Being There

One of my dearest friends lost her 28-year-old son-in-law to cancer yesterday. He and his wife, her daughter, celebrated their three year wedding anniversary only four months ago. These two kids spent almost half their marriage dealing with cancer. Imagine that.

I don’t mind telling you that my husband and I conducted their wedding and did their pre-marital counseling. They were one of the most attentive couples we’ve ever counseled. And they loved each other. They never even had time to get to that middle-aged phase when you hate each other, either. All they ever had was that heady, youthful love and friendship, and then his sickness. I feel so sorry.

My friend called me yesterday afternoon to tell me her son-in-law was going downhill, but I didn’t listen to my messages until 7:00 this morning. Of course I intended to go up to the hospital after dropping my girls off at school. But when I called my friend, she said that her son-in-law had already died. And she told me how it went. And we cried and said how unreal it seemed and was.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you guys,” I said, after a time. And I truly was sorry. I felt terrible, because I know what it means to have your loved ones nearby during hardship. And my friend said, “That’s truly OK, I know you would have come. And the hospital was packed. You’ve never seen so many people there for one person—relatives, his fellow National Guardsmen, friends. It was incredible. We had the family room just packed. It’s truly OK.”

I knew she meant it, and wasn’t suffering from lack of support. I thought what a way to go: surrounded by loved ones wishing you godspeed on your journey.

I thought, too, about my friend’s daughter and how untimely this is. How she will be the only 27- or 28-year-old in her circle of friends to have suffered and lost so much at such a young age. Already. Imagine that. When you’re supposed to be young and naive, stupid and foolishly invulnerable and immortal in your own head. And that’s been taken from her.

ico16 by you.

I talked to my other friend today, too, my friend who has just had a new baby over the weekend. A new baby who came with flashing lights and EMTs, for my friend didn’t even know she was in labor until the baby decided to pretty much fall out and be born at home in the bathroom, as her daddy dialed 9-1-1 and tried to catch her with a free hand. Exciting stuff, all right. And all turned out well.

So my friend’s parents and brothers and in-laws all crowded into her small house, so that when her darling toddler son woke up the next morning, he was greeted by all those adoring fans, who promptly whisked him up and fed him, and then took him away to granny and grampa’s house to spoil him for a week while mom and dad recovered and fell in love with new baby sister.

I asked how she was doing, and she said, “Oh, it’s wonderful. I’m glorious! I am so enjoying this new baby. I feel so warm and enclosed and loved, and it’s been so great. Everyone is helping, and all I have to do is nurse the baby.”

This friend of mine has always been surrounded by love and has available, loving parents. She’s always had supportive siblings. Though their family has had some very tough times, they have stuck together and grown as human beings. My friend has also always had good friends, because she herself is a wonderful person. She believes and speaks the best of people. She’s enthusiastic about life and about loving other people. She is so filled up within herself that she has an abundance to give to others, and give she does. She’s someone who really never meets a stranger. The worst she ever does is to become cross. That’s what she says, “I felt so cross.”

She’s charming, really. Cross? Cross?! I wax absolutely bitchy on people, but she is merely cross. And she really is that way. Just a good, warm, kind-hearted human being. I don’t know anyone who knows her and doesn’t say that they feel enriched by knowing her. She is that sort of a human being.

ico16 by you.

So I started thinking about sorts of human beings. I thought about how my friend’s son-in-law died surrounded by love, and about how my other friend had her baby surrounded by love.  I thought about how this love wasn’t just hanging in the air, because it came from people. And then I suddenly realized just how much I’ve dealt with in my life without a mother and father nearby, or a brother or any family member there for me. I thought about the hours I’ve spent sitting in a hospital by myself, and how only my husband or the children we were raising sat with us, and sometimes a friend from church. I remembered how none of our parents had the time or compassion or—what is it that you have when you will just sit with people, and help them by just sitting and loving on them, and being there? oh… is it love?—whatever it was we needed (it was love we needed). Didn’t have something to give. And really haven’t. And still don’t.

And I thought about all I handled as a young parent, when I could have used help but had none. The one time when my sixth or eighth child was born and I had an infection, and was in a lot of pain, and had to drive 45 minutes to a hospital to see a specialist and how I had to take my newborn and five or seven little children with me, because I had no help. And I did that myself. And didn’t even think about it ’til later, when I realized how I have so often just plodded on and pushed through and taken care of myself.

I realized then that people who have never had that sort of love or support just do it anyway, survive. Live. They do it and they don’t know any better until they get a vision and put into motion the ways and means that lead to that place of Family. Love. Being-there-ness. Then they realize one day that they are giving their children, and they are giving to us and to one another and to others, exactly what they didn’t have, but knew they needed. They’re pioneers in their own families of origin. It’s rough. But they’re making it because love is real.

Therapy and analysis and education and religion and spirituality can all change the course of a wounded person’s lifetime. Dreams can become reality.

ico16 by you.

