My dear friend lost her mother yesterday. A wonderful woman who sewed like a seamstress, cooked like a gourmet chef, worked like a pack animal, and loved her daughters like a lioness.
Even though she was on in years her death was sudden and unexpected. It is sad, and I am so sad for her loss. But I know their family bond is so strong because of her fierce little mother, that they will move through this together with love, and grace, and they will honor her spirit every step of the way.
I was away this weekend when she told me the news. Immersed in a yoga retreat, so I held the processing in as much as possible until the ride home. As soon as I got in the car I started to think about her and her husband and sons, her sisters, her nieces and nephew, her cousins, aunts, uncles. Her father, her elderly father who relied on his wife for so much, for everything. And I cried. I cried and cried for a family that was now in the middle of processing their sudden and unexpected grief.
And as it is whenever someone dies, thoughts turn to all of the other lives we have grieved and all of the lives we may grieve in the future.
When I was eight years old my great grandmother died. She lived right next door and I saw her almost every day. She was one of my favorite people. It was the first time in my life that I was physically, viscerally, aware of death. I experienced feelings of sadness, confusion, and anger more deeply than I ever had before. She was an old woman, in her 80’s, and to an 8 year old that is ancient. So her death was eventually reconciled with age.
When I was twelve years old, a neighborhood friend’s two year old brother drowned in their pool. He had gotten out of the house while no one was looking. By the time they realized he was missing, it was too late. The tiny casket at his funeral was surreal, absurd, paradoxical. Sadness, anger and confusion. His death could not be reconciled.
Our earliest experiences of grief resurface each time someone we know and love dies. And the realization that everyone else we know and love will eventually die, looms even larger. The expected feelings associated with that future loss surface. And everything is sadness.
For a while, everything is sadness.
My father died fourteen years ago. He had been unwell for many years, but even though I had 18 years to prepare myself for his death, it ripped a hole in my heart the size of my whole heart. I’ve had fourteen years of processing that grief. Daily.
This is what I think happens. We lose someone. Their loss causes a giant empty space inside of us. A cavernous void. Over time, as we process our grief, as we come to terms with a life without them, they start to come back to us. They slowly begin to fill that hole back up. They gain a permanent residency in that space. Locked in forever. Nothing else flows through that one particular space but the memories of them, the love of them. Every time they come to mind that space is activated. And we are overwhelmed with feelings.
Love, of course the love. But because that space once was a gaping hole, remnants of sadness, anger, confusion also surface. They surface less and less as that heart space heals, but never go away completely. It’s never only the love and joy. It’s always bittersweet.
And as cliche as it may be, it’s time, only time that can fill that space. In time the grief will shift and change. In time our hearts will be whole again. In time, a patchwork quilt of all the people we’ve loved and lost. Sewn together, by a great seamstress; time.
So I wish for my friend, enough time.
Rest in peace, Pasqualina. You will live on in so many hearts.