When someone we love dies, we crave their physical presence. We crave a connection with them. Unfortunately, there is no guidebook that gives us the 5-step process on how to cultivate this relationship, but the cool thing about that is we get to discover it for ourselves. I believe figuring this out is part of the grieving process. Part of the self-discovery. Part of the invitation we receive when someone we love so very dearly leaves their physical body.
In the early days we cannot even breathe. Every moment is difficult and we have little bandwidth for this big monster of grief. I remember so well going to sleep and waking up with tears running down my face because I discovered another day and the reality remained, Ethan isn’t physically here.
I have come to believe there is a universality to grief. That it actually looks more alike than we care to admit and there is a thread through all of our stories that sews us together. In the early years I would have hated this sentiment. I think what we are actually articulating is that the relationship we have with the one we love who has died is unique. They are a unique being. Our story of how this terribleness all went down is unique. Yes, that story needs to be told, heard and validated many, many times over. That’s why we need a community of those we have walked a similar journey. Seeing ourselves in others and sharing the communion of grief with them is powerful and unifying.
I have also observed that there is something universal about the deep pains of this world. Sitting with nearly 100 women through the retreat I created, Restoring a Mother’s Heart, I have seen the uniqueness of stories and paths, but the universal pain and love that these women hold.
If you are reading this and someone you love has not died, don’t stop reading. My words may help you help a friend or yourself one day. Also, one of the gifts of grief is self-discovery (if we let it). Grief asks us to dig in so deep, to ask the deepest questions of our hearts and to connect with the deepest part of ourselves. And when we do we see in ways we haven’t before: the beauty from the ashes, the light in the dark, the realizations after a long, dark night. That is where I have found God.
So if you are in this place, don’t loose heart. Don’t give up on the work, the discovering. Remember that love is driving all this. We hurt so deeply because we love so deeply.
So here’s the question I said I would address:
How do I stay connected to Ethan? What do I do to feel his presence?
In the natural world, Ethan and I were closer than close. We had a spiritual connection. We still do. He is my oldest, so I didn’t know that there was anything unique about my connection with him. But there was. Profound. Deep. Spiritual. Strong and dense enough to span Heaven and Earth.
I find Ethan in the quiet. When I am still. When I listen to myself. Not to the me in my head, but the me in my heart, in my soul. When I sit in that space I feel him. I talk to him. I ask him to help me. On the rare occasions that I take a walk by myself I imagine he is walking with me, holding my hand. I talk to him. I ask him to pull me towards what I’m called to. I just feel him with me. But I need to get quiet in my body and spirit to do that. As the years have passed and life is going at a pace of mach 5 every day, I need to carve out this time for quiet and connection with him.
I make Ethan part of our life. If my boys are doing something that Ethan liked I tell them so. If one of them does something funny or with some idiosyncrasy, I will say, “Ethan did the same thing. You are certainly brothers”. We celebrate his birthday, we talk about what he would want for his birthday. We keep him alive in our home, in the minds of our boys. I am sure that will change as they get older. But I want them too to have a relationship with Ethan. I remind Blake especially that Ethan is with him. They have a special bond since Blake and Ethan shared the most time on earth together. I want to help Blake cultivate a relationship with him because I know he needs Ethan as he grows up. A little brother needs his big brother.
If I’m feeling disconnected from Ethan or myself, I will sit down with a pen and journal, get really quiet and just listen. I close my eyes and breathe. I write down what comes. I sometimes start with Dear Mom, and see what Ethan says to me. I believe Ethan is in the presence of God, in the fullness of love and peace. Some people who have never thought about connecting with someone they love who has died may feel uncomfortable based on their beliefs about God. So if this is you, I ask you to spend some time examining what you believe about God and get clear about who God is to you. For me, I know God loves me and Ethan and so of course loves that we have this very special connection that spans time and space.
I find Ethan in the work that I do. When we get quiet, when we listen, when we connect with ourselves and with God we can experience a deep inner knowing about what we are called to do in this world. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I believe we are called to create in and through our pain. For me grief has been a huge catalyst. I’ve allowed it to be. When I am clear about my work in this life, I feel close to Ethan. I know for certain he is part of it.
As the years have gone on, I see Ethan less and less through the lens of his disease. In the early days, I felt connected to Ethan through the congenital heart community. After all, his illness was a huge part of our lives. It shaped us in the most beautiful ways. But Ethan is not congenital heart disease. Yes, he helped us to see and love people in this space. That which you see, you cannot unsee. You will find a piece of your calling in your willingness to see. But as I continue to cultivate my relationship with Ethan I am clear that he is not his illness. He is in what his illness opened our eyes to see. Love, compassion or for the hurting, for those without resources, who are in the thick of the thick of life. I am in the place where my work with the foundation is not a memorial to Ethan as much it’s a calling received through the life Ethan lived. He was the catalyst for it, but I don’t need to do this work to memorialize him.
I wrote this post about what I believe our loved ones want for us. They want us to be our best selves. That is what they desire for us. To live into our full potential. To be, do, and create to our highest potential. If that involves their disease, that is great. If not, that is great too. We build their legacy by who we are and what we do. But the inside job of self-discovery is most important.
I think to myself, if I died what would I want for the people I love to do? I’d want them to knock it out of the park. To loose their fears and to do what they are called to do. I’d want them to become the best version of themselves. If that came through doing work around a cause, that is great. If not, that is fine too. So think about that for yourself. What would you want people to do to honor you? It’s probably pretty close to what your loved one wants for you too.
Grief is complicated and there are many, many layers to it. I’m certainly not addressing them all here. But I do want to bring up one important topic in closing. If you have not wrestled with what you believe, please do. The death of someone we love is an invitation to dive deeply into what and who we believe God to be. Even if you feel settled in your beliefs, be open to learning new ideas. Wrestling with my faith, with God, with what I believe, shedding painful beliefs about all kinds of things have been the most important part of my journey over the last nearly seven years. It is okay to ask the really hard, maybe unanswerable questions. It is okay to entertain any question that graces your mind. It is okay to wonder if there is a God or if you are loved. But don’t stop there. Keep wrestling.
I hope that something I wrote this week touches even a couple of you. There is nothing easy about this process. But the person you loved that has died loves you and desires a connection with you, obviously different that the one you desperately want, but one even still. So, do the work, ask the questions, get quiet and commit to becoming the best version of yourself. You will find them right in the middle of those spaces.
Questions about what I wrote here? Feel free to ask.
Sunday Love to each of you,