Death came today. Not for me. Not even for someone I knew. It came for the husband of someone to whom I once gave all my heart. She told me, several months ago, that he was a good man. And that he had treated her well. I never got a chance to meet him. I didn’t even know she had remarried until a year or so ago. I don’t quite remember how I found her. We hadn’t talked in over thirty years. I never forgot her though. Nobody ever forgets their first love.
Now, so many years later, she joins me sailing seas of grief with no anchor and no navigational charts. We’re a long ways away from each other, in both time and space but I told her to call me if she needed to talk. And I meant it. Because if there’s one thing I really understand, it’s how unbelievably alone one feels when their entire world is knocked out from beneath them.
I walked into a friends office on Wednesday to borrow some packing tape. I saw the look in her eye when she explained where she had found her keys. She had e-mailed me a week or so previously, asking if I’d forgotten to leave her keys in the office. She couldn’t find them. But it wasn’t me that had lost her keys. It was her and I don’t mean the keys. She’d lost her mother. The lost keys were just a side effect of sudden and unexpected grief. She was an orphan now. At fifty-something years old. Because, when you lose your last parent, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you are now an orphan.
I sat with my friend for quite some time. I know the hole she’s living in. And I remember how badly I wanted someone who understood to sit with me. Nobody could though, because nobody knew how. It’s not that nobody I knew had ever suffered that sort of loss. It’s just that they had never quite figured out how to sit with someone in that place. I don’t know how I knew what to do either, but I just sat. I listened. I offered up some tiny efforts at understanding. And yea, I cried. Because I can’t hold that back anymore. I hope I made her feel just a little bit more at peace when I left. I know I did, for the sheer humanity of the emotional bond we shared in those sacred moments.
The essence of life is loss. Nobody escapes it. Nobody gets a free pass. You can become bitter and rage against the unfairness of it all. You can drop into a great depression and wither away into some black and formless void (don’t ask me how I know this). There is a third option though. Most people who survive eventually wind up here. It’s a place of gratitude and love. For the one you’ve lost. For the gifts they have bestowed upon you. Perhaps most importantly, for the opportunity to have loved someone enough to feel the emptiness left in your heart when they have to go home again.
Thank you for reading.