On the plane ride back home this morning after two weeks in Atlanta and San Francisco, my thought bubble was this: “My grief has brought me to many places, and all of them have been good.” I know that’s an oxymoron—how can be grief be good?
Don’t misunderstand. Not a day passes when I do not think of my loved ones who have gone on. I often still wonder how my life would have turned out if they were still with me. However, over the last few years, I have discovered that it was in their passing that I encountered the Divine more closely, in the people I have met and in the places that I have been.
Once a year, over the last four years, I take off on an adventure that brings me to a grief conference, where we who have made it our life’s mission to help alleviate, accompany and understand the bereaved, converge to discuss the latest trends and developments in the field of Thanatology.
These annual forays have brought me to places I only used to dream about. Traveling to cities where I hardly knew anyone helped me break out of my comfort zone. Coming to these annual meetings, I have met and made many dear friends from all over the world who do similar work.
Every conference I have attended has always felt like a homecoming in the truest sense of the word. And every year, I come away from it refreshed and affirmed in the knowledge that I’m on the right path.
This year was particularly blessed. God sent an abundance of angels my way, and many serendipitous moments from start to finish. On the last day of my conference, my friend got caught up in traffic and was delayed by half an hour in picking me up from the hotel where I was at.
In those 30 minutes, I was introduced to a lady who was doing hospice work with children in Georgia. As we were talking, my roomate, Ruth, showed her the children’s book I had written in 2009, “Heaven’s Butterfly”—the story of our family’s loss through the eyes of my then 7-year-old daughter.
All of a sudden, the lady’s eyes lit up, and she began telling me that she had long been looking for a book to read to two 6-year-old siblings whose triplet had end-stage cancer and could die anytime. “This is perfect for them,” she said nodding.
Because of the urgency, I requested that the last copy of my book, which was with another friend in Atlanta, be mailed to her right away. “Thank you, I will read this to them as soon as I go back to work on Monday.” Life’s delays are always God’s delays. There was no doubt about that during this particular instance.
The following day, on the plane ride from Atlanta to San Francisco, I was seated beside an elderly woman with a kind face. I asked her if she lived in San Francisco. “Yes, I live in San Francisco, and I’ve just come from a conference in Atlanta, though I doubt if that’s the same one you came from.” It turns out, we had been to the same one, and just the night before, she had sat at dinner with my mentor, Dr. Kathleen Gilbert.
The lady beside me turned out to be Mary Keane, who had founded the first children’s bereavement center in Connecticut. She was also a very good friend of Elizabeth Kubler Ross. When I heard this, I almost fell off my seat.
A former nun, she had been good friends with the legendary Kubler Ross until the end of her days. Now almost 75, “I’m as old as the Golden Gate bridge,” she smiled and told me. Mary has retired, but continues to do bereavement work with children in the East Bay area of San Francisco.
Grief has its own gains, and in the darkest of nights, if we remain open to the people, places and experiences that are brought into our lives, we find that they are the stars that help light our way.
Loss, I now know, imbues us with a courage we never would have had if we did not go through such a painful time. I’ve always loved what Eleanor Roosevelt said as she reflected upon her transition from first lady to private citizen after her husband died: “Every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before.
“If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain courage, strength and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”
Every Easter we are reminded of that hope and promise of a new life that awaits us after we have navigated the darkest of nights. In my journal, at the beginning of the trip, I had scribbled, “That which we fear might happen to us—might be the thing to provide deep faith in us. Why be afraid of anything when He’s using everything that comes into our lives?”
At this stage in my life, I have come to a quiet acceptance of the way things are, and trusting that no matter the outcome, I will choose to remain grateful for what is yet to be.
And speaking of angels, I wish to thank Philippine Airlines Pursers Elmer Jamerlan and Gina Jhocson and their respective crews for taking great care of me on my flights to and from San Francisco. The flights were seamless and the service, excellent. It was certainly a blessed journey this year with all the “angels” that were sent to me both on the ground and in-flight. Wishing all of you a blessed and meaningful Easter!
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