I went to a 90th birthday party recently. This was for the patriarch of a family I have known for 50 years and the parents, the children, the grandchildren, the half dozen great- grandchildren, are all close to my heart. But in spite of sitting in this warm, loving environment, I felt my grief come in like the deep heavy fog that drives in from the ocean at the end of day. I didn’t want it to hijack my being present for this lovely event, but it was there. In my head and in my heart. I just sighed and made room for the omnipresent weight and set about to have a good time anyway.
I sat at a table with six friends of the family…..lovely people all. We talked about how we knew the guest of honor and his family and then moved to where in life we were. We talked about retirement since nearly all of us where, and I commented that I am working sometimes 15-20 hours a week in my volunteer “job.” And they asked me what I did. And then I paused, but said that I was board president of an organization that works with bereaved parents; parents who had lost a child. The energetic white-haired woman with the pixie haircut to my right caught my eye. A minute ago she was laughing and bright, but her face fell and I knew what she was going to say. She did, and pointing to the a friend sitting next to her, she said, he lost a child, too. She asked me how long ago was my loss and I answered 11 years. She said, sadly and quietly, 35 years. I looked at her and said, It never goes away, does it. And she said never.
I can’t change my family history: my memories of coming to this country on a scary ship ride where I could see the gray waves coming up my window in the lower level where I slept; I can’t change the awful haircut my cousin gave me when I was 11 and starting junior high school; and I certainly can’t change the losses my family experienced. Of course it never goes away. I wondered if my saying those words to that mother reflected the cultural bias that makes us feel we have to “get over it.” Well, we don’t……but we do go on with “it.”
I have said this previously, but especially for this new year’s column, I want us all to think about new beginnings, and hope, and taking our resolutions for self-care (those ten pounds, going to the gym three times a week, stop smoking, eating healthier) very seriously. Ok maybe not the ten pounds, but yes to everything else. I want to make sure we continue to build strong roots with friends and families and taking risks to continue growing: try new things, meet new people, get involved in helping others. I want all of us to laugh more, dance more, come to COPE more. Invite some neighbors over for potluck dinners, fall in love, stay in love, forgive and mend broken family and friend relationships.
I know how hard this is because I know how many times I say no: I don’t feel l like going to a movie; I don’t want to leave the house; I changed my mind about the meeting because I really don’t care about the topic anyway. Besides, I am sure I will cry.
And yet, I want us all do these things and more, not in spite of the grief that seems to always be there, but because I want loss to make room for the rest of what life has to offer. I want that for me, and I want it for every one of our COPE families.
So how about it—let’s shoot for a happier and healthier new year for all of us.