A coworker took me to The Moth last month. It was an incredible event that touched me on a deep level. It wasn’t necessarily the stories themselves or the people telling them. I think it was the intent. The intent of the story tellers to get up on stage and talk. The intent of the audience to hear whatever they had to say. Everyone seemed to really show up. Not as performers or an audience expecting to be entertained. As people who wanted to be with each other and experience something real.
I won’t have a chance to go this month for the “Love Hurts” theme so this is my story slam of one.
My Grandpa Thompson died on the eight of November in the year two thousand and fourteen. This was my journal entry from that day:
I was in the room when he died. I felt nothing. No soul slipping from one reality to the next. No release of energy. My own sadness was muted, rationalized by my mission to care for my mother. I can say that it was peaceful. He did not suffer, at least by the indications he gave and our limited ability to truly know his mental state. He was the first person I watched die. It is highly likely that he will not be the last. I haven’t cried yet.
That last sentence “I haven’t cried yet.” I have thought a lot about that. Good friends have offered their ears to listen and told me to give it time. That I will process my feelings when I have the need. That all makes sense but it feels different this time. To try and figure out why, I spent time over the last few months meditating on people I have lost in my life and how those stories have impacted or still impact me. I have lost people in my life to all the same things that many people do. Old age, sickness, disease, suicide, accidents, and more. Too many to suicide. A sad number to disease, sickness, and accidents. The right amount to old age. Each loss has been an intricate mix of feelings and emotions specific to who the person was, how long we knew each other, the nature of our relationship. Each has its own flavor. Its own texture. Its own unique impact on who I am in the world. These few stood out more than others as I tried to makes sense of my emotions surrounding this most recent loss...
She was a few years younger than I was. We were in the same community of loving, eccentric, spiritual seekers. People on a quest for communion with any expression of the divine and looking for like souls to share the journey. We gathered in houses for bread and soup dinners to discuss theology and mythology. We gathered at political protests and ecological sanctuaries to raise our secular voices for the causes that spoke to us. We eagerly learned from elders of spiritualities outside the dominant paradigms of the day. The youngest among us embraced it all with fervor and joy, following our parents uncommon footsteps in a world of common people. The last time I saw her she ran barefoot across the dusty ground of South Dakota, long dress trailing behind her and jumped into my arms. We laughed and talked and danced in the ritual and ceremony of our mothers and fathers for four days and four nights. Once the dance was done cars were packed and we all parted ways with hugs and tears. Always looking forward to the next time we could break away from the rest of the world and live in these fleeting moments of community and open hearts. Before that could happen again she hanged herself.
I loved her. It hurt. I cried with rage and sorrow. I cried and screamed that it was not fair. It was not right.
He was my cousin. Aspects of his life reflected some of my experiences as a child. Nerd or geek. We were cut from the same cloth. His father had mentored me in the ways of Star Trek and physics years before his schooling began. After I left for college his path turned darker and his steps more uncertain. There are unanswered questions that linger for me. They no longer hold the guilt or shame they once did but sometimes they echo from the past. Could I have done something? Could I have been a presence that might have encouraged a different path? He shot himself in the house he grew up in leaving a son that has so many needs without a father.
I loved him. It hurt. I cried with despair and loss. The weight of the world seemed heavier as I cried for the man my cousin would never become.
My Uncle died of cancer. My last conversation was with a skeleton of the boisterous comedian and science fiction aficionado I had grown up with. He asked me questions about my life and my happiness. I told him of my struggles in corporate America and how difficult it was to balance a social conscience, progressive values, and the purposely consumptive nature of the business. How taxing it was to remain committed to the planet, the people, and the profitability that threatened the former and could empower that latter. He told me that I had a difficult journey ahead of me. He told me this while his body was dying around him.
I loved him. It hurt. I cried with sadness and mourning. I cried the tears I had known where coming for many months. I cried because it was too soon and I cried because my uncle was finally at peace.
My Grandpa Johnson died of many things over a long period of time. The doctors and the friends and the family members will tell you different stories depending on how fearful they are of death. Or how angry they are with the medical establishment. Or how much they need a reason, any reason, to point at and say “That! That is why he isn’t here any more!” I think he died twice. I think the pneuma of my grandfather died of a broken heart. He had seen and felt so much loss and heartache in his life that eventually it was too much. His body outlived that event as an ironclad horse that wouldn’t quit until the shear weight of cancer and sickness and disease and old age bore it to the ground, the rider having long ago left the saddle.
I loved him. It hurt. I cried for my father and his loss. I cried for my grandmother and her inability to let go. I sang with my family songs of mourning and joy and release.
My Grandma Thompson’s mind was gone long before she breathed her last breath. Alzheimers is something that we are only just beginning to comprehend and only in a very limited way. She had left many years ago without saying goodbye on her own internal journey where none of us could follow. She had left the days of walking her garden with my mother. She had left the days of teaching me Gin Rummy. She had left the days of crossword puzzles, knitting, and Jeopardy.
I loved her. It hurt. I cried for her as we viewed her body. I cried with release. I cried the tears that had been waiting for years to flow. I cried because I could finally mourn her.
My Grandpa Thompson. He died of old age. I watched him take his last breath. I stood in the room as his pulse flickered and stopped. He was ready and he let go.
I haven’t cried for more time. We had so much and his life was so full.
I haven’t cried with sadness. He lived more fully to the end than many.
I haven’t cried with despair or rage. His time came and he knew and accepted it.
My grandfather took the next step on his journey without question or hesitation. This was natural and part of the cycle that we all live within. Fear and anger have no place here for me. Sorrow and loss have no place here for me. My grandfather left me whole and complete.
I loved him. It hurts. I haven’t cried. I think that is ok.