This really happened.
One minute I was sitting across from a beautiful woman at a candle-lit table in a seaside restaurant and she was telling me about her adult daughter’s wonderful new job in finance, and she was beaming with the kind of relieved, grateful expression that mothers wear when things are going well with their children.
And the next day her daughter was found dead in her apartment.
We found out about this tragic news from a company email that was sent throughout my husband’s bank and my first stunned reaction was, “What? How can that be?! We were just talking about her last night!”
But of course, this is what we do when death and reasoning collide, we grasp and claw at logic, desperate for answers that might slow the flow of shock and pain pulsating through us.
But this is not my story.
The story I want to tell you happened this past Saturday-- 700 miles from my home-- on a sun-drenched afternoon in Salt Lake City Utah.
(cell phone picture)
Jim and I had flown into town for the bank’s annual Christmas party and while the hubby was in meetings, I grabbed my coat and began walking in the cold, brisk air in search of some pretty ribbon and a Christmas card for the woman who had lost her daughter.
This would be her first Christmas without her precious Megan and I wanted to acknowledge it with a note. I didn’t know this woman intimately, we saw each other through my husband’s work but she was a sensitive person, a fellow ‘feeler’ whom I could always relate to and I had been deeply affected by her daughter’s death.
This would be the first time I’d be seeing her since that dinner a few months ago and I had written down a few words I planned on passing to her in a card that evening.
Years ago when I had been in a dark period of grief I had read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s diaries (Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead) and I had found tremendous comfort in her views on grieving. They were based on her own excruciating loss of her child and I often seek inspiration from people who have endured suffering and heartache and have come out the other side. Some books can be bottled up in a few potent pages and for me, there were seven pages that I had marked up with a pen and re-read endless times because they resonated with my own suffering
Lindbergh spoke of the numbing and grief that happens after death and the eventual re-birth that can follow the darkness. She described the loss of someone we deeply love as a kind of amputation—”like a lost limb down to the nerve endings.” And she wrote about Remorse—beating oneself in a vain attempt to make what has happened “un-happen,” as a cautionary dead end. A kind of fake action that can never nourish and only deplete you.
At the time, these were words I needed to hear.
In my note to this grieving mother I had shared an Anne Morrow Lindbergh quote and I remember wondering if I should have bought her the same book, but it was a hard book to find and I’d had to special order mine. Too late now.
As I walked on the bustling downtown streets of Salt Lake City I was struck by its baby blue skies and its clean beauty and I was momentarily lost in my thoughts, not even caring if I got lost. Which is unlike me.
After stopping on the sidewalk to ask directions to a “shop with pretty ribbon” I ended up at this street corner and I was abruptly taken aback by this gorgeous mural of the Blessed Mother. If you know me, you know how I feel about HER and the divine power of her love, especially as a source of comfort for mothers.
And suddenly I felt like I was on the right path.
I kept moving down the street until I approached a stack of books in a gray metal cart outside a dusty, stained glass window. And when I stepped back I squinted my eyes in the bright sunlight and read the words.
Unbelievable, I thought.
I had no idea where I was but I had just stumbled unto my version of heaven.
I opened the door and felt instantly transported to someplace ancient and magical. Besides two bearded men talking about authors over a glass case of yellowed, delicate-looking books, I was alone in the store.
The sight of a worn, blue velvet couch, mountains of books and the musty smells of antiquity all made my heart flutter.
In the narrow aisles I ran my fingers along the worn, rippled spines of hard cover books looking at the titles I recognized from childhood. When I saw a copy of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm I casually picked it up and found this inscription inside:
And I wondered if Michele had liked this book too. Was she still alive and reading?
I liked to think so.
After some time I asked the store clerk if he had any books by Anne Lindbergh Morrow and he sent me down a long aisle at the far end of the store
where I bent down to the lowest shelf and tilted my head to examine the titles.
And of course.
Wouldn’t you know it?
There were only two titles by Lindbergh and yes, one was the book I wanted.
What were the odds?
As I stared at the book I felt something serendipitous about my afternoon; it was fleeting thought that by being completely open to my surroundings--and in a giving state of mind—it had somehow resulted in my holding this book in my hands, and even though I seldom use this word,
‘grace’ came to mind. I figured that I was meant to pass on the book, but more important was the message I hoped to convey to this mother.
The idea that we are all connected through our wounds and that sometimes this shared pain is all we have to offer someone who is hurting. But is there a more comforting message than this:
You’re not alone my friend.
No, I’ve never lost a child but I do know what it’s like to love one with every breath in your body. And I can imagine your pain, and I’m not afraid of it.
If you’re dealing with loss and sadness this holiday season this post is dedicated to You.
Please believe me, it will get better. Really it will.
But until then, these are a few things that helped me when I was once overwhelmed with grief.
First and foremost life is too short to fake it.
Give yourself permission to cry, to be sad, confused, or angry.
Absolutely DO NOT judge yourself.
Write down your thoughts and feelings. It’s amazing what comes out.
Grab your coat and get outside and start walking. I guarantee the fresh air will help.
Whatever your spiritual beliefs, find time to meditate or pray or simply sit in silence, this is how you honor your most vulnerable feelings.
Listen to a comforting tape of Tara Brach on Loss.
Volunteer-don’t worry about the cause just get around other people for a common purpose.
Be selective about your sharing. Talk to those special people in your life who will let you feel exactly how you feel--- and won’t try to minimize or deny your emotions. This is how we get through our pain in a healthy way. Be curious and open about those shadow feelings that might be uncomfortable. Because you deserve to feel whole.
And if you want me to send my favorite Lindbergh passage on grief.. leave me your address and I’d be happy to send it to you.
And one more thing--if your grief begins to overwhelm you—please don’t hesitate to get professional help. Walking around with a tight smile while you’re hurting inside will take a physical and emotional toll on you. And sometimes a death can unleash bottled up feelings that a trained professional can help you make sense of…
In the meantime, let’s all remember that Christmas is a time of rich memories which can cut both ways. We can feel those losses in our life more acutely.
Let’s be careful that we don’t get so caught up in the festivities of the season that we forget those around us who might be quietly suffering.
Can you relate to this post?