*(dedicated to Joshua Walker Oct. 15, 1980-July 22, 2019)
This morning, July 27, 2019 actually 1:00 am California-time, 4:00 am Charlotte-time, I uncustomarily ordered coffee from room service and they brought me a pot of coffee and a single red rose. I realized looking at this graceful flower how life quickly appears and disappears like petals blowing in the wind.
Over the past several months, I have found myself watching as close friends and colleagues experience the death of a family member (Eric Yorlando, Robin Mooney), or dear, dear colleague, Sean Firtel (my first intervention team mate, a great husband and father), Bill Lane (a living legend in the behavioral health care field who made everyone smile and always paid it forward) and this past week life stood still once again with shock and sorrow.
My heart stood still when I learned that Joshua Walker, Vice President, Relationship Management of JFlowers Health Institute, had died. I and those who knew him will always remember Josh’s infectious spirit, sense of humor and graciousness to all he met, I know we will always carry his memory in our souls.
Some of deaths have been sudden, tragic, unexpected ripping-out hearts of those around them and leaving them frozen in a sea of shock and grief. While others even though we knew what would happen were nonetheless excruciatingly painful.
No newcomer to death and experiencing five deeply personal sudden deaths in my lifetime, I know all too well the tidal wave of grief that swoops over you like a tsunami rendering you powerless as if continual tidal wave came running in. My father died of suicide, my son from a SIDS death, my first husband, my stepfather and my mother all in a row. In my fifties and sixties three of my closest friends died from the Big C: Judge Napoleon O. Jones, the best man art our wedding, Christopher Jones and my cousin and soul sister, Suzanne. Also our two faithful pets, a chocolate lab named Brownie, and a golden lab named Max Cohen.
Now in my seventies I watch as Death becomes a regular customer swooping up lives of those we love. My experiences have taught be the following:
- Be kind to those that are grieving. Know that your presence is important not just in the immediacy of the moment but in the weeks and months to come.
- Let people babble, cry, wail or scream. Everyone has a different reaction to death and people grieve in their own ways. Some go on automatic pilot making sure tasks are done and accomplished. I am that way – give me a crisis and I am WZY on the spot, for others they may have trouble getting out of bed.
- Death is complicated and sadness comes and goes.
- People come and go in time of great sorrow. You may be surprised at who shows up for you and who goes sideways. You are at a new beginning.
- As good as Elizabeth Kubler Ross is with mapping out the stages of grief, the truth is no two people grieve the same way. My daughter opened a boxing gym as away of dealing with her anger and grief that her dad died young, her sister loves and buys black cars as he did every September in his memory.
- Depression is normal-not pathological.
- At times you may be emotionally unintentionally unavailable to others. The women whom I met and interviewed (for my doctoral dissertation) who were widowed at a young age were caught up in the overwhelming tasks they had to do, and they just did not have the attention span to be present. Death makes focusing hard.
- Know that in death some people will turn inward, and some will turn away from you.
- Know that you will discover new gifts – not tangible gifts yet gifts of the spirit.
- That you will find your own way to celebrate yourself and your loved one, albeit going to their favorite restaurant, sending balloons up to the sky, traveling to their favorite spot, etc.
- Know that in the case of suicide, sudden heart attack, SIDS death, drug overdose, etc. that you did the best that you could do with the resources you had. You neither caused nor could you of prevented the death.
- Embrace yourself and welcome the hugs of others.
- If so inclined talk to professionals, join a grief group, go to a retreat or do an intensive. For me, I found comfort in a chat group, a trip to find myself and talking with others
- Don’t be surprised if strange things come out of your mouth. I said some looney things when my husband and when my son died. Grief often makes strange bedfellows.
- Allow your children to participate and know death can be explained.
- Let others help you and it’s okay to ask for help. Let folks bring you food, help clean out closets, apply for death certificates, notify appropriate folks, cancel credit cards, etc.
- Remember someone the way you want to be remembered.
- Whatever your custom, whether it’s planting prayer flags on a mountain, spreading ashes over the world, having a cemetery plot, etc., know as the Buddhists believe that life is inextricably linked to death and that you have the opportunity to be present each and every moment you are alive.
- Exercise, let tears flow, rejoice and discover. The path is not an easy one. Life, as they say, is for the living and in each breath, we can be fully human.
In the words of Elton John, may those we loved and lost burn brightly like a candle in the wind:
May you ever grow in our hearts
You were the grace that placed itself
Where lives were torn apart
You called out to our country
And you whispered to those in pain
Now you belong to heaven
And the stars spell out your name
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never fading with the sunset
when the rain set in……