“You see? Even death has a heart.” ― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

It is hard but necessary to write about loss. Zusak understands this so well, he made Death the narrator. Reading his book made my heart, and writing, both heavy and light in the same sentence.

This post is for our mothers who carried us, our fathers whom we miss, our sons and daughters, our cousins, our grandmas and grandpas, our best friends, and the strangers around us who are going through the exact same thing.

I believe it now when people say that grief doesn’t change you; it reveals you.

When you lose someone, it never feels like it’s real, even if you know death is universal. Grief doesn’t really get better with time; it’s a constant companion, arriving in ebbs and waves, flowing like a steady tide. As the insurmountable hole in your heart, grief tends to make the most unexpected and unwanted appearances; it’s not predictable by showing up only on the bad days, but tends to surprise you on the happiest ones, the days when not a single cumulus cloud can be found in the sky. It slips in during the most glorious moments you want to seize and hold, wishing so desperately you could share it with the person you miss the most.

I don’t know if there’s an afterlife, but I do know that our love goes somewhere beyond the water, the streams, the oceans. It never leaves us, even when our bodies can no longer hold the burdens of our skin and bones. Love is visceral, it resides in our marrow, our manta core, it feeds us, fuels us, bleeds us; it paralyzes us when it becomes a one way street. The hardest thing about grief is that it’s a one way street.

My friend Mary Lynne Wilson had cancer. She fought bravely for a very long time. I visited her at the hospice on Christmas eve, 4 days before she died on December 28, 2009. I’m not going to say passing, because it doesn’t feel right to use that euphemism. She was suffering a lot and death carried her away. I’m crying as I write this, but it’s OK because I’ve learned that it’s better than feeling numb.

On sunny, crisp October Sundays like these, I can feel her in the air, gliding with the breeze, pushing me, reminding me, persuading me to cherish the world,  and to honor her memory by continuing to embrace it.

Here is an email I wrote to her family:

Hi Jim,
Happy 2011! We were bummed as well that we didn’t hang out this time but I’m glad we keep in touch as you, Matt, and Lily are dear to me and my family. I know the past few weeks have been difficult  for you and your family and for those who love Mary Lynne. I wanted to write to you about some of the things I’ve noticed since she has passed. For one, I know she is still watching over us.  I have often wondered where people go once the earth no longer physically binds them to us. Other than heaven, do they become part of the sky, the earth, or the air around us? Personally, I don’t think we ever completely lose those we love when our hearts inexplicably and irrevocably holds them so dearly. They must feel sad  as they watch us trying to gather our hearts and lives back together; especially when all our prayers whisper and cry ” I miss you, I wish you were here”. People talk about angels and I’ve never really believed until more recently. Sometimes, you don’t look for things but they happen and I know it’s her checking in and guiding us.
Angel Exhibit 1: When I was in Portsmouth, I came home one day to see the asphalt path to my building covered with children’s chalk graffiti. There were at least 20 buildings in my apartment community but apparently they decided building 10 had the coolest and most worthy sidewalk. So they went bananas on it with brightly colored chalk. It was pretty dark out when I noticed the drawings but happened to look down in passing. The first thing I see is a drawing of an angel holding the hand of a little girl….not unusual….until I see the letters ” CC” right scribbled between the angel and the little girl. 🙂
Angel Exhibit 2:  I was watching the movie Raising Helen on TV where the premise is the sudden loss of parents and how Kate Hudson struggles to raise her sister’s kids on her own.  Anyways, in the movie, there’s a car shop called Massey Motors where Kate Hudson gets a new job so she has more free time with the kids. Looking back, it symbolized a new start after tragedy. The movie really got to me because of Mary Lynne and it turned out to be a surprisingly heartfelt film. The next day, I was in my friends car in Portsmouth stuck on a street where you can’t pass the car in front of you. Now, I don’t really pay attention in cars and get easily distracted by music, people, loud noises, and shiny inanimate objects. For some reason, I happened to glance at the license plate in front of us and what does it say? Massey motors. I haven’t seen another one since.
Angel Exhibit 3: A week ago, I went for a walk randomly in my neighborhood by the river in NY. A few factors: 1. I never walk when its cold. 2. I rarely cross the bridge cuz it’s so cold. 3. I dont’ really exercise. haha. So this was around 4:30 pm on a work day where I was working from home and I’m not sure what made me feel the need to walk along the river but I did. It was beautiful and the sun was setting. It was a mirage of orange, red, and purple clouds over the water and you could see the statue of liberty outlined as a blip in the horizon. There were flocks of seagulls flying above me, happily riding the gusty winds. You may not know this but the last time I really hung out with Mary Lynne was corporation beach(you might have pictures?). I remember thinking that if there is such thing as reincarnation, she would certainly come back as a seagull since she loved the ocean. So I walked for a good 30 minutes along the river. I wasn’t thinking about Mary Lynne at first but my thoughts eventually drifted and I started to miss her and reminisce. Moments later, a seagull lands on top of the lamp post right next to me. No big deal, except I looked up and down the river and it was the only one that had landed in that vicinity especially since its friends were flying high on such a windy day. The seagull stays there for a good 20 minutes and I really can’t help but wonder why it’s there and if Mary Lynne is sending me a sign.  Right when I start to feeling really sad again….it flies away in front of my line of vision.
If you ever do believe in signs from those we love, I think she is telling us that it’s ok to remember, miss and love her but that we must move forward and LIVE in her memory.
I never really believed in angels but she has made me reconsider. I think that’s what the great authors mean about love which transgresses all natural barriers and most importantly, time.
Talk soon Jim! Take care and send my love to your amazing family! Happy New Year!

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