for Vanessa Farnsworth
Grief has a way of looping around and connecting us to different people in unexpected ways. My friend Vanessa is a young widow and today is the one-year anniversary of the death of her husband Ric. He was 35 years old when he died suddenly, the father of a baby and toddler. She is working through her grief, as I continue to work through my grief. My newborn daughter died, and Vanessa’s young husband died. Different, but the same. We mourn, and we live simultaneously. We make meaning of thunderstorms and roses. We continue remembering, tears in our eyes.
Rebekah Garvin wrote the song “Almost” the day her unborn baby’s heart stopped. Garvin writes “I almost had you. / I almost held you. / We were almost a family.” She miscarried her baby. I said something similar about family to my therapist, Adele, soon after Mary Rose died. She said “Sweet Pea, you are still a family of four. It just looks different than you thought. You still have your daughter.” I have held onto these words over the past two years. Mary Rose is still part of this family, and Ric is still the father of his young boys. Ric will always be Vanessa’s young husband. Even so, how do we negotiate this life without our loved ones on the earth plane? It is hard not to wonder what would have been.
Garvin tells us “You were given and taken / just like that. / I’ll never be the same again / just like that.” I remember that moment of confusion during my routine ultrasound that revealed several anomalies. I started thinking ahead. I had to call my sister. I had to get a blood test. I had to celebrate my son’s second birthday because I did not know what our life would be like the following year. Vanessa’s life changed in one moment too. Her husband died unexpectedly. They were the exhausted parents of young babies who had plans for the rest of their lives together.
“Now I’ll never go a day / without thinking / about what we almost had,” Garvin sings. Even though I try to stay in the present moment I see my own expectations. I expect to live for a while. I expect my son to grow up and become a man. These expectations are hard to dispel. Only the present moment is real. I am typing in front of an altar. Photos of my two favorite aunts, one living and one dead. A photo of my grandmother cleaning wild greens. A rose. A shell. A pink bracelet from Cubby. An icon. My mind wanders and I wonder what it would have been like if Mary Rose had lived in her broken body, if her body had been whole and healthy . . .
In moments of sudden change, moments of death and letting go, not only of expectations, but of the ones we love, we tell them to go. I held my daughter’s limp body in a birth pool and urged her to go and do her work. I assured her of our love for her and she met my gaze. Garvin ends her song “fly baby fly / fly angel fly / spread your wings and fly.”
It is not only the ones who travel from this realm to the next who fly. The bereaved can also fly. We can release some of the heaviness of our grief by processing and transmuting it, flying back into this present moment, into living again with joy.
Here in Virginia the sun is shining through the pine trees. Tomato plants flower. A bright pink hibiscus blooms. My heart is beating this moment and will always carry my loved ones inside. Mary Rose and Ric have flown from their bodies. Until we join our loved ones on the other side of the veil, let’s be present and offer an open hand to someone else who is suffering in grief. Let our spirits be comforted with the knowledge that our loved ones are still with us, surrounding us with love and light, in sunny days and stormy nights lighting the Montana night sky on the anniversary of a loved one’s death.