On God, Blind Faith, and Narrow Paths

It’s been no secret that, in the year since losing John, I’ve been going through somewhat of a profound spiritual experience.

Some people call it an “awakening,” but to me that term suggests that I’m “awake” while others are “asleep.”  And I think that comes across as pretty arrogant. So, for that reason, I prefer to say that I’m experiencing a “spiritual re-alignment.”

I do not think I was “asleep” in any sense of the word before John’s accident.  I think I was like many people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic.  I was fully invested in and engaged in my life.  And I was open to finding and experiencing what people referred to as “faith.”  I just never did.

Growing up, I had sat through sermons in church pews, temples, and gurudwaras waiting for some feeling or inclination that there was more to life than just what we saw around us.  It didn’t matter if I went to a youth group or yoga class, people sitting around and talking about God and universal connection sounded exactly like people just sitting around talking.  It was uninspiring at best.

Nothing ever moved me.  Nothing ever stuck.

So I relegated faith and belief to the same category as I did fairy tales: I felt that they were stories people told themselves to make the world less scary and lonely.

I eventually turned to a much more rational approach to the world…I turned to therapy and, eventually, to travel and this worked well for me.

I did really well in therapy because once I was presented with information that contradicted an existing belief or paradigm, I was open to adapting and changing the way I thought.  My therapists (and John) loved this about me, and through therapy, I honed my ability to experience, process, and adapt to new information.

Though I had therapy to help me process my experiences, I did not abandon religious or spiritual ideas all together.  But I also did not have a meaningful way to incorporate them into a life that already made sense on its own, so I used religion and spirituality in the same way we use filters on photos: as a way to artificially brighten or dim very real experiences.

That was the nature of my faith.

I’d had plenty of dark times in my life before, and “faith” never did anything for me.  It wasn’t like a flashlight that would turn on when times got dark, it was more a kaleidoscope.  A lens I could pick up and hold to my eye anytime I wanted to see the unreal and the abstract projected onto the real world.

And then I met John and found all the faith I ever needed in the form of another person, and I remember feeling blessed.  And I remember feeling happy.  I remember feeling good.

But then he died.

And everything started going dark.

And faith, the children’s toy that it had always been to me, I didn’t even bother reaching for it.  It was useless, and I knew it.

And the day John died I also knew something else…that if there was a God, he must have been silent my entire life for one reason:  because he does not waste his time on the wretched.  I knew that God must only speak to “the good.” People like John who had been lucky enough to be given real faith.

I knew that God must have thought it better for John to be dead than to be loving  someone like me. I knew that God must have killed John in order to “save” him.

If there was a God,  I didn’t hate him, but I knew he must have hated me.

And so I sat in the darkness of my life accepting that I was either truly alone, or detested by a God I didn’t know how to believe in.

And I imagine that’s when God, horrified by the highly dramatic conclusions I was coming to, decided to do what he does best…he decided to turn on a light.

And in the darkness I was in, it was all I saw.

It was a subtle light, like the flashing of an incoming call on a cellphone screen, but it was the only light I could see.  So I walked towards it and stumbled through what I now know were my first steps of blind faith.

I took the first steps of faith, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. But every time I got to a light I could see that another one stretched out in front of me.  Some were as faint as an engine light on a car dashboard.  Others were haunting, like a T.V. that keeps turning itself on in a dark room.

The lights didn’t make sense.  They weren’t in a straight line, but…they were lights in the darkness, so I kept walking to them.

I was certain that every light I got to would be the last one I would see, but there was always another one.  And I had no idea who or what was turning them on.

Each step was a stumble through the darkness on a path that no one else but me could sense. And that was confusing, and terrifying, and so many times I was worried I’d succumbed to delusion because there was no way any of this could be real.

I struggled to come to terms with what was happening.

And as I struggled through the darkness, I struggled to understand how to even put into words what I was experiencing, so I decided to just use one word: God.  God apparently was happening to me.

Only my experience was so different when compared to anything I had ever associated with God before.

It was almost as if John’s death had broken me in such a way that, like a bent antenna, I could now pick up on a new frequency.  Some sort of “God Frequency.”

And in that darkness I found a new sense of sight, where I could sense order in events where I had only ever sensed chaos and disorder.  I could hear and sense so much more than I ever could before.  But in the darkness, I  still struggled to understand why I was being helped.  If God is real, why had he stayed so silent in my life? Why was he so silent in so many people’s lives? Why did he allow us to suffer?  Why?

