September 19, 2011

The Motley Crew...and Grief

Ever been to a memorial service that felt more like a party? Where there seems to be more laughter, celebration, and reconnection than mourning?

I was at one of those this weekend. My friend, Levi, finally lost his three-year, valiant battle with cancer a few weeks ago. Cancer is one of those words that cuts me to my core. I hate it. HATE it. And, although I use the word, “Hate” more than I should in my vernacular, I don’t honestly HATE things or people. I strongly dislike them, but I don’t hate them. Except this. I HATE cancer. With everything in me. It’s wrong. It’s cruel.

I digress.

Levi’s memorial was a party. In fact, his family called it a “Celebration of Life,” and that’s exactly what it was. He collected people like others collect coins or stamps. The group that showed up to his celebration was eclectic – we had members of the small-town where he grew up, and friends from his time living in a commune. You had people who could be considered as part of the “fringe” of society talking and laughing with church elders and town leaders. In truth, though, it was a testament of who he was.

Levi was odd. Even his brother, during the sharing time, described him as such. He was one of those guys who had a hard time finding his place in life when he was younger; which allowed him, as an adult, to love and accept everyone around him. In that acceptance, he collected a group that was as ragtag and odd as he was.

It was utterly fantastic, seeing who all came out to laugh, cry, and mourn with each other. To see who loved this man deeply, and who – through being loved by him in return – were changed. There were tears and moments of deep sorrow, but there were also shouts of laughter and recollections of deep joy. This club, this “Friends of Levi” club, is one to which I am proud to hold membership. I just couldn’t help but think how much HE would’ve enjoyed the other night, being surrounded by those who love him and who love those whom he loved.

I spoke earlier about death being a severe mercy, and that this road we’re on hurts. Finding mercy gives us strength to continue to walk this path of grief and mourning. I found the other night, at a pot-luck filled with an motley crew of people, sharing our love, sharing our grief, mourning, and even laughing together gave us a bit more strength to continue this journey.

It’s not easy. Loving well and losing that loved one never is. But, we have each other to lean on and give support through this, and I think…in his own, odd, collector, wise way…Levi made sure we did.

September 12, 2011

A Severe Mercy

I received some bad news the other day; a friend of mine, someone I loved deeply, finally lost his battle with cancer. He wasn't even yet 30.

Although his death was expected, it doesn't stop the pain. The knowing that there will never be, on this Earth, another heated debate, another goading of me until I re-examined my stance on things, another laughing-until-I-cry moment with him. It hurts.

Grief is a weird thing. You have moments of okay-ness, where life seems to be chugging along, and although there's a hole in your life, you think you're going to be fine. Then, without warning or seeming provocation, you get hit between the eyes with a pain so intense, it takes your breath away.

I've walked through grief a few times in my life, and what I've learned is that when those moments hit, I need to not squelch them, but rather, I need to lose my breath, acknowledge the pain for what it is, call it grief, mourn in the moment, and let it pass. Not doing so is wrong. It's not how we're supposed to mourn. It's unhealthy.

Yesterday, I had one of those moments. I had stopped by my friend's parents' house, where he had spent his last months. His sister is my best friend, and she was there, doing things that needed to be done.

One of the things that needing doing was his laundry. His favorite clothes of the past few months had been washed and dried, but folding them...that was a final act that was almost too hard for them to do. Dad couldn't do it, and Mom didn't even know the laundry was being done...the grown kids were trying to make it as easy as possible for her.

The thing is, I could see in their eyes, even the grown kids weren't sure they could get through it. So, I walked into the garage and started folding. It's a mundane job, really. Nothing huge, but I had this surreal feeling that every fold needed to be perfect. I think I folded one t-shirt three times, because it wasn't correct. His pants, his socks, even his underwear...I folded every piece.

I bit my lip hard to keep the tears at bay, and I had to stop a few times to breathe a couple deep breaths before I could pick up the next item of clothing. I might've even kissed the beanie that he was wearing the last time I saw him.

Sheldon VanAucken called death God's "severe mercy," and I can't think of a more apt way to describe it. It's severe in the pain - the ripping of a loved one away from our arms, and the tearing of our hearts. Yet...there is mercy. Mercy for my friend - because I know in my core that he is no longer in pain, no longer suffering, and he is at peace. That mercy gives US mercy - in the knowing.

