This morning on my way into work, I smiled at the horizon as it slowly began to glow. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which meant that the yellow faded into a light blue, which was evenutally lost in the darker sky and stars shown brightly. This was in stark contrast to yesterday’s morning sky, and it got me thinking.
Yesterday’s sunrise started with purple dancing along the underbelly of the clouds, which were splayed out across the sky. As the glow grew brighter, the colors danced across the clouds in a vibrant expression of life- of just being, and being present.
Today’s sky was no less alive, no less beautiful, and yet it didn’t take my breath away. Could it be that the obsticles in our lives, the things set in our paths to go around or get through- the clouds- help to add substance to our surroundings? Would our lives be lacking in color and experience without the challenges?
Maybe I’m just a sucker for finding the silver linings in those clouds. I just know I feel like a little kid and my heart smiles when I see those purple clouds dancing against a layered sky, knowing that its rife with potential to stop me in my tracks.
I knew when I woke on Wednesday that there was going to be a heaviness to the day, funerals tend to have that affect. If I’m being honest, it’s not the funeral itself that gets me, rather it’s the weight of the emotions of everyone gathered… or so I thought. When Lewis passed away a couple of months back, I swore to myself after having attended his virtual services, that I would never do that again. There had been an unparalleled level of isolation, sitting alone with nothing but my computer screen and all of my feelings. There was no comfort in knowing and seeing others mourn along side me, no sharing of the collective weight, no hugs, no real feeling of closure and an intense sense of loneliness. As is usually the case when I make a declaration, the Universe sought to challenge me.
Mr Joe O’Connor passed away peacefully in his home on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 after a long battle with failing health. To say he was one of my favorites would be a vast understatement. Mr Joe always met me with a smile, a little wave and that mischievous twinkle in his eyes that only a true Irishman can have. We knew his time was drawing near, and he’d held on longer than many of us expected. Still, the knowledge doesn’t ease the pain when the time actually comes. That night the sky was crystal clear and I had stood out looking at the stars before receiving word, marveling at what a beautiful night it was for mid-January in Colorado.
Wednesday morning, armed with the knowledge that I was going to be participating in his send off via computer, despite my promise of “never again” to myself, I looked for shiny things to maintain a balance. The snow gently covered the hills at work, wrapping them in a hug that only nature could provide. There was a peace and serenity felt as I saw the glow on the horizon, as a new day dawned. I found comfort in knowing that while I may not be able to tangibly feel it, I was going to be held and comforted.
About quarter after eleven, I said a little prayer and lit a candle. I placed it near a couple of pictures I had printed of Mr Joe and his leading ladies: his wife of almost 44 years Ginny, and his caretaker (my friend) Missy. Noon o’clock rolled around and the service started. It had been planned out my Mr Joe, and it very much had his feel, even in the little details. It was beautiful, and every bit as isolating as Lewis’s services. Missy was the final speaker, and as expected, she made me both laugh and cry.
It was just after one, with tears rolling down my face, that the livestream ended. I can’t be the only one who gives themselves pep-talks. “Okay Sam, breathe. You need to go blow your nose, wash your face and pull yourself together. 2 hours… 120 minutes, then you can go home and cry all you need.” So, I took my advice. After all, crying at work is generally frowned upon.
As I was walking out of the restroom, I recognized the truck pulling in. I was a little perplexed as they were a day early, but also incredibly relieved because the individuals in that truck always brighten my days. With eyes still red and puffy from crying, I headed out to greet them. Our usual banter flowed effortlessly, and I had moved to stand along side the truck in typical form. Without giving it much thought, the driver pulled the lever to activate his wipers and fluid because the snow from the morning had been melting and there was splash back coating the windshield. As he pulled the lever, the fluid sprayed both his truck and me.
I was immediately pulled out of my sadness and stood there for half a second in shock. Cold fluid to the face on a chilly January day is definitely one way to get grounded in the present moment. I waved at the fluid in an attempt to get it to stop and started laughing as I looked in the truck. The driver asked if he’d sprayed me, looking equal parts amused and concerned; the passenger was already bent over in laughter. Jokingly, I said “I thought you guys liked me!” and the driver responded with “We do! We were just… showering you with love!”
Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes the Universe sends me signs and signals that are easy to ignore or explain away; and sometimes they are big, shiny things wrapped up in a proverbial bow. I also know that our minds are meaning making machines, but this moment just seems magical- even almost a week later.
In an instant, I went from sad panda status to genuinely laughing and joking. I was fully present in the moment, with these two amazing humans, and I was grateful for the connection. To have their explanation be that I was being showered with love, when hours before I had written about how I wasn’t going to be able to tangibly feel comfort and support, seems more than ironic. All I could do was smile and laugh in gratitude, as I looked at the guys in the truck, and realized my support had arrived- a cavalry of caring in an F250.