I started to ask.  And I started to seek.  And I started to question.   And that’s when God asked me if I was ready for him to turn on more of the lights.

And I said, “yes.”

And so he did.

But these lights didn’t light up only the way forward, they illuminated the path behind me, so I looked.  I could see my past, and in it, I could see all the different times God had turned on a light that I simply couldn’t see because there were already so many other lights on.

I saw the highs of my life, and there was God, laughing with me.  I saw the mundane parts of my life, and there was God, gazing mindlessly off into space with me.  And I saw my lowest moments.  I saw the morning I found out that John was dead.  I saw myself in agony.  I saw myself clawing at my own skin.  And I saw God suffering with me.

In this new light, I saw God laughing, living, and suffering through me.

In this light I could see, stretching in front of me, a narrow path with a small gate…leading somewhere, and I understood for the first time why the path to God feels this isolating…it’s because my path is only for me.  No one else.

No one else will ever or has ever walked this exact path before, and no one else can walk it for me.   And it’s terrifying when you know walking the narrow path of your own faith makes you a lunatic to some and a heretic to others.

I guess this is why, “few are those who find it.”

But I’ve been walking it.  And I’ve been talking about it and trying to put this walk into words.  Telling people about the scenery I’ve encountered along the way.

And when this walk is too much, and I can’t get a feel for the next step, I stop.

And I turn my gaze upwards towards the skies John flew in, and I let myself feel lost and alone.  And I let myself cry because I want to be walking this path while holding his hand.

But then I keep walking down my narrow path. Some days I skip down it.  Some days I curse it.  But most days, I simply walk it led by faith and the knowing that love put me on it.

On this path, I have met the fearful.  Those who urge me to get on their path and abandon mine.  Those who use my experiences to validate their belief in a Heaven that will not have me and a Hell that will.   I have met people who, understandably, don’t believe I’m on a path because they don’t trust roads that don’t show up on a GPS.  And I have met people who, because of the heaviness of their own grief, have stopped walking altogether.

I have also met the faithful (of so many faiths), walking their own narrow paths.  Those who stop to minister to the pain of others by offering to be what John was to me: faith in human form.

I see everyone on their own different narrow path…and I also see God with all of them whether they see him there or not.  And he is turning on lights.  Hoping that our lives never get so dark that we are able to see them.

“God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved”
Psalm 46:5

 

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I Didn’t Want a Life That Would Make, “A Great Book”

I cannot stress enough how much writing has served me in the months since John died.  Writing has allowed me to illuminate the saturated murkiness of deep grief in a way that continues to surprise, and at times, exhaust me.

Even though the aftermath of loss is where people typically find themselves with, “no words,”  I, for some reason, have been able to find many.

And so I’ve written them.

I’ve written about the love me and John had and continue to have.  I’ve written about what it felt like to have met him and why it mattered so much. I’ve transcribed the events that led up to the night he died trying to get out of his plane during a routine landing.  And I’ve written at length about how my life has unfolded since.

Writing has served to cauterize the deepest and most gruesome parts of this experience, as well as to illuminate the  incomprehensible moments of re-connection that I’ve been blessed with since the accident.  My writing has connected me to so many others whose journeys run parallel to mine, and I believe it will find its way to people who need it down the line.

My writing has helped me, and so I’ve continued to write.

My writing has also led to many of my closest friends and family earnestly telling me the one thing that almost everyone who faces a tragedy hears at some point:  That one day, I should write a book about all this.

(Believe me when I say that I take this as a compliment).

People have urged me to write a book about the life I had before John.  My relationship with him.  And the healing I’ve undergone since his death.  Almost every widow I know has been urged to do this.

Some do.  Some don’t.  But all our stories, untold or not, really would make for great reading.

I, speaking for myself, find the task deliriously daunting.

Maybe at some point in my life, I will be able to pluck out a single thread in this Gordian Knot of an experience, but until then I think what I want to say most is this:  that my life… this life that would make a great book…I truly wish I did not have it.

I wish it so very much.

I wish my relationship with John didn’t have to be described as “epic.”

I wish I didn’t learn first hand how death can open people’s hearts, only for them to realize that it’s too late for it to do anyone much good.

I didn’t want a life where I watched one of the kindest humans anyone has ever known die.  And I didn’t want a life where I learned that I could survive that kind of pain.

