“I hate the word ‘journey,'” said one of the women at the Living With Loss group. “Journeys are supposed to be fun, and dealing with the loss of my husband sure isn’t fun.”
“Yeah,” chimed in another woman. “I hate the term ‘anniversary,’ as in ‘anniversary of his death.’ It’s not something to celebrate, so it’s not an anniversary.”
I suggested to a third woman that she tell her daughter, who is stressed over a wedding, that the wedding would be “fabulous, but not perfect, because nothing is perfect. Let go of perfect and work for fabulous.”
She dismissed me with her eyes and went on to tell me that she would say it would be fabulous, but wouldn’t mention the not perfect part.
It was my third week there, and with these comments, I knew these people were missing a key point.
Lessons are what we get when we don’t get what we want. None of us wanted the death of our loved one, but if there is any miracle to be had, it is the miracle of seeing in a new way. That’s part of the traveller’s journey, where even sad events are memorialized and celebrated as gifts of learning. It is the miracle of letting go of the illusion of control to find the reality of a universe that offers the possibility for enlightenment, for the revelation of new meaning with every failure.
One woman lost her son, who would have been about 13. She was touched by the fact that, with no adult prompting, kids from his school wanted to mark the anniversary of his death by going to the grave site. It’s not what she wants — her plan is to remember his life on his birthday, not his death on that anniversary — but she went to be with them.
For these young people, this is the first time their heart was broken with loss. When our heart is broken, it opens, becomes more tender, and allows our emotions to connect with others through empathy. This is a foundational experience for all those kids who loved him, a touchstone they will remember whenever they think about loss or love in their lives. And they will remember her too, standing there with cupcakes, her heart shattered but still being there for her son and those who connected with him. It’s a model they can have when they face challenges.
How do we honour and value our scars, and not try to dismiss them as something different than the stuff of a full life? How do we value our own normal being broken, our own heart being shattered for the deep, profound and life enhancing experience it is, no matter how shitty it feels?
I live an imperfect life in an imperfect world, full of memories of joy and heartbreak, and all I can ask of my journey is that I learn and grow, shedding my own fears and committing to love so I can have a little taste of the fabulous in this world.
But, as the Living With Loss group reminds us, that’s just me.