I am so struck this Memorial Day that while we pay tribute those we lost because they served our country in wars, we also bow to those who were first responders, teachers who protected their students in a crisis, victims of violence, those tragically lost because of severe weather, and those who were taken away too soon because of illness.
Aren’t they all our our heros and heroines? Aren’t we all warriors of life as well. Not necessarily the kind who fight and carry weapons. We can be more of a band of brothers and sisters who know we are responsible for each other and want to be. We reach out to one another when there is a crisis, and hopefully when there is not, but we see another human being who seems to need a friendly word, a gentle acknowledging touch and we offer it even if we don’t have a prior bond.
I spoke to a friend this week who told me the story of an accident that has affected her life for over 50 years. When she was an adolescent, a truck came zooming around the corner and hit her and her best friend. Both were not expected to survive, but one did. She remembers being in the hospital bed and being told that her friend had died. And she remembers feeling numb and alone. No one reached out and touched her arm. No one said “Let us grieve together.” My friend has spent her life reaching out to animals in need, rescuing and feeding those who are left behind, grieving with animal kingdom to fill the gap of not having shared grief when she lost her best friend.
We are wiser now and are beginning to accept that even children see and need to talk about death. They need to talk about their lost playmates, and discover that they are not alone in their feelings. A woman once came to me grieving her dog’s passing. She wanted to find a group but her health plan told her they have a hierarchy of loss. Losing a child is number one, than a parent, a spouse…and eventually a pet.
Though I know how painful the loss of a child is, I can’t say it whose pain is harder. Wherever we place our love, wherever we find our humanity, the bond of connection goes deep, as does the loss. There is no hierarchy in feelings or an authority that determines if you are entitled to have them.
When I met my husband Michael, my daughter was eight and his son Key was four. For twenty-three years we were a family. But in his twenties, Key was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He was a strapping, young man with a loving wife, a wonderful career and gentle nature. He passed away in our livingroom, surrounded by family, during the Memorial Day weekend of 2000.
I will always remember the hot, dry day, and his courage and grace. I didn’t want to think of him as a victim or as any less than the whole and complete being he always was. I found a quote from the Dalai Lama that reassured me of that truth.
“Some people, sweet and attractive and strong and healthy, happen to die young. They are masters in disguise, teaching us about impermanence.” –the Dalai Lama