It doesn't make this path any easier to climb, but the mercy gives us some strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

September 1, 2011

The Greatest Compliment I've Ever Been Paid...

I was sharing this story with my friend, L, the other day; and she told me that I needed to write this one down "someplace safe" so that I can remember it. What better place than a blog? it is: THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT I'VE EVER BEEN PAID...

Quite a few years ago, I was at a dinner party with a bunch of friends. Some of those people I'd known literally all my life, others didn't know me all that well.

One of the "newish" people at the party started asking me about my love-life (sadly, it was then as it is now...single). This is NOT my favorite topic at all, because of many reasons, some of which are that conversations on this topic inevitably lead to the person feeling as if he/she needs to reassure me that "the right one is coming, just be patient" (gag me now), or they reach over, stroke their partner's arm, and say something along the lines of, "I'm so glad I'm not on the dating scene anymore. How DO you do it?" (that one just makes me want to bang my head against the nearest concrete wall. Better yet, maybe bang THAT PERSON'S head...). No matter what happens, I always end up feeling sub-human and condescended to, because I haven't found "Mr. Right (now)."

This night's conversation started off in the same manner:

Annoying-can't-not-ask-invasive-personal-questions-person: "Jane, you're so amazing, so smart, so funny (personal note: I agree! She could've just stopped THERE)...what's wrong with men these days?"

Me: "Excuse me?"

ACNAIPQP: "Well, why aren't you dating anyone?"

Me: "Again, excuse me?"

ACNAIPQP: "Well, you're fantastic. Why can't men see it? Why aren't you dating anyone??"

Me: "Thank you for telling me I'm fantastic, but I can't say why men haven't seen it."

ACNAIPQP: "Well, have you dated? Why aren't you with somebody?"

Me: "Honestly, ACNAIPQP, I haven't found a man who can convince me that life with him is better than life without him." (Another personal note: 1) That's a stinking-fantastic line! Not only is it the truth, but it usually stops the person right then and there. 2) For those of you suddenly wanting to defend the men of this world, please know that I DO give them chances...I don't just write a guy off at the end of the first meeting...or date...or sixth date. I just know that an "US" is supposed to be better than just "ME." So then, I date, I enjoy getting to know guys, but until "US" is better than "ME," it's just not worth it.)

ACNAIPQP: "Yeah. NO. Seriously, what is WRONG with men?"

(I think she honestly expected me to have an answer for this!)

Me: ----? (I didn't have anything to say to that. At all.)

ACNAIPQP: "Aren't you lonely? I mean, how do you DO it all by yourself?" (Yep. She went there.)

Me: ----? (There might've been a few incredulous looks, and my mouth might've been doing the "fish" thing. I had NOTHING to say to her at that point.)

This is where my savior rode in on a white horse. Okay, really, he was sitting at the other end of the table; but in my mind, when I remember this scenario, he's on a large, white horse, riding up to the dinner table.

Kobster (that's what I call him): "You know, ACNAIPQP, I think we're looking at this in a totally different way."

ACNAIPQP: "What do you mean?"

Kobster: "I think you're looking at Jane as you look at yourself, but she's a very different person than you are."

The man had everyone's attention at that point. Did I mention that it was a LARGE dinner party? Yep.

Kobster continued: "I believe that there are two types of people in this world. Both are valid, one is not better than the other; but they are very, very different. The first type includes people like you and me. We're the ones who aren't complete until we find our soul mate (and here, he looked at his wife, Michi. It was all very romantic, now that I look at it in retrospect). We strive so hard to find that right person because there's something missing inside US without that person. We're desperate to find that person, and life is better once we do.

"But, there's another type of person out in the world. This person doesn't have to search so desperately to find her soul mate, because that person is complete within herself. She's able to take her time and be picky because she's looking for the person who will compliment everything within her. She's complete, totally and wholly, in who she is. Being connected to a person who isn't her perfect compliment will diminish the gift she is to the world.

"Jane is one of those people; and the way I see it, she's doing just fine as she is."

Those words sunk deep into my soul and took root. They're still blooming today.