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.


I'm sharing this post with these friends:

Home and Garden Thursday


shabbyblonde said...

You are so wise... and your words touched me. I know what that "50 pounds" feels like, although after 3 years, it feels lighter... and I can enjoy things that I couldn't before. You will never forget your precious son... nor will any of us forget those whom we have loved with a undying fervor. My heart goes out to you in your suffering. Peace and blessings to you and your family. Melinda

Susan said...

Dear Leslie, Thank you for sharing your grief journey with us. I am sending healing vibes
to you. We lost an infant grandchild, last year, and the pain catches in my heart at unexpected times. I am so very thankful for my faith and the love of God, or I would feel complete despair. God's Peace to you and your family.

michele said...

Oh the kindness of strangers. I don't think we can ever be reminded enough of the implications. That love is moving in the universe as a force for healing and good. That there is selfless goodness blessing us in profound ways that feel otherworldly and sacred. I'm with you, friend. I feel the depth of your suffering and motherlove. I'm glad you saw the specialist. My thoughts turn to 2 Corinthians 4:8: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed...persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." But we can sure FEEL destroyed. Thank you for sharing these intimate longings and reflections as you inhabit the tomb. You write so beautifully. I learned recently that the Easter story is celebrated differently in the Eastern Orthodox church. There's this imagery and storyline that somehow the West lost in which Jesus descends to hell and releases us from it. Rather than the story I grew up with which is all about this man Jesus resurrecting and ascending - it's a different sort of victory over death that involves relationship. I hope the blessings and miracles you are seeing keep having their way with you as you heal. Sending love to your lovely heart. xox

Anonymous said...

Praying. I find great comfort in knowing that when we need it the most, God quickens hearts and brings us to mind and others lift us in prayer. This is a 24/7 truth.

ci said...

I wonder if you have always been so wise. Or if the depths of despair gave birth to such
deep thoughts that have such profound meaning . I wonder if you would mind if I use some of your words about the ripples. It's a lesson everyone can learn from.
A simple lesson that i think just says to be kind all the time.
I'm so sorry for your loss of Patrick.

NanaDiana said...

I don't even know what to say because I have ever walked in your shoes--and,honestly, hope I never experience that type of pain.

My heart aches for you- as mother-to-mother I understand the depth of your love for your son. I understand the smell of little boy sleepy time sweat and big boy 'working on things' sweat.It must be pure torture to live with those memories, knowing no new ones will be created.

I don't know your belief system but I do believe that we will be reunited beyond this earthly life with those we love- those pure souls of light and joy. That being said it does not make the daily journey of loss any easier to bear.

God bless you, Leslie. You are in my prayers.

Karen said...

Oh, Leslie,
I'm sitting here crying...your words are so touching and spoken from the heart. Human compassion is something you draw from those of us who can't imagine, but understand, how unbelievable a loss like yours would be. Especially those of us who have children. Near our house there's a corner with candles and flowers and it's been renewed and refreshed for the past two years. I'm not sure what happened on this corner but I appreciate the effort of that little memorial for whomever was taken from us too soon and I think of you and your sweet son.

Debra@CommonGround said...

thankyou, dear Leslie, for sharing your thoughts and precious feelings and insight. It's so much easier to be numb and walk around in our own small and painful world, but you have such and amazing gift and depth of understanding. Reading your words blesses me so very much. You and your family are in my prayers. xo Debra

Patty said...

Prayers for you and your family, Leslie.

brenda murphy said...

Thank you for your beautiful words. I believe that these random acts of kindness is God's presence, God's presents. Somehow through our grief, we can hold moments of beauty and joy. You are in my heart. xob

La Contessa said...

CAN you post a photo of the FLOWERS maybe on INSTAGRAM so WE CAN SEE TOO?Or perhaps that would ADD more weight to YOUR CHEST!I love everything you wrote here.............
AS one who has been through HEART SURGERY I HOPE THERE IS NO COMPLICATIONS FOR YOU!IF YES, I am HERE for YOU and YOU will be FINE!It's AMAZING what they can DO!They actually turn off your heart!Let's NOT GO THERE YET..............

Brenda said...

Prayers-no words can express the grief

Leslie Harris said...

Melinda I’m so sorry for your own loss and I’m glad to hear that three years later the pain feels different. Thank you for reading this and taking the time to offer encouragement to me. It’s so kind of you. Sending love and healing back to you.

Leslie Harris said...

Susan I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your precious grandchild. My own heartache helps me understand your grief. Yes, I agree that faith and prayer is what ultimately helps us transform our suffering into a wiser deeper connection to God. At least I hope. I’m not there yet.

Leslie Harris said...

I love reading your messages to me Michele. I like to re-read them over again because I sense wisdom in them and I don’t feel very wise anymore. Thank you for keeping me in your prayers, it makes me feel better.

Leslie Harris said...

Thank you for sharing this. My prayers these days are mostly six words and feel more like pleads when I’m really hurting. Oh-my-God. Please, help me.

Leslie Harris said...

Oh Ci. I appreciate your kind words but I don’t feel very wise these days. Most of the time I feel very raw and vulnerable and too sad to let my ego constrain my writing as it used to. But I’m so pleased that you can connect to my words. It honestly makes my sorrow seem worth something if it helps in anyway.

ali said...

I just want you to know you have touched my heart and you are on my mind....I just want to give you a hug. Because as a 54 yr old mother of 4 young adult children- I have no words of comfort that would be as meaningful as a huge hug.

Blondie's Journal said...

I have to always take a deep breath and re-read your words, paragraphs, a few times over. So it's very had to respond right away. I don't think a post like this, so filled with the deep depths of your sadness, anguish, and bits of bright light should be addressed lightly or routinely. I'll send you an email. In the meantime...a hug.