My friend who had the baby told me that her own mother had also tearfully expressed to her how she, as a young mother, didn’t have the family support that she herself has been able to give to her own children. And I thought about how the Bible says “and women shall be saved through the bearing of children.” I thought about how we carry our own selves as we give our children what we know we should have gotten from our parents, but didn’t.

I thought about all those people whose parents or spouses or children die out of time, people who are not finished growing up themselves and absolutely have to go through hell before they are half ready (and who ever is ready? and yet… go we must). And about my friend’s daughter, who just lost her husband… and how wrong that is. And there was no free pass for her. I know she’s strong, though. And she has a good mom.

ico16 by you.

I don’t have a conclusion. I do know that it’s hard being a parent. It’s hard being a human being. It’s hard being someone’s child. Life is difficult. Life is suffering. There’s beauty in it, too, but it can be fleeting and sometimes the sun is gone for a long time.

The only thing that really compensates for the way life is, is true relationship with other people. God is a big help, and I’m not being weird about it when I write that. I love God and I can hardly wait to die, sometimes. I sometimes am just ready to move on, because it ain’t gonna get easier. I am such a spiritual and mental work horse that death seems like a vacation to me, sometimes.

But God is not really my own personal reason for sticking around. My own personal reason is people. I stick around because loving and beaing loved are meantingful. It means something to hold someone’s hand. It means something to sit in a crowded waiting room and to take turns sitting with a dying young man. It means something to call and tearfully say “I’m sorry.” It means something to show up at the funeral or memorial, tissues in hand. It means something to go to weddings and births, sicknesses, recoveries, anniversaries, drunken dancing parties and christenings, and deaths.

It means a lot. It means a lot to be there for someone. And so I thank God that there has always been someone there for me. How lucky and blessed I am. It reminds me of a verse in Isaiah, I think, where it says, “If even my mother and father abandon me, the LORD will take me up.”

ico1 by you.

32 responses

  1. I know that it’s been a long time and I’ve only met your daughter once. I never got to tell you that I’m so sorry…

    The meaning of our friend’s name has never in my life escaped me. I named my son keeping meaning in mind because I believe a name is our representative and tells people who we are, even if they don’t know the meaning, it’s there in spirit. Our friend’s parents are very wise and I love them as my own. Our friend has been there for me through thick and thin, when I had no one to turn to and no one to lean on.

    • Hind’s Feet, it makes me smile to know that you know and experience R. as I do. She’s a dear, dear person, isn’t she?

      She’s one of many people in my life who have showed me just how lovable I really am, by acting like a friend. Of course her parents are the same way; I know they would do anything for anyone, big-hearted, down-to-earth, practical lovers of human beings. It was her mother, in fact, who taught me how to get through my daughter’s illness as we stood in the middle of the canned vegetables aisle at a local grocery store. She taught me about not being so afraid by being full of joy in spite of the suffering she herself was going through at the time.

  2. I am only just able to dissect/articulate how the stroke has changed me. And I’m not able to really articulate it artfully right now, as my understanding is very minimal. It’s very invisible in so many ways, but just witnessing my reaction to the layoffs I had to do–I realize that I’m way more emotional, more permeable.

    I was just talking about this to a friend. My brief foray into living a 100% present tense life those first few months after the stroke (having no short term memory and having an impaired left brain that could not piece together past and future) was an amazing experience.

  3. Not that I’m a believer, but the bit about “and women shall be saved through the bearing of children.””-YES! YES from the roof top-I always say that children move a person from maiden to mother, from child to adult, to seeker in this world-another level we could never ever hope to see without that knowledge, that inherent knowledge of what you would do for your child.

    My grief is tempered, but the sweet love of my daughters, it helps stamp it down.

    My sympathies to that young woman. Too young, too soon, too much.

  4. Ha! I always go back to see if you respond to my comments 🙂

    One lecturer at Steiner College once talked about the difference between judging and discrimination in just the same way that you do here. I had forgotten that.

    I just put a long comment on your most recent post, but it relates to what we’re discussing here, too. My cousin will always receive my love, but I sure do judge her, and rightly I think. She hasn’t really hurt me (a little bit financially, but that’s water under the bridge), but she is hurting her children through her bad decisions. And they are empirically bad.

    Right now I just have to pray, and realize that she and her children have their destinies.

  5. Heni, this is a belated response so you may not even see it. But I’m going to answer anyway. You asked “do you think it’s possibel to judge and forgive at the same time?”

    My short answer is, yes I do.

    I didn’t used to think so. But now that I’ve had plenty to forgive and judge, I’ve changed my mind. I was reminded one year of Jesus saying “be angry, but do not sin.” That interests me, because he was saying have your emotions, but as you have them, don’t go so far that you miss your mark. I’ve read that the Hebrew and Greek meanings of the word for “sin” are similar, and mean to err or miss the mark, as in archery.

    So one is hurt by another, and one judges the action of the other, because there’s objective moral right and wrong in the universe. I think this is a basic philosophical stance that we take when we judge, otherwise our lives are meaningless and our actions also meaningless, if there is no morality in the universe.

