing eight-page pamphlets that address specific varieties of grief. "Perinatal Death--An Invisible Loss," "Homicide--A Brutal Bereavement," "Suicide--The Tragedy Compounded," and "Tinsel & Tears--Help Through the Holiday" are some of the titles.

A year and a half ago Gambill also began printing and distributing Bereavement Cards--Words of Love and Support. Each of the series of sixteen messages was composed by Gail Kittleson, an English teacher in the tiny (population 1,000) town of Greene, Iowa.

"I began writing the verses in 1991," recalls Kittleson, the wife of a Lutheran pastor. "My family was going through a very painful time, and I wrote to survive. All I could do was pray and write. So I wrote verse after verse after verse. And when I was done, I literally could not put them away in a drawer."

Using a $50 savings bond given to her by her grandmother when Gail was born 47 years ago, Kittleson paid the local newspaper to print her words on its press. Petrified that she'd wasted the money, she immediately made her first sales call--to the local drugstore, which purchased $204 worth of the cards on the spot. The clerk cried when she read them.

"I seem to have a gift for voicing people's pain," Kittleson explains. "People tell me my cards say what they don't know how to."

"Gail has a gift for verse," agrees Gambill, "but not for marketing." So the two women teamed up. Last year Kittleson sold 30,000 cards.

Following in the tradition of the best inspirational writing, the verses on Bereavement Cards are lyrically ambiguous. "Sometimes we think the pattern for the tapestry of our lives must have gotten lost," reads one. And inside: "At those times, we must stop and listen to the sound of the weaving that still goes on."

There are cards for particular occasions as well. "Losing a loved one is always difficult...but when they have chosen to leave, the pain is magnified," one begins, continuing over the flap: "We acknowledge your overwhelming loss and grieve with you."

"How does one say goodbye to a beloved pet?" asks another.
Like any niche publisher, Bereavement has its own peculiarities. Most of the magazine's 5,000-plus grieving subscribers will be, by their nature, temporary. (Happily, they later give the magazine as a gift to mourning friends. "It doesn't die, like flowers," Gambill points out.)

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