This has been a long, hard week. Sadly, many newly bereaved families joining our tearful tribe; many calls from the 'parking lot' of Christmas crises; and too much work with very few resources contributed to this 90+ hour work week. Exhausting.
When I'm exhausted, I know what to expect. I'm much more emotionally fragile, and that's okay with me. That is, when I'm not driving.
So, tonight, at 11:30pm while commuting over the long 125 miles from support group at the MISS Foundation office in Phoenix back home, I had what I'll call an ebb of contemplation which turned to sadness which turned to anguish which turned to you'd-better-pull-off-the-freeway-now-before-you-can't-see moment.
And so I did.
I cried and cried. Got back on the road. Pulled over again. And cried and cried.
Uh. Apparently, it was my time?
Okay, okay, okay. I get it.
Deep breaths, when ready, and back on the road.
I made it almost home before the tears came again. By the time I got into my driveway, it would be the full-on, gasping, suffocating, swallowing gulps of air kind of sobbing. I stood outside myself as it was happening: "Isn't this interesting?" I asked my subjective self. "What the heck?" I wondered. "What brought this on tonight?"
I went through the list.
Emotional mimicry. Check.
Time of year (Merry? Merry? Really??). Check.
I just miss her. Check.
She should be here. Check.
Really feeling her non-physical presence. Check.
I don't wanna do this anymore. Why do I have to do this? Double check.
20 minutes later, and I pulled down the rear view mirror, wiped off the mascara from my face, and came into the house.
Sitting on the table was a box with my name on it. I recognized the return label as a woman I'd interviewed for a research study this summer and the summer prior. She is from a totally different region of the U.S., a sub-sub-sub-sub culture with virtually no shared commonalities with me. And yet, with the most important of all single commonalities: She is a bereaved mother. Her beautiful 8-year-old son died in a farming accident. I opened the package. Out fell a card and a rectangular shaped gift wrapped in Easter paper.
The note said that she was, of course, sad for why we met. But that she "rejoiced that G*d chanced our paths to meet..." and that she thinks of me "so often" and how I've helped her. She had bought something for me at a thrift store... something I'd seen in her sister's home during the research study, and mentioned that it was a powerful image.
This grieving mother wanted me to have this as a token of gratitude.
I gently tore open the pastel wrapping, imbued with painted eggs and bunnies with fluffy tails, and found the painting, and I cried more. It is the image of a man, head bowed, hands together, praying or meditating, somber. I imagine him to hold deep sadness in his heart. I imagine his child died- or his wife- or his mother. I imagine he feels alone in the world. I imagine he doesn't sleep or eat much anymore. I imagine breathing is painful for him. I imagine many things about this man's grief, his story of life and loss and death...
I cannot express in words what this small token from her meant.
"Goodness, what's next tonight?" I thought to myself (dare I ask?).
I sat with my many emotions for awhile, and ended up in deep meditation, leading to some prajna around my emotional fragility. What came to me was this thought:
My tears are not my tears alone. My tears fall into the creek near my home, which lead to the river miles away, which then lead to the great ocean of sorrow; in this place, other creeks and rivers have carried the sorrows of many other mothers, and fathers, and sisters, and brothers, and grandparents, and friends, and aunts, and uncles, and neighbors, and strangers who have also deeply mourned. The myth of separateness is an illusion to keep us safe from vulnerability but which stifles realization of our connectedness; this great ocean of sorrow merges many to one, the knowing into the unknown, the wisdom into the wonder, and the questions into the big mystery, throughout history and across land masses and beyond culture. Every tear I shed tonight and all the countless tears shed over the past 17 years and five months since her death is a part of the painful love story in that great ocean of sorrow, where the tears of many others, yours included, have emptied into this vast ocean. We may not even speak the same language, yet we know one another more intimately than most all others. Our tears unite us through the pangs of longing and the unified sadness and horror and despair. And I know that I am not alone in my suffering.
And neither are you.
Hold that truth deep within your heart.
And neither are you.
She weeps when she is alone.
She hopes when she is able.
She longs every moment of every day.
She breathes only because she must.
She wishes it was different.
She would give her life for her child.
This is a mother's love.
She is a grieving mother.