Ten years ago, in 2003, my parents left the planet. Mom’s journey had been clearly outlined by a rapid decline in her condition but dad’s leap took us by surprise; jaw droppingly, he jumped into the ejector seat first. According to the wonderful staff at the nursing home “he had to go ahead to set up that new house for them to live in.” And so mom, my brother and I brought dad back from Florida to New Jersey where our family welcomed us home. Suffice it to say that the events prior to and including their burials had created, perhaps, the longest and most difficult year of my life.
On an aside, and as I see it after all these years, if you’re looking for “closure,” it doesn’t really exist. It’s opening that exists. Opening to pain, opening to spirit, letting go and making peace, whatever that means for the individual, exists. When you love someone and they have deeply affected your life, the hole they leave can’t ever really be completely “closed.” Like a broken bone, it mends in time but when the weather shifts there’s always that ache. If I’m to entertain the notion of “closure,” I see it more as the ocean filling the hole with sand over time. And every once in a while, perhaps due to stormy weather, the sand shifts and the hole is exposed again for a bit.
For me, however, closure is simply another illusion created by others. And that’s a riff for another day.
We buried dad on March 1st of that year and we reopened the mausoleum on March 31st for mom. She always said she didn’t want to be buried “in the dirt” so, when the condominium-like mausoleum facilities became “the thing” back in the ‘80s they purchased a double unit in a building rather than a family plot in the ground. Oddly enough, the unit they purchased was on the bottom level. Had she died first, she would’ve been underground. So, in a way, dad did prepare that new house; he took the basement and mom was laid to rest on the first floor … as it was supposed to be.
So you’re probably wondering where I’m headed with this. The core of this writing arises from an unexpected and beautiful gesture of love that I received; a heart reaching out to me from that very difficult time.
Allow me to continue.
Having always been “daddy’s girl,” I was devastated when he died. Grief abducted my 47-year-old adult soul, leaving in its place a 4 year old sobbing openly for her missing father as the death ritual took shape. Loving family and friends rallied in support during this surreal time in our lives. Dad was gone; mom was in a local ICU soon to follow. Hearts were broken and the earth under my feet was quaking.
Among the wonderful people who “paid their respects” during the wake, I made the acquaintance of a number of my brother’s work buddies who, until that time, had been faceless. One of his close friends brought his daughter with him. She was a lovely 11 year old who had a developmental disability, the diagnosis of which I wasn’t sure. Kids always seemed to gravitate to me and she was a dear. We chatted a bit, she stood next to me with her arms around me for a while and then they quietly left.
Two weeks ago my brother called to tell me this lovely young lady, who I’d met only once in my life, was thinking of me, wanted to write to me and asked if he could give her my address. Of course I said yes. What a sweet surprise … she remembered me after all these years? Wow.
The letter arrived yesterday. I was so touched by its intention that tears welled up in waves for a good part of the day as I processed the magnitude of this simple gesture.
A little sidebar that will help to connect the dots:
Lately I’ve been doing some interesting self exploration and healing as a means of moving forward and tying up loose ends of past relationships and their connection to childhood development; identifying, softening and releasing the armor around some of the human wounds we all suffer, so to speak. Within the readings, webinars, meditations and yoga classes, the concept of embracing vulnerability has come up fairly often. The premise of keeping one’s feet to the fire; staying still, experiencing, learning from and being gentle with the discomfort rather than turning to old habits or running away; sit_stay_heal … has been coming up almost consistently. So, as a practice, and as a means of keeping my recently broken heart from developing its habitual crust, I’ve been trying to lean in to vulnerability and learn from it when those moments of being in the desert alone and sad, angry or frightened bubble to the surface.
Along this path of exploration I’ve come to believe that everyone we meet in life is a teacher and I’ve been blessed through the years by some very rich lessons. Dad was great. And in addition to all the wonderful things he did for me, his lessons set me on a solid path. Not realizing it at the time, his death was the ultimate lesson, providing my first taste of true and complete vulnerability. Forced to keep my feet to the fire, there I was broken, broken hearted and openly sobbing in waves, not thinking for a moment of how it looked or what people thought. Dad’s words “be as strong as you always are” floated in my head taunting me. Strong??? If he could see me now, he’d KNOW how strong I wasn’t. But, it didn’t matter. It was what it was; what it had to be. In the moment it was a train wrecking and I was taking the ride. And next to me for a few brief moments was a little ray of light I’d never met before, open and fully sharing pain with a complete stranger. Heart to heart … soul to soul. I had no clue that this would impact her, or anyone else for that matter. It was just part of the whole deal of death, it was my turn to experience it and when it was done, it was done.
Wrong. I get it now. The authors, the mind scientists, psychologists, yogis, gurus are on to something. Vulnerability IS the opening to connection and healing. And an “aha moment” drove it home when I received the letter. Ten years after making what I thought was a lovely but fleeting connection with a sweet young soul in an environment where that kind of connection is a given, is gone with the next visitor and can be taken for granted, I find myself holding a beautiful letter from that stranger for whom the moment resonated. She’d been touched by my vulnerability and was reminding me.
Her simple note, written in what looks like the hand of a 6 year old is more beautiful than any possession I could own. Its envelope sealed and covered with stick-on happy faces. The note, itself, a simple “I love you” followed by please call me and her phone number. The sentiment repeated on the back of the small lavender notebook page.
I had NO idea of how much I’d affected that little girl a decade ago and look forward to talking to her soon. But vulnerability is setting in again in the form of “but what will I say? What if it’s difficult to talk to her?” Another challenge; another opportunity to keep my feet to the fire, stay in the moment, explore this very habitual pattern and learn what it is that’s stopping me. Then make the call when I’m ready. She has become another teacher on my life path.
So, today, I add another teacher to my rich list. Today, my awareness of how vulnerability and kindness open us to compassion and connection with others is keener. And isn’t that why we’re on the planet … together … to connect with others? How often do we take our actions or our presence in our world for granted? How often do we think we don’t matter; don’t make a difference in the lives of others?
Today, in this moment, I am much more aware that our “being” … our “presence” … what we do or say … DOES make a difference … good and bad … even if we don’t receive notes or feedback. It just DOES. It heals the heart. And it’s miraculous.