Grief can be so brutal. And sometimes, there are little things that happen that tell us we aren’t in this alone – there is a “more than this,” a mystery. A something. Things happen that are too precise to be entirely random. We don’t often talk of this stuff. It’s the sort of thing that’s shared surreptitiously. Carefully. With disclaimers and explanations and vows that we don’t actually believe in signs, because we are not that “flaky.”
No one wants to be seen as flaky.
But the reality is, almost everyone has a story of something precise and random happening in their grief that let them know there is something going on here: the well-timed song, the appearance of birds or hearts or sudden messages, things showing up just as we’ve thought to look for them.
I think of these things as deep companions inside grief. They don’t make the pain go away, but they lay down alongside it, making things different, if even for a moment.
Can we talk about these? Can we voice the wonder and fascination at these external evidences of some larger thing happening, whether it is simply our brains making connections – which is completely cool in and of itself – or something beyond just our minds? Can we make it safe for each other to share these occurrences, without having to defend our intelligence first?
I’ll go first. Below is a story that happened in 2011. As with many of my stories here, it starts with rain:
It was pouring.
The dog did not want to go out. We drove the tiny eighth of a mile to the dog park instead of walking, because it was so windy and he hates to get his feet wet in puddles. A man opened the gate for us, a very sweet man, who had apparently spent the night in the shelter at the dog park.
He talked to me about his dogs, how much he loved them, how he was with them when they died. He asked about our dog, and I told him how Matt had crouched down in front of his kennel at the shelter and told me, “he’s the only dog in here.”
I told him how we wanted an older dog, in order to give him a good last few years. The man said how important and kind that was, how special it was to adopt a creature knowing you are facing the end sooner than you’d like. He said, “you and your husband are good people.”
During all this, I managed to not cry at all. I was, however, trying to talk myself out of offering him a ride somewhere. Instead, I offered him the umbrella I had in my car, because he said he had to walk across town to meet his girlfriend.
He said, “that’s so kind of you. In return, I will sing you a song about your dog. I am really good at songs. I can make them up instantly.” He told me that he would have a song by the time I came back from the car.
I walked to the car. I came back. Handed him the umbrella. Left my rain-averse dog in the car. The man was standing inside the shelter. I was outside in the rain.
He said, “so okay, tell me about your dog. What do you love? What makes him special to you and your husband?” I stopped. I stared at our dog, standing on the driver’s seat, looking at me. I started to cry.
The man said quietly, “Oh. We are sharing a moment here. Okay. You don’t have to say anything. No. Tell me what it is about your dog.”
I didn’t even think. I just blurted. “He is who is left of my family. My husband died. And it is his birthday today.”
The homeless man was quiet. He turned away, he turned back. He put his hand on my shoulder, “I mean this is all honesty: god bless you.” He continued to say, crying now himself, “I am trainwrecked. How long has it been? How long ago?”
He asked for Matt’s name. He said, “Okay. I will mention the pup in your song, but this one is for Matthew. This song is for him, and for his wife.”
He stood there, composing himself, steadying himself. He pulled a harmonica out of his bag, brought it to his mouth and started wailing away.
A breath. Then his voice, clear and loud, as thunder started rumbling at the tree line, and the winds picked up.
Man, he had an incredible voice, a raspy, blues voice. He sang with everything, his eyes closed, his whole body engaged. He sang a song for my love, directed to the clouds, to the heavens. He spoke for me.
“Matthew, thank you for your life. Thank you for the love you brought to me. Thank you for being here. I know you are gone, but you are not. I know you wipe the tears from my face while I sleep. I know you are here, and you’re gone. You are holding me, I know you are. You are gone, and you’re not. Remember all the trips, and the days in the sun? We had such a good life, I will always be your wife. It is so hard for me here, but I will not go out, I will not let my light go out. I will try. The puppy and I will try. I am out here in the rain with him, for you. Thank you thank you for your life. I will always be your wife. This is hard and I love you, and I know you are free. I know I will be with you again. This life may be long, but I will see you. I will see you soon.”
He sent up his words for me, words I could not sing.
There were several verses. The wind howled. Trees shook. The song wiped him out.
After he was finished, he told me that his best friend drowned 8 weeks ago. I’d read that story – “transient man found in the water off the docks.” I had not, and did not, tell him how matt died. He talked about the shock, and how he found himself losing time, blanking out. He asked me to keep him, and his dear friend, in my prayers, and he would keep Matt and me in his.
He offered a slight bow.
Then, taking a pause in the rain as his opportunity, he walked off to find his morning coffee.
Gifts come in many forms. Days like this one above are not so strange as you might think. How about you? Have you had intensely beautiful and well-timed moments in your grief? Tell us in the comments.