Putting feelings and thoughts on paper holds them there, suspends them, keeps them in front of me -- almost longer than I think that I can look at them, focus on them, let them in.
What is so painful about grief is that it never seems to be enough. There doesn't seem to be an ending to it. It keeps on going. Memories are triggered and that person is right back with me -- and that is a precious thing. But with it comes the pain. And the losing of them, the letting go of them seems to begin all over again.
I learned of the death of a childhood friend today. Out of the blue. Unexpected. His dad and my dad grew up together and are best friends. My sisters and I spent some part of every summer of our growing up years with their family in Mystic, CT. Steven was three years younger and he always wanted to tag along with us girls. I remember him fetching us hot dogs at Fenway and ice cream bars at the beach. He always was a fun-loving kid who just wanted to be with us. He grew up to be a middle school teacher and coach, a husband and father of three young kids. His car hit a patch of black ice and he was killed on his way to work. The Rhode Island Senate had a moment of silence for this teacher, this son and brother, this kind man, this morning.
It seems ironic that before I got the phone call about Steven's death, I was in an ASP staff meeting. At the end of that meeting, our staff took about an hour to talk with one another about grieving. I can't remember when we've ever done that before. We talked about how different things feel to us these days. We talked about how difficult it is to live with ambiguity. Some of the folks who volunteer with us have had their lives turned upside-down in ways that mean standing up from wheelchairs and taking steps toward careers. And some folks have had their lives turned upside-down in ways that mean no longer being able to stand unassisted. Both are truths. Both are realities. As we talked together this afternoon, we talked about how we are all doing the best we can. We talked about ways we might better help one another. We talked about not taking on more than we could handle or hold. And we talked about trusting the process.
Working with those who are affected by HIV/AIDS asks a great deal of all of us. It asks us to keep up to date with all the medical information that seems to be ever-changing. It asks us to remain flexible with folks' changes in health status, in energy levels, in regimens and diets and schedules. It asks us to remain ever-hopeful for what new miracle is waiting around the corner. This work asks us to keep a balance in the midst of chaos.
Our work is full of opportunities. We have (just about daily) the opportunity to learn something about ourselves. We have the chance (just about daily) to look into the shadow of our most fearful places. And we have an opening (just about daily) to look into the light and see what is beyond what our words can convey.
So we look to others who have words for us. Today has been one of those days when grief is bigger than my heart feels it can hold. Frederick Buechner does a thoughtful job of putting his words on paper in his piece called "Remember" from Listening to Your Life. He writes, "When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart."
And today I remember...