We mark our lives in annual increments, birthdays, anniversaries, school years, holidays, each yearly marker an indication of what we’re celebrating, how far we’ve come, how old we are, or how long we’ve been at a particular pursuit (like marriage or parenting or existence). But, the anniversary of death takes on a different tone.
This week marked the one-year anniversary of my sister, Maggie’s passing and about a month ago, I started to feel the weight of it coming on. I was confused by it, at first. Why did I feel a little nauseous, a bit more anxious, all-around blue, and the unexplained, yet burdensome feeling of a weight on my shoulders? As if a hostile, physiological takeover, the subconscious starts to identify the milestones. The light looks familiar. The days serve as a reminder. The weather guides you; the seasons won’t let you forget. Last year, my sister was dying on Mother’s Day. She was hospitalized on my son’s birthday and was too sick to celebrate my daughter’s birthday, too. She passed on Memorial Day. Each day a symbol of the process, the realization of truth, the understanding (or quest) to digest the permanence of loss, and the weird and eerie fact that someone you love is gone, and yet you are still here. That alone is confusing enough.
Yes, I carry her in my heart every day. And yes, I feel her soulful spirit with me. And yes, she has come to me in a dream, that was beautiful, but then achingly over, leaving questions like, “Was that the only dream I’ll get?" Yes, I see her in hummingbirds. And yes, I believe that she’s up there moving things around. When I was honored on Memorial Day as “Citizen of the Year” in Mill Valley, I could picture her up there making it happen; not only because she’s proud of me, but also because it would crack her up. She’d giggle that I felt a little shy about the whole thing and would have been cheering in the front row, determined to embarrass me with her loud laugh. She was so steadfastly present with me that it felt like she gave me a parade.
And yet, it's also true that sometimes you don’t want a hummingbird or a sparkling star or a dream or even a parade; what you really want is to have your sister back. And sometimes the only person that you want to call to talk about how your heart aches with agony, is the very same person that you’ve lost, and the very same reason that your heart is aching in the first place. So, you pick up the phone, and you reach out to someone else (someone who may also hurt, or someone that wants to ease your pain), and sometimes you don’t reach out at all. Sometimes because it’s too painful, and sometimes because you know that no one can save you from this experience of loss, that you simply have to keep going, and let the time move forward, and hope with all your might that acceptance will kick in.
For each of you out there that is feeling the vast and deep human experience of love and loss, I see you, I feel you, and even across the miles, I’m here for you. Grief breaks open your heart…but what comes out through the cracks is a gold, liquid love. And, I want you to know that my heart sees your heart. There is a concept called “resonance theory” illustrated by two cellos across the room from each other. When one cello plays a chord, the other cello across the room reverberates in response to the sound waves, as if to say, “I feel you. I’m a cello, too.” For those of you hurting out there (which is at some point all of us), I want you to know that I see you and feel you. And wish only for you, my dear cello, that your pain is your guide toward something deeper and light-filled for you.
PS… I know that not everyone feels compelled to share their experience in this public way. For me, it’s cathartic, and every typed word has felt like a little loosening of the pressure of grief, so I thank you for reading and experiencing this process together. This weird little social media platform where we take pictures of our food, and chronicle our vacations, and post videos of our kids’ dance performances, can also be used to pour our hearts out about what it means to live, grieve, find our way forward, and to love. I’m grateful for that. Thank you for allowing my world into yours.