I got a phone call yesterday from someone who had just gotten news earlier in the day of the death of a good friend and colleague. It was a man he had been close to, but had not seen for a while. Word had gotten out that his associate was not doing well, but no details could be filled in. The person who was ill had wanted it that way. Still, it was a shock when word came that the friend had died.
I remember when my brother was ill and dying, how cagey he was about who he wanted to know about his illness, and who he didn’t. On one level that was understandable since he was a practicing psychologist at the time of his diagnosis, and he didn’t want to upset his clients unnecessarily. However, I never really understood why it was so hard for him to share his journey with certain friends and not a problem with certain others.
My father had also been like that. He received a cancer diagnosis and was given just a few months to live. He asked that no one but the immediate family know this, including at the time, my new “family” of in-laws. I had just gotten married a couple of months earlier.
Without meaning to, my father put me in a really uncomfortable situation. My new family wanted me and my husband to spend that first Christmas with them. I knew this might well be the last Christmas with my father, and Christmas was a big deal to him on every level. It was his favorite holiday. My father was ever so precious to me, so that made it a big deal to me.
I would have been happy to blow off my husband’s family so I could be with my dad, but I didn’t want to betray his confidence. My husband could have cut me a break and told his family anyway so we could be with my parents, but I don’t think that ever occurred to him. The result was that I chose to be the good and silent daughter. I spent Christmas with relative strangers, with a distracted and hurting heart.
There were days during my brother’s illness when I had to field phone calls from people he didn’t want to talk to. I think he found other people’s empathy incredibly hard to deal with, and he already had enough on his plate. Of course there were also days when he was just worn out from his treatment, or had had enough to process simply getting through the hours. It was awkward making up excuses about why he wouldn’t come to the phone, while still trying to express gratitude that someone cared enough to call.
“So and so is on the phone,” or “So and so is at the door,” I would say. He would hiss some rejection of “so and so” at me and beg me to turn them away. I mostly didn’t obey. I would hand him the phone, or let them in the door. My brother would sometimes cry after they left or hung up.
“Thank you,” he once said to me afterwards. “Thank you.”
The fact that we might feel shut out from a friend’s dying experience has more to do with them than with us. The path of grief and loss and illness is never an easy journey. Life seems to contract and get smaller with every such experience, and sometimes we become leery about other potential losses we see on the path ahead of us.
The important thing is not to shut down. I have come to understand that there is so much more to this existence than I will ever understand. The struggles and grief I have managed, have expanded who I am. Friends, old or new, are ever so much more precious to me simply because we have shared our journeys together on this Earth. I see life now as the gift it is meant to be, no matter where it leads me.
My heart has been broken open by some of my experiences. Surprisingly, that has been a good thing. I am so much more open to seeing the good in people, and to walking through life with compassion instead of judgment. It forces me to live in today, sometimes one minute at a time.
In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Comforter.” I’ve always loved that concept, that God can heal the things we cannot heal alone. It says in the second step of the spiritual recovery program of which I am a member, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Just the thought that help is out there, if I will only seek it, has helped me find peace when life seemed hard.
To all of you out there who may suffer loss, and grief, or too much change of any sort, I pray you may find the relief and comfort of knowing you are loved beyond imagining. Our tiny human capacity for love is merely a reflection of the greater love that is All That Is.
From this side of the veil, it seems as if our lives become less because we have lost someone precious, perhaps irreplaceable. I have found, however, that this has forced me to become bigger. I am so much less willing to let death, or any great test of my resilience for that matter, get the upper hand.
It is my belief that death is not the end. Exactly what that looks like is not something I can answer definitively at this time, but I am certain our essence lives on.
In the meantime, until I find out by “crossing over” myself, I cling to this certainty; love never dies. I still carry the love of every friend, every family member, every acquaintance, living or dead, deep within my heart. And so do you.
We are so blessed that ever they crossed our paths.