Disconnected.Five words to describe how I'm feeling right now. Thank you Pip for this really helpful exercise. Sometimes you just have to start with the feelings.... to dive right in there to be able to figure out where to go from there eh, my beautiful emerald friend? All those feelings of imperfection....
What a sad confusing day it has been. Surreal too. In a very strange way, during that sickening whoosh of emotions when you're first informed that someone you know and care about has died and responding/reacting to the news, there are thinthreaded silver moments when bits of light come through to touch you on your temples and in your heart.... moments which add a gloss to what is otherwise a very emotional time, which moisten your tears with the salt of life. It takes a while to see them though. The taste of the salt helps. Its a reminder that suffering and pain and death all play roles in life lived.
There are a few cultural and religiously based rules and rituals we follow when we are faced with the stark cold realization that only a death can initiate. Thank God for these, as they act as a guide to follow when darkness is so deep we are blind to the next steps to take. We'd flail even more if we weren't supported by specific steps we must take. But, there are no rules for the emotions are there? People react so personally at different points of awareness, over different stages of the initial grief, in a fog of disbelief so thick its difficult to know when the waves will hit. Don't ever believe they will be held back........ even the calmest harbour is drenched with the waves brought on by the news that someone you know, you care about, you have just spoken to has died.
There is no preparing.
There is no typical way to react.
Is there ever an answer to the "WHY?" No. There isn't.
Tonight, as I sit quietly in my livingroom, as still as I have been since I first heard the news last night. My good friend Barb has lost her husband after a sudden, terrifyingly short struggle with cancer. Like everyone, I'm stumbling to make sense of his death. Leigh was a bear of a man.......... STRONG, and healthy as a horse! He was never sick. But, when the cancer arrived, it took hold of him with such vengeance. We all just kept shaking our heads in disbelief. Shocking.
I spoke to him yesterday afternoon when I called to make plans for lunch on Sunday. Barb was out at the store...... one of the few times she has left his side since the diagnosis and subsequent major surgery in September.
I asked him how he was feeling, knowing he was coming out of dealing with the massive side effects of his first round of chemotherapy...... "Not good," he said. I could hear his fear and his sadness. This was a man who fixed things. He fixed people things. He fixed around the house things. People relied on Leigh for being there..... relied on him to say, "don't you worry, I'll fix this...." And OH, MY, GOD....... He couldn't fix his illness. He couldn't pull the rabbit out of the hat for himself. I heard the disappointment, the surrender in his voice. But even then, I surely didn't expect to get the call last night. Instead, I just felt awkward..... I had no idea what to say....... What do you say besides...... "I am so sorry."
Life is so painful at times. Death is so damned frightening. What can you say over the phone to someone so distraught and lonely in their dying? There are no words. Just shared sighs.
A couple of weeks ago as I was sending out a group email to update friends and co-workers, all of whom are like family to Barb, Leigh and myself....... we had all worked under the same government department umbrella for years, before they had retired and I had moved onto another job.
I impulsively suggested that we put together a basket together for them. There was so little we could do except to send our love and hope and best wishes, so why not fill a basket with those things. Maybe it would give them new energy to enter into the chemotherapy.
The idea literally formulated in my head as I wrote the email. I was feeling so helpless, and assumed others were feeling the same way. Within minutes, I had a few replies from folks who were willing to collect donations from their worksite. I sent out another email with a list of ideas, including the suggestion that perhaps a few would write out some stories, or include a few funny jokes, their own news....
The items poured in! POURED!! Everything from wine to homemade jams to books to beautifully wrapped parcels filled with "in jokey" things the friend knew would make Leigh laugh. Money too....... many donated money to go towards the yard work and winter snow plouging that Leigh wouldn't be able to do. Friends who had moved on into other jobs with other government departments heard about the basket too and showed up with gifts and money and cards and letters....and STORIES of humourous "remember whens..."
It blew my mind! When I saw it all, I knew that everyone was feeling the same way...... We all wanted to reach out. We were all so touched and rattled by that intense feeling of helplessness. It was the best we could do.... simple gifts in a communal basket wrapped with our love and our hope.
The next day, I phoned a mutual friend and asked her if she would come with me to surprise Leigh and Barb. I wanted her with me to see their surprised looks, and to experience the moment, and to add her open wide heart to it all. So, we made arrangements to arrive at the same time, later on that afternoon. What transpired was an emotionally joyful, heartmelting couple of hours of laughter, GALES of laughs, of honest fear shared, of remember whens..... of moments when there were no words, just tears in response to the loving, lovely words that were tucked into the cards, inside the packages........ the four of us sat around the kitchen table and let the feelings out freely. It was a beautiful, beautiful afternoon. Human beings connecting at an emotional place so raw and real.
Afterwards, I sent out another group email and tried my best to encapsulate it for them. I wished they could all have been there and we could've had a spontaneous party! I sent a picture too of Leigh and Barb standing by the basket and the overflowing gift bags. They needed to see their friend, who had changed so radically in such a short amount of time. I only heard back from a couple of them, because it was all too much to process. But, I knew the impact and I didn't expect replies. It was all so awkward because there are simply no words.
Today, I hugged my grieving friend. We stood and hugged for a long, long time. Her life has altered so drastically and she's in shock. We sat around the same kitchen table piled HIGH with food and pots of tea, but this time with different people, surrounded by the intensity of the moment.
The big strong bear of a man who fixes things for people and fixes things around the house is gone. Over the mountain. May he find peace. May we all let go of the "Why's" so that we can eventually recognize the bits of light. In the meantime, let the rituals guide the way through the darkness, as we taste the salt of life.