Friday, February 19, 2010

The Keeper of the Flame

We were 37 when my oldest friend died. We'd known each other since we were 11 years old and attending the same dance school. We were very different people: I took classical ballet and tap dance; she studied modern jazz and tap dance. It was our similarities that brought us together and our differences that added spice. We knew each other for 27 years through the first boyfriend, the first pregnancy scare, the first spouse, the first everything. And, then, a few months before our 20-year high school reunion, she died. Suddenly. Literally, she dropped to the floor and was gone. The Coroner said it was an aneurysm.

Sudden death is particularly hard to deal with: there's no time to wrap your mind around the loss. Perspective has to come in time. The emptiness can be crushing. Feeling your heart pulled out of your chest, leaving behind ragged edges, is excruciating. The loss of a friend, especially an old friend, can be very much like the loss of a sibling because they have an essential ingredient in common: a long-time friend, just like a sibling, knows our history. They know where we came from, who we used to be, what mattered to us waaay back then, and they know how we've changed. They are the keepers of our story, and when they die, there is no one who knows what the story means anymore. For example, when the first real love of your life dies thirty years later, who is still alive who knows what that person meant and can recall the tender and joyful moments with you, as part of your healing?

When you lose a sibling, or your oldest friend, you lose your archivist: the Keeper of Your Stories. And, it feels like you've lost the Keeper of Your Flame. It does get better over time, although I'm not a big believer in the old salt that time heals all wounds. No, time does not heal all wounds...hard work heals all wounds. We have choices to make in our grieving---after the grieving seems to be over, there's still the yearning for the person. Will the yearning become a fulltime "occupation" or will it make an appearance only on holidays and birthdays? There is the need to have a place to put them. Will we preserve them under glass, the pain and agony very much alive? Or will we find a spot in the closet, in an old hat box, available to be taken out when we want to enjoy it, and safe and protected when we put the lid back on? The choices of how to deal with loss are ours to make.

When I have lost a loved one, I have been comforted by this meditation. I hope you will, too.

It is hard to sing of oneness when our world is not complete, when those who once brought wholeness to our life have gone, and naught but memory can fill the emptiness their passing leaves behind.

But memory can tell us only what we were, in company of those we loved; it cannot help us find what each of us, alone, must now become. Yet, no one is really alone; those who live no more, echo still within our thoughts and words, and what they did is part of what we have become.

We do best homage to our dead when we live our lives most fully, even in the shadow of our loss. For each of our lives is worth the life of the whole world; in each one is the breath of the Ultimate One. In affirming the One, we affirm the worth of each one whose life, now ended, brought us closer to the Source of life, in whose unity no one is alone and every life finds purpose. (From the New Union Prayerbook)

YOU ARE NOT IN THIS ALONE. I am here to help.

No comments: