I went to a book club meeting last night. The book was You Will Not Have My Hate, a very slim volume written by the husband of a young woman killed in a senseless terrorist shooting at a concert in Paris last fall. She left behind a 17 month-old son. Her husband made a Facebook post right after she died that went viral. It was addressed to the terrorists and basically said “You may have taken my wife, but you will not take my joy, my hope, my love, the best of me. You want me to hate you, but you will not have my hate. And you will not have my son’s either as he will grow up happy and free.”
I said at the meeting that the cynic in me could just hear the book publishers swarming after the FB post, telling the grieving husband and father that he simply owed it to the world to expand the story and make it a book. Once I ordered the book and started reading I had just a moment of wondering how I would feel, if it would bring my own grief back to the surface. But it didn’t. The circumstances were so different–a young mother cut down in her prime versus a senior citizen lost inch by inch to cancer.
But the discussion last night was different. There was lots of talk of grief, how it feels, how to cope, what’s helpful and what’s not. And THAT made it all come back. Not in a fresh, immediate kind of way or even like a scab being ripped off, but just a gauzy feeling of remembering–Oh yeah, that IS what it was like. This was especially true when the discussion turned to the comfort the author had taken in the daily routine of raising a toddler. You really cannot just sit in your room and cry when there are diapers to change and meals to make. Although I had no diapers, I did have a 14 year-old who was grieving as much as I was. It was my responsibility to her more than any other single factor that got me out of bed in the morning. Somedays ONLY that. I couldn’t die too, even though I wanted to, because that would leave her with no one to grieve with, no one to remember how much Tom loved us, no one to miss him with the same longing. We grieved very differently, but we found solidarity nonetheless and it helped.
In her book Small Victories, Anne Lamott wrote as true a description as I’ve ever read:
Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day at numbness, silence.
I have also heard it described as waves on the sand, but I like the spinning analogy more. Like Wheel of Fortune where the poor player is sitting on a ton of money and suddenly lands on the bankrupt spot. THAT is exactly how I felt. Sitting on top of the world one moment, late in life, improbably, and then watching it all disappear like cotton candy–too soon just a sweet memory.
It is helpful to remember all this on days when the spin is rough, when you are brought to your knees by something small you find in a drawer. Also helpful to remember to be grateful for ever being loved so well. Like the Winnie the Pooh quote that says how lucky to have had something so wonderful that you will miss it when it’s gone.
And good to remember things said last night about the need to show up for others, that there is nothing more meaningful than knowing other humans care enough to do SOMETHING, anything to help you along the way. John is better at that than I am, visiting the sick and elderly, going to the funeral home and actually engaging with the family, attending funerals even if just to get the collective numbers up and let the family know their loved one was valued.
Those lessons apply outside of death too. Putting an arm around a sad child, having a pleasant exchange with the grocery clerk, helping an old person up a staircase , not honking when the guy at the stop light fails to move on green.
We are here to love. In grief, in sorrow, at death’s door, on sunny days in August. No matter where the wheel of fortune lands. All the time and forever. Amen.