Sometimes it's best to let others speak. This is written by my friend Rich Beebe who not only lost his wife, Eileen, but also his darling daughter, Meghan. With his permission I am sharing his eloquence and insights. Thank you, Rich.
There is a Silence in My Heart
September promises to be a challenging month: Meghan would have turned 22 on the 22nd. And so the following essay may strike some as being more somber than my other reflections shared these past few months. But, I promise you, there is still hope.
And there you are
on the shore,
fitful and thoughtful, trying
to attach them to an idea —
some news of your own life.
But the lilies
are slippery and wild—they are
devoid of meaning, they are
from the deepest
spurs of their being,
what they are impelled to do
And so, dear sorrow, are you.”
― Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1
There is a silence in my heart.
Several years after Eileen died, in a Westover Chapel Talk focusing on my attempts to come to terms with her death, I spoke of finding myself “in the midst of all the strange and hectic activities that occur in the wake of losing a loved one [so that] I found myself busy, pushed and pulled along by the memorial services, forms, notices, phone calls, and other details that crowd around us in the closing out of a life.”
All of those activities certainly were again a part of my life after Meghan’s death, but because of the sudden and traumatic circumstances of her passing, I admit that carrying on with day-to-day life has been complicated by the legal, spiritual, practical, and psychological reverberations that have followed, many of which remain unresolved and will be for months and perhaps years to come.
In the center of all those reverberations, I discovered this silence in my heart. Because of that silence, in the months since Meghan’s passing, I confess that there have been times when I have been pushed forward through my days solely by the mundane but insistent expectations of life:
My dog Calvin – who once was “our” dog Calvin – needs to go outside to relieve himself, and so I get up in the morning; the last yogurt has been eaten, and so it is time to get to the grocery store; the stack of monthly bills grows thicker, and so I need to pull out my checkbook and start making payments; there is just one more e-mail message that needs to be answered at work, and so I stay a little longer at my desk to cross one more project off the never-ending list.
Gas tank to be filled, dishes to be washed, phone calls to be returned. Each little task propels me forward, like little heartbeats that keep thrusting me through my next minute, my next day, my next month.
But, underlying it all is my profound, abiding awareness of Meghan’s physical absence. No more phone calls from Meghan at unexpected times with questions that made me wonder “where did that come from?” or requests that might prompt me to ask her “are you out of your mind?” … no more unplanned trips to Amherst to bring her back home to Connecticut or to visit family in Albany or to travel to some other destination where a friend was awaiting her visit; no more rare but always appreciated Facebook messages from her about a random bit of news or a shared joke about a beloved movie or a favored sports team; no more posting of a piece of music she wanted me to hear or an image of a pair of sneakers she might like as a present (in one of those “hint, hint” messages instantly recognizable to every parent).
And so, there is this silence in my heart: a silence that can suddenly surge outward and engulf me in the middle of my day, or jolt me awake in the darkness of night; a silence that can wall me off from conversations going on around me in the midst of a family party, that can stop me in mid-thought at my desk at work, that can make me feel as if all purpose and reason have suddenly been drained out of my life.
Even in the center of a celebratory moment – hearing news of a fellow parent’s son landing a great job, or of a young friend giving birth to her first child, or of a couple announcing their engagement or the purchase of their first home – even in the middle of my feeling uplifted at the shared news,there is at least a part of me that sinks into that always present silence in my heart. And the small but bitter part of me that resides within that silence places a sharp, little asterisk next to whatever the happy news is, a bleak reminder that this shared life experience – something new, wonderful, exciting, loving,or buoyant – is one that I will never be able to celebrate as part of Meghan’s interrupted life.
Please understand: I do not begrudge my friends or family members the joy and delight that these events bring to their lives; far from it– for I truly do share in their celebration. If anything, I look forward to and need to find these sources of bright relief within the shrunken borders of my life. But I also must admit that my joy and delight is rimmed with envy, first and foremost for Meghan, but clearly and undeniably for me as well. And so whenever I hear such promising news,there is at least one degree of separation in my joy and delight, as if I were emotionally numbed.
But, even while acknowledging all these stony truths, I also know this truth: there still is hope within my silence.
As I pick up each of the pieces of my life … of memories, of emotions, of dreams, of disappointments, of plans, of loss … and I work away at their sharper, painful edges and seek to make them come together again in some pattern that makes sense despite my fears, I still hope that I will somehow reassemble them into some new purpose, some renewed sense of meaning, some reason to push forward.
With the patient reassurance of friends (especially Meghan’s from childhood, school, and college), the unexpected generosity of spirit offered by strangers, and the reigniting of faith, perhaps (and I admit that at this point in my act of re-creation, it is a feeble, flickering “perhaps”) the hard edges of the silence within my heart will soften, recede, and lose strength.
And then, finally then … the sounds of life renewed (albeit borrowed,subdued, and not as sweet as they were before the events of the final days of last year left too much of me wrapped in a dark silence) will somehow return to my heart.
For my sake …
and for the sake of Eileen’s memory …
… but, most of all, for Meghan.