Susan~aredheadonthego said...

Beautiful Leslie,what a beautiful tribute to the power of soul connections. Your insight into the ripple effect of kindness is something that most people can’t see. We get too bogged down with the day to day ness of life. But souls and the bond between souls don’t die and can’t be severed. You , our tender hearted scribe , are indeed experiencing a different realm or plane as you described being with a Jesus in a dark tomb between death and resurrection. You have cut through the physical and are attuned to the spiritual or the mystical as you described.
I am grieving through the sudden tragic death of my sister in a swimming accident last summer . We were two peas in a pod, connected at the hip and yet it was so much deeper.our souls were deeply connected, as obviously yours and Patrick’s will always be. You have created a touchstone at the place where he passed. But it can be as simple as a bowl of jellybeans on a counter. Thank you for touching my soul today. You clarified something for me and your acts of kindness are having a ripple effect my girl.

Carla from The River said...

Dear Leslie,
Thank you for sharing your heart with us. You are helping so many with your honesty of what it all feels like.
I am praying for you all. I think of you often.
Love, Carla

Sandra Sallin said...

Oh, you always break my heart. I wish I lived near you. I would plant and water your garden. You are so moving. You touch my soul.

Marilyn said...

Your words are honest, gut-wrenching, and incredibly moving. I feel like I am living this through you and so wish that I could bare some of your heart break.

I wish for you healing, in mind, spirit and body. I hope you find that you have more and more days of smiles, laughing moments and experiences that lift you.

Bless the person(s) that water those flowers. Always, always know that there are kind, compassionate people in the world. People who pass by there know that something happened at that spot. I hope they silently say a prayer to heal those who felt that loss.

Marilyn (in Dallas)

jill said...

Dearest Leslie, I love your words. I love how you love your Patrick. So true, your words.. and no one can ever understand the heavy weight and work that is grief without the experience, of course that no one ever wants. Your life is forever changed, yet life goes on. You're now in a club for which you never desired membership, yet here you are. You are loved, blessed, and have much to be thankful for, yet part of you is no longer here. How could any of these new realities (I'll never call them "normals"- it isn't normal for a parent to bury a child) not change us from the inside out? They do and they will and we'll never be the same. Most of the times, we'll be better, stronger, and love more deeply. And the tiniest gestures of kindness, humanity,and love will capture our hearts in ways we once never knew.... Twenty years later, I still miss my brother. And it still hurts to remember how such a loss broke my parents' hearts.... May God bless you and your family.

Melanie said...

Leslie, I have read your post three times since you've published it. There is so much I want to say, but I can't quite express things in writing as eloquently as you can. Your writing is so raw and gut-wrenching and makes my heart hurt with yours. Maybe because we're in the same horrible "club".

My youngest son, Tim was only 18 when Phil died. He had horrible chest pain on and off after that and was convinced - even though he was only 18 - that he was having heart problems. We told him one could indeed experience chest and heart pain through grief, but we took him to the doctor just to be checked out for peace of mind. Of course, he was fine (diagnosed with anxiety), but I remember the pediatrician (who had known Tim his entire life) being so compassionate and taking the time to talk to him about what he was going through. How is your Michael doing?

You are so brave and strong for being able to visit the site where Patrick passed away. I don't know how you do that - but what a beautiful thing that someone takes care of that little pot of daisies.

There's a beautiful, winding road just around the corner from my house where three teens perished in a car accident a few years ago. The spot is marked with crosses and faux flowers. It breaks my heart all over again every time I pass the spot. For some reason, I instinctively put my hand over my heart when I pass by and I say a little prayer for God to please look after the parents of these kids.

I've gone on too long - I'm rambling. Please keep writing and sharing your beautiful stories with us. Sending you much love and hugs.

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...

Leslie, as it has been since I discovered your blog years ago, I read a pots and I cannot comment for a few days. I have to read the post several times, and then gather my thoughts to make a comment.

Your pain and heartbreak is so raw that when I read your posts, I weep along with you for the loss of Patrick. As i said in my comment on Instagram, I am happy to know that there was someone there with Patrick. I told you about my cousin but I did not mention that about 5 years ago on Easter Sunday, there was an accident involving a couple in their 80's pulling into my church parking lot, they were t-bones by 3 young teens. Myself and a a man on his motorcycle were the first responders. I was with the lady in the passenger seat who may or may not have been alive as the airbags were deflating. I touched her hand and said a prayer as I called 911, I was so shocked to see her laying on the seat and she looked as if she was sleeping but I knew I did not want her to be alone or to go out of this world alone. I then ran to the other side of the car and the guy from the motorcycle and I pulled out her husband, we talked to him and tried to comfort him in his confusion.

Your pain will never be diminished by a comment but I hope that it is a balm to your hear to know that although many of us never met or knew Patrick we feel your pain and want you to know that you are loved and there is a life after his passing. We try in our own small way to try to offer you some solace.

I have said this many times over the years, your wisdom, compassion and knowledge are beacons for many. You are here for a reason and I think it may be to help God, help others.

Continue to write on your blog, Instagram and to journal. An more importantly take care of yourself. Dying of a broken heart is a real thing and I do not want that to happen to you.

Take care my friend, xo Elizabeth

michele said...

Hi again, friend. I've nominated you because your light has always made a difference in blogland:


Stonecropsister said...

Hi Leslie - I read this when I was visiting in London, and it's stayed with me everyday. That powerful phrase from your chaplain - "others won't be able to see your condition from the outside" - that one little succinct sentence captures so much of what you are going through. It's good you are able to write so eloquently as perhaps it does let the world see the inside as well for a little while. I think that is a good thing for people to see, and hopefully it gives you a bit of release as well. I think of you often. xx Nancy

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