I most definitely did not want a life where some people think I’ve lost my mind because I can see John’s love manifested in dreams and cell phone glitches and balloons.

I did not want to be a seeker. I did not want  wisdom.  I did not want to be an example of strength.  I did not want any part of this life. 

No one would.

I wanted what almost everyone else I know wants…the norm.  I wanted a benign life, yet I was given this one.  And I know people want to read about it because I probably would too.

I suppose the easiest thing to read about are the difficult lives people lead.

But I don’t want a book about me and John because between the romance, obstacles, tragedy (and eventual magic) that our relationship carried with it, I feel we were really more the “fairy tale” type.  I don’t think many people could disagree.

I want our stories to be told in times where immediate comfort is needed, even if that means our names will eventually get lost to time.

I want people to hear about us so they fight for and forgive those they are lucky enough to love in this life.

And I hope, at some point, the story of the time John sent me quarters makes its way to a grieving person who needs to hear it.  I want people to hear about “some pilot” who shows up in kids dreams because he really wants to talk about planes.  I want people to look at red balloons and think, for just a second, that maybe there is more to this life than what meets the eye.

I want nothing more than for these stories to be shared and told…so I will keep writing.  I want nothing more than for people to find hope and re-connection after they lose someone, so I will keep writing.  I feel like it is what I was meant to do, so I will just keep writing.

But I also wish with all my heart that I was the one hearing and reading these stories, not the one writing them.

I don’t want to be living through the difficulties that make for easy reading, no matter how great the book would be.

You wouldn’t either.

 

A Few Words For The Newly Widowed

My newly widowed friend,

I write to you knowing how hollow words sound right about now.

I know “this” feels impossible.   Whatever “this” is, does not feel survivable.

“This” feels like dying.

Contrary to what you may think, there are words for what you’re feeling, but they aren’t the right ones.  They don’t fit.  Language falls short of what “this” is.

You can try to put some sentences together, but don’t be surprised if they come out jagged.  Truncated.  Cut off at the knees.  Disfigured.

Best you stick to simple words.  Words like anguish.  Shattered.  Dissolved.  Faded.

I know it feels like your brain has been dropped in acid.  And the circuitry that once ran clearly is now smoldering.  I know the air you’re breathing feels clotted.   It doesn’t seem to carry sound.  Or warmth.  Or light.

I know that breathing feels like choking down glass.

And while your brain is dissolving into itself, people are asking you impossible questions.  Questions like: what do you want to eat?  Are you thirsty?  Would you like to put a movie on?  …Are you okay? 

The questions are horrifying.

And I know that if you could figure out how to make your brain tell your mouth to open and then tell your lungs to breathe in and then contract while your vocal chords squeezed together…if you could figure out how to make your brain do that, you would start screaming.  But you can’t.

So you sit there. And shrug.  And nod.

You sit on a couch.  Feral. And do what you’re going to be doing for a long time: you mimic a human.

People are coming to see you.  They talk at you.  You don’t understand how they can’t see that they’re talking to a husk.  

You’re pretty sure this is how animals live:

Stimulus. Response. Stimulus. Response. Stimulus. Response. Sleep. Pain. Repeat.

People tell you that you, “sound great.”  That you, “look better than expected.”  And the air carries the sound their mouths are making.  And your ears take the message to your brain. And your brain is maybe making your body do and say things which makes people think you’re, “doing well.”  But you can’t really be sure.  

But I know you’re starting to be sure of something…

You realize that the “spirit” is very real.  And very different than the body.

I never believed in the “soul” until John died.  But if you’re like me…you can now, somehow, feel your soul twisting inside you.  Violently.

You can feel it hurling itself wildly against the cage of your pathetic, useless body.  You sense your spirit retching inside of you.  Convulsing.  Squirming. Begging to be let out…to go…to be free.

You feel it clawing. And whimpering.  You sense it trying to break through your bones and carve its way out of your flesh so that it can just…go.  You want to help it by cracking the shell of your body open, just a little bit.  Maybe you can just dig your fingers into the skin above your collar bones and rip off a bit of the casing your soul is stuck under.

But you don’t.  Because your brain reminds you that humans don’t peel themselves.  And right now…you’re mimicking a human.

My newly widowed friend,  I know that you’re thinking all these things and you’re feeling these things, and that people are smiling at you and telling you that, “you’re being really strong.”  And that they believe it.

This dumbfounds you.