I know the logical reason for them coming in a day earlier than normal was due to weather and the specific demands of other projects they had going on. On an intellectual level, I completely understand. Yet, on the emotional and spiritual side, I can’t discount them being there when I needed them.
That moment, as innocent and inadvertent as it was, changed the course of my day and the rest of my week. Sometimes support comes in unlikely was or from unexpected places. The truth is, you never really know what others are going through. Your brief moment of kindness or levity could be exactly what they need, like a spray of windshield wiper fluid to the face. Please never doubt the affect you can have on others and the ripples that your actions can cause.
It’s been a week, a week of wandering around in a dazed dream, hoping to wake up. It’s been a week of heavy hearts and a lack of words, because I know that putting words to it, makes it real, and I’m not ready for that. I don’t think we are ever really ready for the loss of a loved one.
Time is a fickle thing: days are long, weeks are fast, moments can either happen in a flash or magically slow, and years fly by. Yet, when we lose someone, we often wish we’d spent our time differently- done more with them, and I think that’s normal. Grief, in my opinion, is inherently selfish and understandably so. We grieve for missed opportunities to spend time together, the missed dinners or things we planned to do but never got around to. We grieve for the lack of ability to make new memories or share new experiences… and to quote myself from a week ago, “It blows.” If we linger here, in this space of regret, it’s incredibly easy to get stuck.
By my best account, it’s been roughly 1,248 weeks that he’s been an influence in my life, out of my 1,918 weeks alive. More than 2/3 of my life, with an “extra big brother I never asked for”. I used to roll my eyes when he’d say that, because he was right, I never asked to become the collective little sister. Never before had “Slacker” been a term of endearment, yet with the smile on his face and kindness in his eyes, I began to learn. He gave me a hard time, about all sorts of things, not only because he could, but because he cared.
He had an odd way of showing it sometimes, taking the phone out of my hand to interrogate some boy calling me… and often hanging up on them, unsatisfied with their answers. “Not good enough”, he’d say as his only explanation, as he headed down the stairs with a laugh. I’d follow him, and he’d be racking the balls, our eyes would meet and he’d shrug with nothing more needing to be said. He could tell my mood by the way I played, which was saying something since I never played pool well- despite his best efforts. He’d often tell me to “use my softer side” when a shot required finesse, and we’d laugh at my apparent lack of femininity as I shot too hard. He could see my soft side, even if I couldn’t utilize it, because he cared.
His friendship was not the garden variety, be there during the sunshine, type. Despite the crap he gave me, he made it clear that he was an unwavering escort on our paths in life. I can’t count the number of nights we stayed up talking on hard days, whether we talked in the basement on the couch, in his car on a drive or up on the rocks on donkey hill. He could be counted on to be both your greatest supporter, encouraging you to follow your dreams and listen to your heart; and the voice of reason when you needed it. He had a knack for delivering hard truths with compassion, and had no qualms telling you if something wasn’t serving you. It was never done in malice, and always because he cared.
For as much as we joked, and playfully hit, and he poked me to madness, his support was always present. I think that supportive nature was best captured in a photograph from my brother’s wedding. A month before, my left leg had been run over in a freak accident, and we all knew I was pushing my luck trying to wear heels on an unstable leg. Somehow, it became a challenge for the wedding party to skip down the aisle after their nuptials. I distinctly remember looking at him during the rehearsal and telling him I couldn’t do it. He was my escort down the aisle, and he was utterly confused. “What do you mean?” he asked, “Of course you can!” I gestured willy-nilly like to my leg, which was lovely shades of green and purple (ironically the wedding colors). “And…?” he said, throwing out his hands as though I seemed to think I had an argument. As I started to open my mouth to protest, he spoke first. “Sam” he smiled, “I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.” True to his word, we skipped, and he did not let me fall. I had no reason to doubt him, because he cared.
I know that I hurt right now, like so many others who had the privilege to know him. I take solace in the fact that I’m not alone in my sadness, though it’s hard for me to show. I also don’t know where we go from here, but I’d like to think that when my time comes, I’ll once again get to see him smile at me from across a pool table as he tells me it’s my turn to break, or maybe he’ll be sitting with a mis-shuffled Magic deck, just to get on my nerves. If I’m lucky enough to have our paths cross, in another time and space, I have no doubt we’ll pick up like no time has passed, because that’s how it always is. If that time comes, I look forward to wrapping him in a hug, and thanking him. My life is better, richer, all because he cared.