    So we judge, because the other person missed the mark. They might have gone farther with us in relationship. They might have stretched themselves. But they chose not to, and we went on. I think that standing in my place and looking back at my friend and seeing her or him stuck is a judgment. It’s a judgment to think or say, “You might have done better than that.”

    But forgiveness is to be able to go on without trying to drag the friend along and also without stopping our own progress along the way. Forgiveness is to say “I’m sorry that you can’t come with me, and I’m sad.” And yet to move on and to be unattached to outcomes for the other person. I think forgiveness also has an element of trust in it, trust that suggests the friend may get to where s/he is going in his or her own time.

    Judgment is discernment. It is to perceive truth and comment on it through comparison. Here is the standard, and here I am in relation to that standard. Here you are. See how we relate to the standard? How are we doing? That’s judgment. Don’t leave home without it, I say.

  6. Actually the days after my son’s birth were marked by a serious lack of affect. I was kind of like a stunned bird that is lying next to the window it didn’t see coming. I laid in the hospital bed watching old Little House on the Prairie episodes, wondering where the baby was, but in an unemotional way. Evidently my husband spoke to the nurses and told them that I was likely to not ask for help and that I didn’t express discomfort overtly! How well he knows me. I stayed very unemotional until the day my son opened his eye for the first time (yes, just the one eye that time) — then suddenly, like a flood, I was full of love for him. I don’t really know what happened that day.

    As for the group of friends, I should add that it did not form entirely spontaneously. The core of the group was made up of members of my husband’s class at the anthroposophical college we were both attending. My class was not bonded in any deep way, but his class seemed truly karmically linked (and I was included in that even though I was not in their class). But the consciously created part came in our social gatherings that continued for several years after we finished the college program. We met regularly for parties and get-togethers, went camping, celebrated birthdays, etc. Some of us even were roommates and/or married each other!

    I wonder about your distinctions between judging and sorrow and forgiveness. With these friends, I do still judge them, and feel great sorrow, but I think I also forgive them in some sense because they are still in a protected space in my heart. If I saw them tomorrow, I would be so glad, and there would be no recrimination! But in the safety of distance, I do judge them. Do you think it’s possible to judge and forgive at the same time?

  7. This is an awesome book I bought after my brother died, Healing through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, written by Miriam Greenspan.

    A brief excerpt from an interview with her:

    Fear, grief and despair are uncomfortable and are seen as signs of personal failure. In our culture we call them “negative” and think of them as “bad.” I prefer to call these emotions “dark,” because I like the image of a rich, fertile soil from which something unexpected can bloom. Also we keep them “in the dark” and tend not to speak about them. We privatize them and don’t see the ways in which they are connected to the world. But the dark emotions are inevitable. They are part of the universal human experience and are certainly worthy of our attention. They bring us important information about ourselves and the world and can be vehicles of profound transformation.

    I really liked the book.

    Here is to us all embracing the dark emotions…so that we can be like the Buddhists respecting life and nature…as Carmen said.

  8. Yes! My grandfather survived the surgery. He is alive and wonderful! He is 77 and he volunteers now at a local churches group that supports gays. Perhaps you are aware of the Matthew Shephard case but this case started the Matthew Shepard Foundation and this church group is closely associated with the legislation Matthew’s death brought about. He also sits on the board for the counties health insurance coalition for the homeless. He is a great inspiration to me.

    I am glad you found comfort in the words I wrote. It’s funny you commented specifically on that being a Catholic blessing. I was raised Church of God and found my own path a few years ago (Unitarian). I have always been attracted to the Catholic faith. I have a candle of Guadalupe I light every night when I get home, I have a rosary in my car hanging from my rearview mirror and many other medallians on top of that. There is a church in St. Augustine called Mission of Nombre de Dios. I don’t know what any of that means but I find solace there when I walk the grounds by the ocean. It also If I lived a previous life…I was surely Catholic.

  9. Funny, I loved this post but couldn’t quit relate, because don’t have a husband or children. I didn’t come from a lovey-dovey family either. We make family where and when we can, I suppose. But I wonder, do friends count as much as blood ties?

  10. I see myself desperately yet naturally making up the spaces left by my emotionally distant parents by noting every single moment with my baby and filling them with love. I am consciously There, because I believe that there is all there really is. It’s tiring and fulfilling all at the same time.

  11. FYI, I meant through to be threw. I don’t know how that slipped in there. Maybe I’ll be using a lot as one word….alot…..nope will never happen. I sincerly apologize and wish to replace through with threw.

    Just FYI a lot is two words. If you use a lot as one word, unlike my wife I won’t become cross. I’ll get really f&#cking mad. 🙂

    Unless you wish to alot me a portion of your net worth. Then it’s OK.

    Eve replies:
    I fixed it for you. I do have some super powers, too, such as being able to edit comments and make people say whatever I want them to say. Wow, imagine how I could create my own little world here!

    If I allotted you a portion of my wealth, it would be allot. I think we should use allot alot.

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