Beating it Back with a Stick

I held the handle of my umbrella under my chin so I wouldn’t get soaked pushing the grocery cart to my car. It should rain today, I thought. It should rain on days people die and on the days after. Or maybe what someone wants after a person dies is to have the sun blazing and the fall colors waving in the wind instead of stuck to the grocery cart wheels. I don’t know.

After a meeting today, a colleague looked at me while I stared at the wall, seemingly unable to string a complete sentence together, probably thinking that I hadn’t heard his question about the material we’d discussed earlier, and asked, “Are you ok?” “Sure, I’m fine,” I answered out loud.

To myself, I said, “No, I’m not fine. I am beating it back with a stick.” This phrase along with another favorite, “I am sinking like a stone” are the shirts in the back of the closet, silk ones bought long ago that I only wear on special occasions like when a respected colleague dies unexpectedly and a friend’s son dies as expected and my own daughter survives having her heart stopped and opened so that damage done to it by rheumatic fever twenty years ago can be repaired.

I am overwhelmed and tired. I am feeling grief that isn’t my own. I am feeling grief for a professional colleague whom I came to know best on this blog and on Facebook. Because she read my blog, I knew she knew a lot about me. From her rare but very heartfelt comments, I felt I knew her in a way. Her Facebook posts ebbed and flowed and in recent months she had taken to posting extraordinarily beautiful photos of birds and other creatures. For a short while, I blocked her because there were so many photos and then I realized I missed her and I missed seeing what she thought was worth seeing that day. I ran back to unblock her as fast as I could. Oh, the wonderful birds came back! And then stopped. No posts. Many people posted to her asking her how she was. No response. I wondered myself but didn’t ask. And then the posts started appearing, RIP posts, one after the other. Oh no, I thought, don’t tell me that she died.

She did. In her sleep. The posts to her Facebook timeline continued. People speaking to her as if she were still alive. “You were such an inspiration to me.” “I miss your courage and compassion.” I said nothing. What would I say? I felt I knew her because we were in meetings together and she shared her story with me on my blog? So thin. She had children and grandchildren. I know because she talked about them on Facebook. I saw their pictures. I am feeling grief that is not my own.

Yesterday afternoon, in the email notification that we had been anticipating, we learned that my husband’s friend, the man who was his best man at our tiny, ginned up wedding, well, his 26-year son died after a seven-year battle with cancer that enlisted his entire family as soldiers in the war. His mother’s posts on Caring Bridge may well be the most extraordinarily beautiful writing I have ever read. Sorrow, courage, hope and love combined to this sad end. Their son is gone. My 26-year old son is waging his own battle, different demon, maybe different end. But now I am feeling grief that is not my own.

My daughter is recovering from open heart surgery. She is in pain and tired and unhappy. She believes life is unfair and I agree.

It is. All around.

3 Comments on “Beating it Back with a Stick

  1. sometimes it doesn’t matter if grief is not your own.. sometimes its all about having a heart that feels for others… and that I think truly makes you stand out… hope and pray that your daughter feels better soon!!

  2. Whenever I would visit my grandmother as a young person, I noticed she would always be offering us updates on all of her people. Close family members. Extended family. Former neighbors. Friends. Friends of friends. She’d rattle off stories of all of the trauma, disappointments, sicknesses, tragedies. Some good stuff, too, of course. Births. Marriages. But I remember always noticing how sad and/or negative most of the news was. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that this truly IS life. Life is as bad as it is good, often more bad than good. Life is sad. Life is often tragic and unfair. Life here on earth can be really tough. I’m realizing that this truth does not just live in a series of stories about people that may as well be fictional to me. No: it lives in MY colleagues…my OWN friends….my own family members. And that can be really hard to accept sometimes. The accompanying realization I’ve made, however, is that the trick is in remembering that this stuff is small cookies. There is a bigger picture. And in that bigger picture, love always wins. Love (and the joy it brings) is what life is REALLY all about. And often, the tough stuff helps us get better in touch with it than most things can. Blessings to you in this time, as your heart is cracked open by grief…and love.

  3. Yes, life is not fair – in fact it sucks sometimes. Hold tight and hugs to you.

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