Last year, between Halloween and February 7, I lost 5 beings whom I loved (4 people and my beloved cat companion). With the exception of my beloved Aunt Mickey, who had been ill for a long time (and was in her 70s) the deaths were total surprises. The other four beings were “too young to die” (obviously that wasn’t true, but so it seemed).
The surprise element just made it all worse.
It had never occurred to me that just as surprise seems to exponentially accelerate grief, it can be an exponential healer, too.
Last night I went out to hear music. I’ve had a flu all week and being sick never makes me (or anyone) cheerier. I have been very aware that the one year anniversary of my friend Becky’s death is coming on February 7. The music event I went to is one that I was introduced to by Becky and her partner Annie. And while Annie was there last night, Becky, of course, was not.
Then some of my musician friends played a song my mom used to sing all the time (“After You’ve Gone”). Debbie’s evocative singing just brought back my mom, singing that while doing dishes or in the car.
I left the music place feeling very sad indeed.
There’s a road I love that leads to Woodstock, IL (where I had gone to hear music) – Country Club Road. I’ve written about it here before as it is one of my sources of comfort, delight and inspiration. Usually when I’m just grumpy, a ride down Country Club Road will cheer me right up.
And since my 20s I have had a secret love affair with the winter night sky. She’s been my secret delight for decades, a source of awe, wonder and delight.
Well, last night both Country Club Road and the winter night sky just made things WORSE. Reminding me of the companions not on the journey, pointing out my very stark aloneness.
I listened to Jackson Browne in the car and that seemed to just add some underlining to SAD.
But then 3 surprising things happened that were as bold in their “cheering-up-ness” as the “out of the blue” deaths last year were in their “causing grief-ness”.
- As I was pulling in to my garage, still listening to “Call it a Loan”, I remembered that the CD was a VERY unexpected gift last year from my eldest nephew. One day, out of the blue, I got a package from Amazon.com with this Jackson Browne CD, followed a day or two later with another package from Amazon with Annie Dillard’s “Holy the Firm”. Jonah had a simple gift note saying he hoped these gifts would cheer me. I’m not a mom, so I don’t know how it is with kids of your own, but to have my adult nephew truly ‘get’ my pain and then unlike anyone else, DO something about it was exponentially helpful. And the gifts he chose both showed that he ‘got’ me – they were PERFECT. It helped more than I can ever describe and it helped me again last night. I felt seen, understood and not so alone. Out of the blue.
- When I walked in, about an hour after the time my 11 month old kittens are accustomed to getting their last meal of the day, their sweet expectant faces and wagging tails just filled me with love. Yes, I know they were looking expectant as in “where’s my food, mama?” but their trust and sweetness just melted my heart and again, assuaged my sadness.
- I read each night in the tub and before bed. Right now I’m reading two books, but just one of them is part of the night-time ritual: David Byrne’s “Bicycle Diaries”. I had heard about it on NPR and my friend Bill lent it to me. It’s surprisingly engaging and delightful and I found that it cheered me in the way that I had thought Country Club Road would (and usually does) – by providing a connection outside myself, a new view, a widening circle. Last night I traversed the neighborhoods of London with the guy I had heretofore thought of as only the front-man for the Talking Heads. In the process I got some new insights into “is the past real” and “what’s music for”. An unexpected delight.
So when I get the wind taken out of my sails abruptly – as we all do – I will remind myself that just as unexpectedly a tail wind can come out of the blue and help me safely back to shore, to home, to shelter from the storm.
So thanks to Jonah Patrick Keegan, Liam and Maggie, Bill Wallenbecker and David Byrne for turning this ship around last night.
Have you experienced GOOD surprise in which the surprise element made all the difference? Tell us about it!