I talked to a friend a few days ago, and she told me that in the last few months, she has lost several friends. Two she cared for in their last days. And yet, this woman is one of the happiest people I know. It bummed her out for a time, but she didn’t stay there. I have another friend in Belgium who volunteers at a hospice. She, like me, has lost a child. Her only child. And yet, she is the epitome of cheer to souls who are ready to depart this world. She had her dark time, too, believe me. But both of these friends can cheer the dying and come away with their own joy in life intact.
It took me many years to find joy after my child died, and I am still not known for my cheer. But joy? That I have. Could joy be the companion of grief? One state of being that somehow, however inconguently, is joined to the other? If so, then that must be the definition of hope.
Some of us don’t want to let go of grief. It binds them to the one who is gone. For a long time, I felt that if I lost my grief, I would lose Eddie. Again. Eventually, though, visions of Eddie started to come to me that let me remember him in another way. I started to remember how funny he was. Sometimes, when I was seriously deep into practicing a Bach Invention, Eddie would slide into the room and dance to the music, pirouetting around the piano like a disjointed ballet dancer, abolishing my seriousness, doubling me over with laughter. I remembered more about the cool things he did – his painting and his martial art. I remembered all the friends who adored him, how they cheered when he crossed the stage to receive his high school diploma. Those are the things that live with me now. The precious, joyous things. Now, after all these years, I know that that is what stays. Not the grief. Not even when you want it to.
It is almost eight years since my husband Bill died, and I am beginning to think of him the same way. Bill, like Eddie, was a funny guy. He was loving, and kind, and irreverent. He was also cool. New York cool. Although he never quit his daytime job, he was an actor. Many is the time I sat in the dark, watching him onstage, or cheered when he appeared in a snippet in a movie. I was a fan.
I remember one day in particular. Bill had gotten a job as an extra in the movie, “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise. One evening during the filming, he burst through the door exclaiming – “Guess what? Today I was directed by Steven Spielberg!” That stopped me. And then he said, “You know what he said to me?” “No,” I said excitedly. “He said, ‘Could you please move over there, out of the way, sir?'” Those are the kinds of things I remember about Bill. Somehow his joy in life and Eddie’s joy in life have found their way into my spirit. They have infused me with it. Their joy has traveled from their spirits into mine.
I don’t try to understand how the Universe works. I don’t question the imponderable – things like the connection between loss and life, grief and joy. I just accept them. And I am grateful for the joy those beautiful spirits brought into my life. That is what they left me. That is what lasts. Not grief.