In the span of just one week, I signed my whole name twice on official papers that changed my world forever.
The first paper I signed allowed the hospital to stop all care for my Mama, except for pain medicine and a nasal cannula for oxygen. The second did the same for our elderly cousin who was suffering from a broken hip and pulmonary fibrosis. I was with both of them as they took their last breaths and left this world.
I was numb. I may still be. Our cousin’s passing was fifteen months to the day after my Daddy’s three year battle with lymphoma ended. The overwhelming grief from losing him was still fresh, and now I had watched two more people I love leave. Thin places.
If you’ve seen Harry Potter, or read the books, you might remember the wagons that carried the students from the train station to Hogwarts. Many thought they were pulled by invisible animals, but Harry saw them. So did Luna Lovegood. (“Don’t worry, Harry, you’re as sane as I am.” I love that line.) It turns out that to see thestrals you had to have seen death. I think for the past year and a half, I have felt that way. That I see things differently. I didn’t slow down much after Daddy, thinking that I needed to help hold things together. Now, though. Now I don’t kid myself. I’m not capable of holding anything together. I’m taking things slower. I’ve said no to many things I normally would have embraced. I SEE things differently. I feel different.
And I’ve tried to give myself grace. I can see some of the signs of depression, but that is a casebook symptom of grief. I also see some signs of healing. Perhaps those frighten me more than the depression, if I’m being honest. Does healing mean forgetting? I don’t think so.
The past two days a story has been on my mind. My friend is a brilliant story-teller, and she shares those over at Baddest Mother Ever. Yesterday she wrote “Dust to Dust,” a story about her friend Spencer. He was an amazing and funny guy whom she loved dearly. It was only in recent years that she found out what a contribution he made in saving 8 million lives. I’m sorry I have to stop for a minute. What?! That is almost the population of this whole state. She writes about that too in “Eight Million To One.” She tells her story and his much better than I, so I’ll leave you to your reading.
I was thinking about Spencer, a man who was handed what was supposed to have been a death sentence over 20 years ago, and how he not only continued to live but lived vibrantly. I thought about how I am living. Grief is hard, and it can be crippling at times. I wish I could wear a black shirt or armband and people would just KNOW and move on, but I cannot let it keep me from doing and being and living. To let the grief paralyze me, well, that would only negate the sheer good that the people who are gone tried to instill in me. Oh my word, sitting here just now, I realize this is what Mama was trying to tell me over the past year. When I was weepy or emotional or yes, angry, she was telling me just this. Find hope. Keep going. That is the miracle.
Which is what Spencer said in a final interview, before he left this world. I posted this video on my 17 year old’s Facebook page today. I told her to watch it and memorize it, that this–THIS is what it is all about. Truth. And I meant it, Aub. If you forget everything else I ever taught you, remember this.
Miracles can happen.
Spencer didn’t stop living in the midst of his own grief. He didn’t give up. He lived and he changed lives.
I have felt a stirring and a passion growing for changing something that is breaking my heart. I am fighting my own grief-induced attention deficiency, but what I learned from Ashley’s story and from Spencer’s…..I can work through it and I can let the lives of those who are gone make a difference in my own life and the lives of others.
One of the eulogists at Spencer’s memorial service shared a quote from Paul Monette’s Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise: “Grief is a sword, or it is nothing.”
I have been wrapping myself up in this blanket of Grief. It is a patchwork quilt full of precious, ragtag memories and hand-tied strings, and as I share my stories I do find some healing and hope. And as I crawl out from under the blanket and try to get back on my feet, I find myself reaching out for that sword. I do not want their lives to have been for naught, nor do I want for mine to have been. I am not promising that I won’t crawl back under the blanket for a nap or two (or twenty), to rest and remember, but I think that it is time I take up the sword and go out and do stuff. Important stuff that remains after we are gone.
Tonight I am thankful for my friend Ashley whose writing is as beautiful as she is. I am thankful for the Spencers of the world who don’t let anything keep them from doing good, who believe that it all boils down to being kind and generous, and have the courage to say so. I give thanks for the tears that flow each time I watch the video and hear Spencer’s words. I am thankful for the Grief that helps me to see differently, and for those who understand. I am grateful for the inspiration and energy to poke my head out from under the blanket and for the miracle of hope that makes me dream about a plan and stuff that I am able to do, thanks to the people who made me who I am.
And whaddaya know? Mama was right.