When grief shakes you into gratitude

This week has been crazy.

Now, those of you close to me know that making a statement like that is akin to saying “the sky is blue”; my life has been some level of craziness for a couple of years now since I got the brilliant idea to buy a house and go back to school while raising an ASD kid on my own. Throw in fibro, a long-distance romance, work… you get the idea.

Spring semester started on Monday. But I missed my first three classes because Munchkin’s school was cancelled due to weather. I’ve just felt off-kilter ever since. I am my own slave driver sometimes (okay, most of the time), so I have been working all week at trying to tell myself to chill… but really I was walking a thin line between mindful awareness and just busy running, trying not to panic over feeling like I fell behind before the semester even started.

And then I opened Facebook.

Recently I haven’t been using social media nearly as much as usual. For the purposes of this post, the reasons aren’t important. But I just finished up replying to some professors and thought I’d scan the news. And that’s when I saw it.

Yesterday, a friend of mine lost her husband to cancer.

I met “Sadie” in high school. I always thought we sort of connected over our shared curly brown hair, and the fact that the two of us were some of the shortest girls in school. Sadie was actually slightly shorter than me, which is rare for me. Even though she was a year older, we had a couple of classes together. We reconnected on Facebook a couple years ago. I grinned when I saw her wedding pictures… “Jack” was a foot and a half taller than her! They were a totally adorable couple. I’ve watched with joy as they started a business together, built a house, and had a son.

I knew Jack was sick. I knew he was having a rough time with the chemo. I chatted with Sadie the other day to offer my help since they live nearby, and she sounded positive when she said she’d let me know.

And then…. this.

The details aren’t important. What’s important is that tonight, just down the road, someone I know – another mom who has been supportive to me, who is my age, who is raising a little boy – is now mourning the loss of her partner, her love, the father of her child. A little boy has lost his father. His father who is (was) the same age as my own partner, older by only a few days.

And now he’s gone.

My heart is aching for them. Though Sadie and I aren’t especially close, we’ve always had friends in common, and of course share the sisterhood of motherhood and the bond of a hometown. But having lost my own loved ones to cancer, to be a single mom of a little boy… I just can’t find words, can’t imagine such sorrow.

I don’t want to make this about me. The point I want to emphasize is this:

Sometimes, when you’re least expecting it, something happens to force you to reframe your perspective. That reminds us to be grateful. As I mentioned to my pilot the other day, “Sometimes we have to learn to find peace in the chaos.”

Gifts don’t always come to us in the way we expect. I would do anything to ease Sadie’s grief tonight, but – even though I in no way want to diminish the enormity of their loss – I am feeling humbled by the reminder to not get so bogged down in my own mess. That somewhere someone is hurting. That I should focus more on the blessings than my physical limitations. That maybe the best way to stop being wrapped up in self is to think first of others.

Tonight… be grateful. Reach out to someone in need of comfort. Hold your loved ones close.

And please… offer up a thought or prayer for Sadie and her son. Right now, and in the days to come, they are going to need “the village”.

Advertisements

When a teacher passes on

Sometimes you meet someone who leaves an indelible mark on your life. Who teaches you something you carry with you forever.

I’ve been blessed in my life to have met several such teachers. One of which was my childhood priest, Father Ron.

I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on him… this larger-than-life Italian who drove into our small town on a Harley, wearing a leather jacket and smoking a pipe, shaking up everyone’s notion of what an Episcopal priest was “supposed” to look like. I was 7 years old… and his Pittsburgh-Italian accent, salt-and-pepper hair, love of photography, and complexity fascinated me even then. I used to cherish afternoons spent playing with his boys (the eldest the same age as me, the youngest the same age as my little sister) at the rectory, Saturday afternoons working around the parish hall, and spaghetti pitch-in dinners, watching him standing guard over his own made-from-scratch sauce until it was ‘perfecto’.

As I got older, I began to learn that behind that tough exterior was a deep and intelligent mind, a soul who truly understood both the struggles of humanity and the quest to connect to something higher. He taught me to question everything, to never accept the teachings of man without weighing it against what you know, the wisdom of your teachers, and the stirrings of that inner voice. He was a man who had stared hell in the face and carried on anyway… he was tenacious and compassionate. I have carried his lessons with me since childhood. Even now that I’m grown, he never seemed to change. He always seemed invincible. During my last visit, though too long ago, left me smiling at how he never changes… relaxed, sharp-witted, opinionated as ever. I have been trying to find some time to go down and visit again, to introduce Munchkin to the giant who had such an impact on me.

Sadly, Ron passed away from this world this week. As much as I am saddened, I know that his family is heartbroken. He was a loving father, husband, and grandpa. He was a wonderful teacher, listener, and friend… and the world is a little bit darker without him. Those of us who were lucky enough to have crossed paths with him are forever changed.

When someone who has such an impact on our lives passes on… when someone we felt was impervious becomes mortal… it leaves a hole. It doesn’t matter that as my life became busier and I moved away from my hometown that I no longer had the time to sit talking with him for hours. I could walk in the door at any time and it would feel like no time had passed at all. He was just that kind of guy. 

Ironically, I just ran into his youngest son out of the blue the other day. We talked for quite a while, reminiscing about our childhood memories, shadows of a time that was much easier… before tragedy struck their family more than once, before my parents divorced, before any of us grew up and had our children and started our own lives. We smiled, laughing over how Ron (now long-retired from the priesthood) never changed. He was as loud and opinionated and funny and stubborn as ever. A giant. Invincible. I told him to tell his dad I said hi, and that Munchkin and I would be down to visit soon. 

But sometimes ‘soon’ isn’t soon enough. 

Ron wasn’t one to dwell on “woulda, coulda, shoulda”. He would tell me not to be sorry for one second that I didn’t get to see him one more time. The last time we talked he told me how proud he was of me… of my photography (which meant a lot coming from him, a professional photographer before he became a priest), and of the way I was building a life for myself and raising my son. I guess that’s all I need to know, to carry in my heart. 

Still… I know that any time I catch the scent of pipe tobacco and freshly-stewing spaghetti sauce… I will think of him.

Rest easy, rabbi. You are loved.
*Vita mutatur, non tollitur.*

Me & Father Ron, when I graduated from high school. May 1999

Me & Father Ron, when I graduated from high school. May 1999