The fact that people think that they’re talking to the real you astounds you.  That people think the real you showed up to work…that the real you is smiling in pictures and telling  stories at the funeral and going grocery shopping.

My newly widowed friend, I know the real you hasn’t done any of those things.  I know the real you is stuck inside a body.   A body that spends its time looking up things like the average life expectancy of a human… and then subtracting its age from the number… and then crying at the double digit number of years it statistically has left.

My newly widowed friend, I know the idea of living makes you sick.

And I know you’re probably reading these words from the floor of wherever your body lives.  The floor of a bedroom or bathroom. The floor next to a bed you didn’t leave for  four days; a bed that now smells a little like damp socks.

My newly widowed friend, I often wondered why I spent so much time sitting on floors right after John died…and now I think it was my body’s attempt to keep my spirit as grounded as possible.  As close to the Earth’s density as it could.

We sit on floors.  And we mimic being human.  We make the sounds we’re supposed to.  Our faces do human things.  And we eat human food.  And we mimic.  This is what newly widowed people do.

I know you’re probably reading this while you’re hunched over.  You’re probably alone now, so you don’t have to mimic as hard.  You can sit crooked.  Misaligned.  Your breathing can go back to being labored.

It’s just you and me now.  So I want to say some human words to you that I know you will not believe because you have no reason to.

But hear me out anyways, please:

My newly widowed friend, please know that right now, mimicking a human is your only choice.  All you can do is mimic.  And breathe.  And feed your body.  And drink water.  All while your spirit hemorrhages inside you.

My newly widowed friend, please…sit on as many floors as you need to.

And say all the things people say you shouldn’t.  And be angry at people who don’t deserve it.  And let text messages go unanswered.  And watch as people use your person’s coffin as their own personal soap box or stage.  And let your spirit wail.

Please sit down as long as you need to, and mimic the human you used to be and keep breathing.  Breathe those breaths.

Breathe glass.  Breathe pain.  Breathe unfairness.  Fuck life.  Fuck people.  Fuck “this.”  Fuck the world. Stimulus. Response. Pain. Repeat. Mimic. Human. Mimic. Fake. Pain. Pain. Pain. This. Pain. Just. Keeps. Coming. Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe…

Just keep breathing until one day…you actually take the first real breath you’ve taken in a long long time.

And you’ll know it.

Because the air around you will thin out.

And you’ll feel the sun.  And music will make you want to sing along.  And you’ll realize you’re actually breathing.  And you’ll smile.

Those days will come, and when they do (and you may not like this part) I need you to take the deepest breath of your new life, because I’m going to need you to get up.  And start moving through your life.

And I need you to pick up your pain, and I need you to take an even deeper breath because I need you to start talking.  Because you’ve got so many stories to tell.

You have to tell us stories about your person.

The world needs to know who they were.

How did you meet?  Tell us about the time they made you so angry you almost left them.  What’d their laugh sound like?  Did they take forever in grocery stores?  

Who. Was. Your. Person?  

I need you to talk about them.  I need you to take the deepest breaths of your life and tell their stories.

I need you to stand up and walk out the door and go out into the world because there is joy waiting to find you.  Real joy.  Real smiles.  New memories that are clamoring to be made and people who need you in them.  You need to tell bad jokes.  You need to make people laugh.  You need to be a part of so many other people’s stories.

There are people who need your voice to be a part of the soundtrack of their life, so once you’re breathing… start talking.  And start feeling.  And start connecting.

But to do that, you have to keep breathing those painful breaths.  And it hurts.  And it isn’t fair.  And, my God, I know some people are so uninteresting, but, my God, others are sure worth meeting.  And you need to meet them.

And I know you don’t feel like “you” anymore, and you don’t feel like you’re bringing much to the world around you, so I need you to hear this one thing above all else:

The good their love did for you cannot be undone by their death.

The world needed them, you needed them, but then they died.  And it isn’t fair.

But, my widowed friend, we still have you, and you are what no one else on this entire planet is:  The only end result the world has of their love.  What did it mean to be truly, deeply, romantically loved by your person?  Only you can tell us.

The world needs love stories.  Stories about epic love.  Tragic love.  Steady love.  Love-you-then-hate-you love.  Love that was almost right.  Love that was always right.  The world needs stories.

So, my newly widowed friend who is sitting on the floor, reading this from a smart phone that has dozens of un-read messages on it that say, “let me know if you need to talk.” Please, when you’re ready, if ever that time comes: get up, take a deep breath, stop mimicking… and start talking.

