I was recently asked to share at a gathering of people who had lost a loved one over the last year. The following is the text from what I shared that evening. I wanted to share this as a way to honor Alicia. What’s more, I wanted to write this in memory of the anniversary of our engagement, December 16, 1999. It was 17 years ago that I, penniless and reeking of gasoline from my piece of shit ’76 VW “Super” Beetle, asked her to place her trust in me and face the great unknown together.
Cheers, as always, for reading,
Though most of you may not know me or my family’s story, you can safely assume why I’m up here speaking tonight. I, like many of you, lost someone dear to me. This someone was quite remarkable. She was a fast friend and a great mother. She loved intensely and loyally. She could be childlike and goofy, yet she was also capable of facing up to some of life’s most sobering truths. She was an amazing wife…she was my wife. She resisted the dying of the light with every fiber of her being. For her, it wasn’t so much that she had to leave because the party was over. Rather, it was because she had to leave while the party was still going. She had much life yet to live. She had sons who had not yet become men. She had dreams of growing old beside her husband. She was on her way to becoming a counselor to the broken and the hurting. Her name, if you’re wondering, was Alicia, and she was taken from us nine months ago. Much too soon in my estimation.
When I was asked to share with you all tonight, I struggled for some time to think of what to say. What words of hope and healing could I offer that might speak to so many? Quite a daunting task given the fact that our stories involve pain and loss. But one thing you should know about me is that I’m an observer, of things both outward and inward. So I realized – maybe that’s something I could share with you, my observations of this reality that we’re living. I can’t take away the pain of your loss, nor mine for that matter. But, as I’ll explain in a moment, I wouldn’t want to do that anyway. Instead, what I can offer is simply a part of myself, or at least my reflections as a fellow traveler on this path, someone who just gets it, no lengthy explanations needed.
So, as we’re gathered here tonight, in the midst of the holiday season and remembering loved ones, I want to speak about duality. The Oxford English Dictionary defines duality in this way: “The instance of opposition or contrast between two aspects of something.” In our case, I’m referring to the act of grieving and of living simultaneously, side by side. To illustrate my point, I brought a silver dollar. It’s one coin, yet it has two sides. You see, I think each of us is carrying around a coin like this in our pockets, figuratively speaking. It was placed there when our loss occurred, and we’re all somewhere in the process of figuring out what to do with it.
Let’s start with the side that deals with grieving. If I can offer any advice, it would be not to avoid this side of the coin, even during the holidays. I would suggest that it’s good, in fact necessary, to mourn like hell over the loss of your loved one. Our loved ones are so worth it. They’re worth the pain and the tears. They’re worth the sadness, the anger, the confusion, and the longing. Fill in the blank with any emotion or state of mind you’ve experienced – your beloved is worth it. Is this not what we would want if we were in their shoes, if the situation tonight were reversed? Would we not want those who remained to miss us terribly? To mourn over the gaping hole that’s been left in their lives? Not only that, but in my own experience, the pain of grief also serves as a reminder that what I had was truly memorable. It validates that it was good and that it was real. We don’t typically mourn the loss of something that didn’t mean much to us, so take comfort, friends, as strange as it may sound, in the pain of your loss during the holidays. It must mean some very special things happened around these times – good memories, fond relations, moments filled with love.
And what about the other side of this coin, the side that deals with our commitment to living this life? For, just as we would want our loved ones to mourn our deaths, would we not also want them to go on living? Would it not cause us grief to see our loved ones withdrawing from life on account of our absence? One thing I became intimately aware of as a result of my experience with Alicia is that the time we are given in this life is a rare, precious, and wondrous gift. Our loved ones would not want us to squander that gift. Now I imagine this commitment to living life can take many forms. It may mean taking that college course or pursuing that job, or jumping out of that perfectly good airplane, or travelling to that far flung destination. It may mean getting that crazy tattoo you’ve always wanted, or agreeing to go out for coffee with that intriguing man or woman that’s invited you. At its heart, I believe this other side of the coin involves making new memories, forming new bonds or strengthening old ones, choosing to live new experiences while we still have time on our side. It’s important to say this – I don’t think it means leaving our loved ones behind. Rather, we take them and their legacy with us into our futures. To ask me to do otherwise would be no different than asking me to leave an arm or a leg behind. You see, they are a part of us and always will be.
And there, my friends, is the duality of this whole experience. Some perhaps would call this proposition a type of insanity, but I’m not speaking to those folks, I’m speaking to you all. And for us, it’s not insanity, it’s just reality – reality that was forced on us without our asking, and since that day we’ve been figuring out how to live and to grieve simultaneously. We will have moments, including during these holidays, when we simply want to crumple to the floor and weep. And I’m here to say that’s okay. It’s okay to pass on the holiday parties at work; it’s okay to bow out of having to cook for Aunt Beatrice and all the family. Likewise, it’s okay should we feel like experiencing a little revelry. It’s okay if we have moments where we smile and laugh and feel perfectly contented. We can do both, we should do both. For my part, I think it’s what Alicia would want, just as I can picture your own loved ones placing a reassuring hand on your shoulder and releasing you to do the same. So, in closing, I wish you peace of mind during this season. Be kind to yourselves; send any and all unrealistic expectations packing. May you be enveloped with the love of those around you, including the love that persists despite your dear one’s absence. And above all, I wish you the courage and the compassion to live both sides of the coin.