Monday, April 29, 2019

mysterious strangers, rippples and life lately

“Who would do that?”

I was sitting inside the white sterile examination room at the cardiologist’s office and I kept thinking about the mysterious stranger, and the tiny, incredulous act of kindness I had just witnessed at Patrick’s accident site.

And I kept thinking, “Who would do that?!”

I mean really. How many times do we even notice those wilted flowers, or religious candles or those poignant pictures of someone’s loved one posted at a street corner or on a telephone pole as a tender tribute for someone’s death?

Most of us drive by with a fleeting glance if at all, or maybe we wince for a second, but we keep moving, relieved to get away from this tragic spot. And I can understand why.

And yet someone had stopped. And even now I can’t believe how much this has touched me.

I had been running late for my appointment when I stopped by the accident site to water the flowers.

Did I tell you?

In those early days when we were still walking around in shock, and numb from devastation, Jim and I had gone to the spot that had been marked with yellow police tape where Patrick had passed away, and we planted rainbow-colored flowers there.

Neighbors had already begun to drop off bouquets and a few candles, so the idea of planting these flowers at this dry, dirt-filled lot had seemed like the right thing to do, especially after the many unusual (dare-I-say-mystical) experiences we had here.

Seven months later these flowers have exploded into a little island of vibrant color, and it’s become a place that Patrick’s friends and family can visit whenever they stop into town.

But I won’t lie. Some days it’s torture to go there and I have to work hard to keep the agonizing details of that night from taking over my thoughts, but most days I’m Ok. I clip and water and tidy up and I do it with the same loving energy that I once tied Patrick’s little shoelaces, and I feel very motherly and focused and efficient while I’m there.

Every 2-3 days I’ll lug several jugs of water and my clippers to this empty lot to tend to these flowers as inconspicuously as possible, because the property owner was reportedly irritated when he saw them and even threatened to have them removed.

But that was a while ago now, and the woman from the apartment complex tells me that our mound of flowers is now respectfully ignored by the hired gardeners. But honestly, who knows?

These flowers have become another reminder to me that loss can strike at any moment and every time I drive up, I prepare myself in case I should see all my carefully selected sun-happy flowers gone. And each time when I see them still there, I’m so relieved, which I guess is the lesson I’m meant to keep learning.

Be grateful for the littlest things, Leslie.


On this particular morning I had an appointment with a cardiologist because my physician thinks the prolonged heaviness and pain in my chest needs to be taken seriously, and so I shrug and agree, but I’m not concerned. 

Nothing about my death scares me anymore, although apparently there is such a thing as “heartbroken syndrome,” a condition in when the powerful effects of intense grief can trigger a heart attack. The cardiologist explains this to me and I must look surprised because he tells me to google it.

Which I don’t. But then I remember what Chaplain Joseph from my hospice program told us, when he met us in our living room following our visit to the funeral home. 

Jim, Michael and I were still stunned from the gut-wrenching trauma of crying over Patrick’s beautiful body that we had just seen covered under a bronze-colored sheet, hard and cold, and smelling like harsh chemicals.

“You’ll need to treat yourself as if you had just had open-heart surgery” he said about our traumatic loss. “You’ll have to go really slow and be gentle with yourself. And remember that others won’t be able to see your condition from the outside.” 

Remembering Joseph’s words reassures me.

And it also helps that my cardiologist doesn’t think my symptoms fit this dire condition, although he still wants to rule it out. And so there I am, sitting across from him explaining my chronic chest pain, which of course means telling him about Patrick and the accident and the horrific trauma of seeing the sheriff and coroner show up at our front door at 7:30 in the morning and so on. 

Only I can’t tell this story without crying, so he listens with extraordinary quietness and then tells me to come back for a treadmill test. 

Then suddenly before he leaves, he stops at the door of his pristine office in Newport Beach, and he looks so sorrowful.

“I can’t possibly imagine the pain you’re going through,” he says, “And I don’t want to even think about it because I have kids you know, and…”
And I interrupt him and tell him what I tell every parent who says this. Please. I don’t want you to even think about it (because) believe me, it’s the worst suffering imaginable. 

But his gentle sensitivity feels so comforting and it reminds me of the stranger. Back at the accident site.

Two weeks ago, Jim had placed a purple pot of daisies at the brown telephone pole that is now the home of a collage of Patrick’s smiling pictures. Jim takes care of this pole. He rotates the pictures and is quietly pleased when he sees people stop to look at it, and sometimes he’ll attach a balloon and flowers to the pole. 

But when I saw the ceramic pot of daisies he bought at the grocery store, I warned him. Jim, I told him. That pot is so small it will need to be watered constantly in that direct sun. It’s probably going to die before we can get back there.

But he wanted it and so he bought it and placed it on the sunny sidewalk and ten days later when I poke my finger into the pot of healthy daises, I’m shocked to feel freshly watered soil.

Someone was helping us keep this little pot of flowers alive!

I stand there for a minute on the edge of the sidewalk while traffic hurls past me and I wonder who. 