And above all else, my friend, when you’re ready: struggle, fight, clamor, try…and try…and try…to live.

 

 

I Was Never Meant to be “His Wife”

After John died, safe to say, I lost sight of who I was and what I meant to him.

Though he had told me hundreds of times how he felt about me when he was alive…without the formal titles and celebrations of a wedding or marriage, after he died, I found myself diminishing the role I played in his life.  And I also found myself floundering under the weight of the fact that I was, “just his girlfriend” when he died.

Sure, when he was alive, if one of his friends asked him what our future held, his answer was an unequivocal:  She’s the one.  

Sure, before his accident, whenever he talked about his future career moves, I was always included in those plans.

But then he died.  And I was left here with the living.  And there was more of them than there was of me, so eventually, their perspectives began to color my own.

I was left listening to a wide array of people who somehow found ways to mention that John thought all of his girlfriends, at some point, had been, “the one.”  His friends didn’t doubt that John loved me, because… well… according to them, John was always “all in” with every girl he dated.  His friends had seen how much he loved his ex-girlfriends…so they were sure he must have loved me too.

His family, who never approved of me, felt the need to tell me that they, “had no idea,” John was so serious about me…because, according to them, John was “serious” about all of his relationships prior to ours.  And all of those relationships ended, so his family had no reason to believe this one would be any different.

And even though his parents included me in the memorial and funeral services in a genuine effort to “make up for lost time,” when John’s personal items were sent to them, I was told, by his mother, that his things: his shirts, his sheets, our chessboard…all of those things were “for the family” to go through and have.

They were sure I’d understand their decision.

And I did. I understood what everyone was telling me:  I was just John’s girlfriend.  And if John hadn’t died…I might have lived to see the day where I ended up as just another one of his ex-girlfriends.

I don’t blame people for thinking this.  When John met me, I was brash and fiercely independent. I didn’t mince words, I was reactive, and ran head-first into conflicts John would have typically avoided.  John, on the other hand, was always much more composed than I was, and he was much more of a people-pleaser.

I began to see, after he died, how terribly mismatched we had been.

I began to realize why John’s family had doubts about “his girlfriend.”  I could see why his friends, who had seen us fight and make up several times, probably also had doubts about “John’s girlfriend.”  That girl, who I was when he was alive, his girlfriend…wasn’t perfect for John.  Wasn’t perfect for his career.  Wasn’t good for his family.

So I, subconsciously, decided that I’d step up my game after he died and become the woman that everyone else would have wanted John to marry.  Simply put, I tried  to become “John’s wife.”

For months, I attempted to bury my own pain to help other people with theirs, just like John would have wanted “his wife” to do in the wake of his death.  John was always able to paste on a smile, no matter how hurt he was…so I found a way to make crutches out of the broken parts of my spirit, and pretend that that was the only support I needed…just like I imagined John would expect of “his wife.”

After he died, I checked in on his family, like John’s wife would’ve done.  I checked in on his friends.  I tried to bridge the gaps and overcome the hurdles John and I would’ve faced together if he was still alive.

I had one goal: to live out my life like someone I felt John would’ve loved to be married to, and that woman happened to be a very, very diminished and muted version of myself.

And John’s people, so many of his people, loved who I was.

But then, after nearly a year of swallowing my anger, and choking down my pain, and putting on a brave face, something occurred to me.

I realized a sobering fact:  John didn’t fall in love with an even-tempered, ever-forgiving woman who smiled for the sake of others, though she was broken and angry inside.  He didn’t fall in love with someone who turned the other cheek after she was mistreated over and over and over again.  He didn’t fall in love with someone who avoided conflict.  He didn’t fall in love with the woman I believed everyone would have wanted him to marry.  Not even close…

John, when he was alive, fell in love with me.

Me.

My stubbornness.  My tenacity.  My, at times, fanatical dedication to talking about the things people found too difficult to discuss.  He didn’t like me all the time, but (and I know his family hates cursing) he sure as hell, fucking loved me.  His girlfriend.  His last one.

That’s what I was meant to be.

John trusted me, his girlfriend, to be his home in this world.  No one else, when he died, was closer to him.  No amount of time, of experiences, of genetics makes up for the vulnerability and trust we shared with one another: I was the person he called when he was frustrated, when he was lost, when his friends let him down.  I held him whenever he was overwhelmed and couldn’t find the words to articulate his disappointment in something or someone, even if that person was me.

