Among my friends I am fortunate to count a number who have suffered through knee-buckling tragedies but who nonetheless approach their lives with graciousness and light. A man whose house burned to the ground and whose business, some years later, was destroyed by a hurricane. A woman whose husband was murdered by the mob. Another whose great love was killed by a tumor that his doctors, though they claimed to be carefully monitoring his health, somehow overlooked. A mother whose nine-year-old son, her only child, died in a car accident.
These friends each had a choice—to live in sorrow or to move on, embracing all this world has to offer. Their road was not smooth. Their decision to strive to live in light did not come quickly or easily. But eventually they made it, and they’ve stuck with it. Their lives, and ours, are better for it. A couple of them have decided to dedicate themselves to selfless service. The widow of the murdered man works with mentally disabled youth. The grieving mother has lived in several countries, helping poor children.
I’ve puzzled over why these folks have managed to move on, while others are mired in bitterness. Having lost my own son in an accident, I have a very personal stake in this question. As much as I possibly can, I’ve decided to try to embrace light and life. The alternative, frankly, stinks. I know, because I’ve spent way too much time being drawn in by its power.
Here is what I’ve discovered about the friends who have refused to be broken by tragedy: At a deep level they accepted what happened and made the decision to leave it behind. To me this is a brand of deep forgiveness. It’s letting go of blame in all its nefarious forms—of the landlord, of the man who pulled the trigger. The physicians. The drivers of the other cars. Of God, or the Universe, for making things line up this way. It’s letting go of anger and not looking back—or not very often, anyway. None of us is perfect.
I think of these friends especially as we move into spring, and the season of my own loss. For the first time I also have the anniversary of my mother’s death to mark this month. I wish March would just vanish from the calendar. Recently I joked with a friend who lost her husband last year in March that we should rewrite our calendars so that February has 43 days and is immediately followed by April, beginning with April -16, April -15, etc. There is a special brand of humor only the bereaved can appreciate.
On the back of a chair in my bedroom is a T-shirt that was one of Reid’s favorites in his last months. It’s been there since his death in 2009. I can’t bring myself to move it. A few days ago I noticed something on it that I’d seen before but forgotten, a single word:
I’m sure Reid, in the exquisite cockiness of his adolescence, considered himself indestructible. And he is. Looking at the shirt now, it occurs to me that there is no better word for the ephemeral energy that is the human spirit. We are all unbreakable, if only we will let ourselves embrace that truth.
Nothing exists that can sever my bond with Reid, not in this world, or any world. Often I feel him with me. The amazing love we share is not something that can be explained, nor does it need to be. It is unbreakable in the purest sense. And it does not touch only our bodies, or just our spirits and souls. It bleeds outward and encompasses the world.
In her novel Adam Bede, George Eliot makes an observation that she must have honed from personal experience: “Deep unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.” It can bring transcendence, in which our pain may burn us clean. But to allow that to happen, I must throw off the cloak of broken-heartedness and choose to go on with my life.
May I always remember that, even in March.