Who does this? 

What person would take time out of their busy day to water flowers for someone they don’t even know? A pot so small at the bottom of a mountainous telephone pole, that it’s barely visible to a fast-moving car. 
Was it one of the neighbors who watch us make our visits here?
Was it one of the women who had kneeled next to Patrick on that dark night and whispered loving words to him, believing that he was still alive?

For a long moment I allow myself to feel the stunning impact of this singular act of kindness. 

Do you recognize the moments that resurrect you?

Even though the Easter holiday has come and gone, I’m still deeply aware that I am living out this year’s celebration of death and resurrection in a way I never imagined before Patrick’s loss.

On our first warm, sunny Easter Sunday without Patrick I found myself huddled under the covers and overwhelmed with despair. I had wanted to go to the youth-filled church that Michael took us to in the weeks after Patrick’s accident, with the great music, but when Jim came upstairs to check on me, I couldn’t get up.

“I miss him so much.” I kept repeating. “I can’t stand it. It hurts so much.” 

“I know.” He says and I realize he feels the same but he is so kind when I’m like this.

On his second trip he says, “You need to come down now, everyone’s up.” 

And afterwards Michael enters my room and says, “Come here Mom, let me give you a hug.” 

Then he tells me—the former queen of holiday tablescapes and homemade Easter baskets and basically any reason to celebrate at all--that holidays are going to be hard now. And we need to get though them whatever way we can. But we’ll get through them together. 

And honestly, I’m just so amazed by him.
Of course-I-trot downstairs. It was never in question.

 Only the idea of being swept up in the joyful celebration of the resurrection of Christ leaves me strangely disconnected. It’s like the equivalent of trying to go to a jubilant party when you’re still wearing your funeral clothes. 

Or to use a spiritual metaphor, it feels as if I’m still deep inside the dark tomb with Jesus. A place, Franciscan Richard Rohr calls the “liminal space between the waking and the unknown,” before the rising happens.

And I get it. I know the end of the story. I know the sun always rises after a dark night and that healing will follow even the most profound loss. But I’m not there yet. And so, I find comfort in Marianne Williamson’s belief that suffering and grief are a normal, human experience. And that one of the neuroses of modern life is to rush what should not be rushed.

Or in the words of my feisty 81-year-old Buddhist friend, this is the way it is right now, and that’s ok. 

Also, my parents were visiting at the time. And it’s not long before I’m smiling and making coffee and running to Home Depot with my Dad so we can build my laundry room counter. And later, we all eat seafood and laugh and talk inside the crowded bar at the Blue Wave Restaurant, where I can smell the salty ocean air.

On the outside, I look perfectly normal.

The important part

In fact, you would never guess that every day I wake up with a 50- pound weight on my chest. The cardiologist wants to know when I feel it. Oh, mornings are definitely the worst, I guess. 

And night-time too. Those are the quiet times when my mind is open to all my Patrick images and Patrick thoughts and I’ll see his face so clearly in front of me. And I’ll instantly long to see him and to hear his voice. And to be with him again. And the longing is so powerful that I can feel it inside my heart, like a loud, agonizing scream. 

Only I don’t tell this part to the cardiologist. Nor do I tell him that some days I wonder how I can possibly live my life this way. With these waves of pain. 

But here’s the important part.

Right when I think I can’t bear it one second longer, something will happen.

Usually it’s something very tiny. 

But it will feel like relief, a refreshing sip of water in the middle of the blistering desert. And I’ll think, wow, this is a miracle. Whether it’s a loving text message or a quick conversation or an intriguing line I hear from a Ted Talk or someone’s unexpected kindness that’s so wispy and modest to anyone who isn’t living in this darkness with Jesus’s body, that you would probably miss it. 

Hopefully you would be laughing. Or maybe just happily engrossed in your busy day because you haven’t just lost someone precious whom-you-just-can’t-live-without. 

I think it’s perfectly understandable that you might not see these tiny miracles. 

But they are there. Happening all the time.

And I’m so grateful for each ray of light that comes my way. 

In fact. I wish I could tell the mysterious stranger how much their incredibly sweet gesture lifted me up on a day when my heart was being examined because it hurts me so much.
 Boy, I wish I could thank them.

Does profound suffering offer us some inexplicable insight into the transcendent world beyond this one?

I don’t know. 

But I do know there are things I’m learning right now that I never want to forget.

Like this one; I never want to forget the astonishing truth I learned about the power and reach of a simple, unseen act of kindness. It’s the anonymous part that blows me away and makes me think of ripples in the water.

Yeah, ripples.

Could this be the simple truth of why we’re all here?

Because at any given moment, we’re each sending ripples out into this world. 

But what powerful ripples we can be.

(mom's b-day dinner)

 sending love to all my dear readers,
please know I read each word of every one of your comments and sometimes I respond and sometimes everything feels like it takes so much energy now that even while I mean to, I might not. Please know that I value the precious time you take to stop here and read my words and share yourself
with the me and the world. 
You are an amazing light.


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