Had he done this with girlfriends or family in the past?  Maybe.

But I was the last girlfriend who got to hold him when he cried.  The last woman he wanted to face the world with.

John would make the four hour drive to get to me after a twelve hour work day, even if he knew I’d be asleep when he got there.  He didn’t do that for some idyllic woman, he did it for me.

He fought for me.  For his girlfriend.  John, who, when I met him, considered his mom, dad, and siblings the backbone of his life, went to bat for me when they couldn’t see past how different I was in comparison to the “ideal match” they had always prayed for.

John fought to have all of me, his girlfriend, in his life.

He threw himself against the barrier of their disapproval for a year. He listened to his mother tell him he was tearing his family apart.  He listened to his father tell him there was no chance of a future where the family accepted his decision to be with me.  He listened as his brother, who heard through the grapevine that John was going to marry me regardless of his family’s wishes, voiced his disapproval.

John shouldered all of that…for me.  As I was.

John listened as some of his closest friends advised him to cut ties with me for the sake of his own happiness because these friends, like John’s parents, didn’t believe John could ever be happy without his family’s support.

And John disregarded them all, and still drove the hours to see me, and still made plans with my friends, and still hung out with my family, and still made plans for the one day where he would eventually marry me.  His girlfriend. The girl who no one else, besides him, believed was worth all that damn trouble.

And who knows…maybe I wouldn’t have been worth it.  Maybe the tension with his family would’ve gotten to be too much.  Maybe I would have hated military life.  I would’ve found these things out if I’d ever gotten to be John’s wife.  But I didn’t.

But now, looking at all the things that have happened since he died, I’m beginning to think that focusing on the person I never got to be for John was a mistake.  Because I’m missing out on honoring the person I was and am.  The person he fell and stayed stupidly in love with. The person who wasn’t perfect for him, but he knew, somehow, was right for him.

I’m not sure if I was really ever “meant” to be his wife.  To be dutiful around his family.  To be mindful around people who could make or break his career.  I don’t know.

All I know is that I was meant to be his last girlfriend. And I lost sight of how unbelievably special it was, and is, to be the last woman John left it all out on the field for.

Was he happier before he met me, his girlfriend?  I don’t know.  But I do know that he was better and stronger after loving me.  And I am better and stronger for having got to love him.

Some people may disagree with that, but…they didn’t know him like I did.  No one did.  No one could.

I wasn’t meant to be his wife in this lifetime.  And I won’t live that way…tethered to the ghost of a life that never was and never will be.

I wasn’t meant to be his wife, but I believe I was meant to be his game changer.  A malady and remedy in one.  I was meant to tease the final drops of life, and passion, and frustration out of him in his last few years, so that when he died, he died the fullest possible version of himself.  A version not many people got to experience.

Because of me, he died a man who stood up for what his heart wanted.  He died a man who had cut ties with what he had always known so he could carve out a path of his own.  A path he could have walked alone, beholden to no one.  But a path he chose to walk with me.

Because of me, his last girlfriend… he died his own man.

And because he died, I get to live my life as my own woman.  A woman who, for whatever reason, got lucky enough to be John’s last girlfriend.

 

 

Grief is a Liar

I think I know why Death wears a hood.

It isn’t, like many of us think, so that we fear him.   Or so that he is able to keep his face from being recognized too soon.   I don’t think the hood has to do with either of those things.

I think Death wears a hood for reasons that have nothing to do with us.

I think he wears his hood so that, when he approaches us with his arms outstretched, he doesn’t have to see us look at him in disbelief.  I think he wears a hood so that when he carefully and gently takes the hand of our person, he doesn’t have to see what it does to us.  So that he doesn’t have to see the pain.  I think he wears his hood so he doesn’t have to watch us drop to the ground with our hands over our faces.  He wears it so he can muffle out the sounds of screaming.

Death wears his hood so he doesn’t have to listen to anymore pleas for “one more hour. ” For one more minute.  For one more second.   It’s so he doesn’t have to hear people who used to shrink from him…beg, for the first time in their life, to go with him.  To ask if they can follow him.  To ask if he would be so kind as to take them instead.

He wears his hood so we can’t hear his voice break as he whispers, “I’m so, so sorry.  I don’t understand this either,” as he leaves.

I bet he wears his hood because his job breaks his heart.

