Why sending hearts to a grieving, distant friend isn’t stupid.
Last December a friend of ours lost his wife to cancer. She was only 48 years old. Some years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She recovered from this nasty disease, incredibly relieved and grateful she could finally close this black chapter in their lives. Only a couple of years later it snuck up on her again and she found herself struck down by cancer for the second time. This time she wouldn’t survive. In the end she knew she wouldn’t be able to see her three children grow up, with her youngest daughter only 13. She knew she had to leave her husband behind. As the ultimate organiser of this young family she even arranged her own funeral.
A cruel realisation
I still have her message on my phone asking for our latest address. Reading this I got the uncomfortable feeling she was preparing for the worst, but somehow I couldn’t believe this was true, I must be crazy, and I blocked this distressing thought from my mind immediately. Only a week later I found out it was the painful truth. Thinking of the thoughts, the feelings, the emotions she must have felt approaching the end of her life, leaving her family behind, it’s something so incredibly sad and impossible to grasp. I have just one way to express what I feel as my own father had to undergo the same fate: cruel. The cruelty of a disease which slowly dominates the body, slowly killing it while the spirit, the mind, has the intense desire to stay alive and just live. Just live. There are still so many plans in life, so many reasons to live for, so many stories to tell.
On the days my father was very ill with leukemia and had to stay in the hospital he still thought he would return home, that he would recover from all this and would continue living his precious life with my mother. His spirit was so much alive, his life wasn’t finished yet as he felt there was so much to live for. Spirit and mind full of life, while death creeps into the bodies, destroying organs, veins, cells and the very life blood. Being aware your body won’t survive and you will leave your partner, your children behind, while your mind is still very much alive and healthy. This realisation is one of the cruelest things in life. I think about this and I know it doesn’t make any difference, it doesn’t change a thing, but it haunts me. I need to burry this thought as I suspect I will never make friends with it as long as I live. The death of my father when I was 24 years, a young student who didn’t know much about life, changed me forever. My life which used to be light and without worry, except for the nerves around exam time, suddenly became troubled and heavy and although the sharp edges would fade over time, I knew it would never be the same.
Now I know death is life, life is death. Death is very much part of our lives. However, it doesn’t mean it is always fair. Death sticks his head around the corner, enters young lives, lives which need more time, lives which are full, lives which know love. I didn’t only feel grief, but also hopelessness and anger as it felt extremely unfair my father died of cancer, still young, just like it felt very unfair when our friend’s partner, mother of three children, died.
Last week on a Wednesday evening when I biked through the dark countryside on my way home from yoga class I was thinking of our friend who’s a widower now and a “mappa” as he calls himself (in Dutch: he’s both a pappa (dad) and mamma (mum)). I’m thinking of him and his family quite a lot, but don’t know what to say except that I’m thinking of them. These words accompanied by a heart emoticon I had sent him a couple of times these last months. I noticed that since I don’t know what to say, we’re living in separate countries and the fact he’s absolutely no talker, he’s a tough guy and isn’t particularly known for expressing his feelings, I refrained from getting in contact. That evening on my bike I suddenly thought this was not right. Why not send him another heart and let him know he’s on my mind, although I knew he’d probably reply “thank you” just like before? By the light of the moon and my bicycle lights I rode through the darkness that evening, feeling the crisp air on my face, and I decided to contact him as soon as I got home. I was glad I did since a conversation followed and I truly noticed it was appreciated. It seemed there was a little bit of hope shining through the words on the small screen of my phone in that moment. It’s strange, I know from experience how we need people to care for us when we’re grieving, friends who care for our loss and give us a warm hug, because there is not much to say, the fact somebody cares is all we need, but this time I hesitated. I was filling in his reactions as being a tough guy and thought that to keep sending hearts would be a stupid thing to do. No it certainly isn’t, we all need someone who cares, a distant friend in this case, when we’re dealing with personal loss. Like the sea connecting our countries we are connected by our human experiences of which death and loss are an integral part.