“Death and the Maiden”

Recently, I’ve had far too many causes to think on death. Loved ones taken from my life, and given to the next. I have heard that these things come in threes & I used to believe it. I used to buy into the Rule of Threes, but having just walked away from a fourth funeral in less than a year… not so much. I know you R3 subscribers are probably thinking that I’ve had my 3 and have now stared a new set of 3, so be prepared for another 2 – but I say enough is enough, let’s just leave it at four.

There are many things that come with the death of a loved one, and so many of them are so completely private that it becomes difficult, often, to communicate at all. What do you say to your childhood best friend, when her mother loses a difficult battle with cancer? I wanted to tell her “I am so completely crushed that your mother, who I consider to be a second mother, is gone!” But then, how can I – who has been the “prodigal daughter”, so to speak – dare to even think that I could be at all close to feeling what she probably is. So I go about my tap dancing routine, saying as little as possible in person, (lest I fall into a weepy mess & end up having her comfort me), and send a card with what I wanted to say written carefully out, in handwriting that I can only hope is legible, and in a way that I hope is not misunderstood. But the issue is always the same no matter who it is. The simple truth is that no two people are feeling exactly the same, because we all mean different things to each other. The main point to remember (I think) is that everyone’s grief is meaningful and significant to them, and therefore important.

So now for the big question: “why am I so sad?” Surely my life is better for knowing these people who have passed. A grandmother-in-law who was so meek, loving, and accepting. Two uncles (one from Jeff’s side, one from mine): each was that guy who’d pull quarters from behind your ear when you were a kid, and start every conversation with a wink & a smile. Men who served valiantly in WWII, and yet were so gentle at home. A woman who cared for me and loved me as if I were her own daughter. Such wonderful & happy people and such wonderful & happy memories, and yet … these memories are what makes their deaths so painful. It is these happy memories that are the most difficult. They are the ones that take me by surprise, cause me to catch my breath and fight back a torrent of overwhelming emotions. Random unhappy memories – the memories of feeling unwelcome, unwanted, hurt, ignored, cheated – these are the memories that one might expect to cause sorrow, but actually invoke little. They were an open wound at the instant, stinging for a short while and have long since healed. Sealed safely away in memory, they are actually helpful – they serve to strengthen & guide. It is completely remarkable to me that this is the way it works. –Unbelievable that the legacy of a lifetime of love and humor is heartbreak so profound, it takes years to manage.

My grandmother once told me that a broken heart is much the same as a broken arm or a damaged knee. We all recognize that as a result of such injuries, we will never be the same; yet we expect that when someone loses a loved one, that they move on, and in a few months or a year, that they are as they were before. She suggested that this is not only untrue, but also unfair. I think she was right, but I also think that we are remarkably resilient creatures and have the ability to grow and blossom, even in the midst of heartbreak, if only we allow ourselves the chance.

So what does all of this mean? I guess I mean to beg your indulgence as I sort it all out. Overall, I’d say my life – especially my early childhood – was filled with such wonderful people, that for awhile at least, I may be a little touchy as I’m recognizing how loved I’ve truly been.

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