And I would bet, that as he slowly walks away from us, Death pulls his hood up tighter so he doesn’t have to look Grief in the eye as she strolls past him towards the ones left back in life.

And I bet, with all my heart, that Death shuddered and hid even deeper under his hood once he looked over his shoulder six months ago and saw Grief crouching next to me.  And I bet he watched with a heavy heart as she leaned in and began to whisper the first lie she tells us all:

That she is here on behalf of Love.

Grief whispers that where there was great love, there must now be great pain.  She says this many times, so eventually it begins to make sense.   And we naively begin to accept that, for the rest of our life, this love will always have to hurt.  Because it should hurt.

And with this, we begin to trust her… so we lay at her feet with our hearts open, and ask to hear more.

So Grief tells us a bigger lie.  She tells us that what happened…the accident, the sudden heart attack, the cancer…that it was personal. That what happened to our person doesn’t actually happen to anyone else.  Not like this.  She tells us that our tragedy was designed specifically for us and us alone.  That these things “don’t just happen.”  They happen to us.

She tells us that Death comes for our person because the world has a personal stake in our unhappiness

This is where the anger, like a fever, begins to settle in.  And grief, stoking the flames continues and says quietly:  “You should be jealous of everyone else.”  

This is the lie that turns the spark of anger you had been holding back, into an inferno. 

It’s the lie that makes us look at other people’s happiness and say: They don’t deserve what they have.  They don’t really love one another.  They will never have what I had.  They will never understand.  

This lie turns us against the world around us and tries to lay waste to the friendships and relationships that had always sustained us.  And the anger feels good.  Because Grief knows that righteous anger always does.   

And after Grief begins to chip away at the relationships you still have here, she turns her sights on your relationship with your person.

And asks one simple question:  What makes you so sure they loved you? 

She brings up the fights you got into. The words you threw at one another like weapons when you were arguing.  She brings up the times you chose to get off the phone early for no real reason.  The times you rolled your eyes at them instead of giving them the hug you know they needed.  The times you thought you might be happier with someone else.  The times you thought that they would be happier with someone else.   She reminds you of all the time you wasted.

She makes you question your worthiness, your goodness, the happiness you brought them.  She makes you minimize the good times and think only about the bad times.  You can’t remember the love you gave them because you’re too busy replaying the pain you know you caused them on a loop in your head over and over and over.

And she doesn’t whisper her lies anymore, she shouts them at you over and over and over again until, with your back against the wall, you finally start doing her job for her and, looking Grief in the face, you tell yourself the biggest lie of them all:

That they’re really gone.  

That all you can do when someone dies is grieve them.   There is nothing more.  Just a cold, growing, empty space between your life back then with them, and your life right now without them.

You tell yourself that there is nothing more of them left here for you to love.  Death took it all.  And all you are left with is Grief who will walk next to you in your person’s place.

And Grief nods.

So you take Grief’s hand and begin to walk forward knowing that, yes…this love will always hurt.  And suffering will always find you.  And Grief sits silent for the first time and smiles.

But in that silence comes a voice from a lifetime away.  It’s so quiet at first, that you’re certain you’re hearing your own thoughts inside your head.  The voice, unlike Grief’s, doesn’t sound real.  Couldn’t be real.

But it seeps in somehow… from the cracks of the most broken places of your heart that only one person…your person…knew about.   Because they were the only person who you ever allowed to see those dark and broken parts of you.      

And it’s from those broken places that your person, after trying for so long to be heard over Grief, is able to finally get their message through and say…

My love, she’s lying. 

Death didn’t take me;  Death doesn’t take any of us anywhere we don’t want to go.  He simply explains that just as we made choices in life, we can make choices in death.  So I chose to stay with you.  How could I choose differently?

Why would I leave you here? Can’t you see that everything that has ever happened… happened to get me to you and you to me.  Stars were born and stars died.  Continents shifted, oceans froze, mountains moved so that one day we would be here together…even if just for a few years.  How could death take that away?  

I’m sorry.  I couldn’t stay in that body.  But I’m here.  Don’t let her walk in my place. Please: don’t listen to her.   I’m right here.  

And that’s when the landscape shifts.  When Grief feels you loosening your hand on hers, and she, for the first time, looks confused and says:  you can’t let go of me…that isn’t a choice.  If you don’t grieve them, you never loved them.  

And on hearing that, you realize for yourself, plain as day, that Grief…Grief is a liar.