In my life since Molly died, I have been offered more advice, counsel, suggestions, support and sometimes criticism than I ever knew existed. I must say I am for the most part extremely grateful. There are times, however, when the words offered in the spirit of love are as sharp as the loss of Molly. One of the very worst for me is everything happens for a reason.
This sounds like a justification to me.
It does not alleviate my sadness or guilt or regret or pain over losing Molly. It feels like an insult, that if I looked harder and was somehow better at grieving, I would see that there is some positive, necessary, “supposed to have happened” aspect to Molly dying at thirteen which will allow me to see the silver lining. I will say, not one grieving parent has ever said this to me. Quite the contrary, this particular line typically comes from well-meaning folks who do not know this kind of loss.
It is also often shared as a challenge.
Spiritual groups, church sermons, self help blogs and other similar movements often ask their clients to accept that there is a reason behind their tragedy and they may or may not ever know what it is. Through searching for this almighty reason, we will somehow come to terms with our loss and accept that it has a greater purpose than our personal connection to it.
Here is where things get murky.
I call my blog and Podcast “A Thousand Tiny Steps” for several reasons, one of which is that sometimes the universe leads us right where we need to be for amazing things to happen. By embracing this belief am I not also putting my arms around everything happens for a reason? Perhaps I am. Can I follow this belief for the good things that happen in my life and disregard it for the bad?
In terms of Molly’s death, I can do what ever I want, so yes, yes, I can.
One of the most poignant parts of the grief journey is the co-existence of heartache and joy. The two are ever present all the time in my life. No matter how happy I am Molly is still dead and that will never be ok. Conversely, no matter how sad I am there is always happiness and joy in my life. These emotions are not mutually exclusive. In my exploration of the thousands of tiny steps that I feel led to Molly’s death I have had wonderful surprises and experiences.
Caitlin is one of them.
She dropped into a class at CrossFit Amesbury last week. A newcomer to CrossFit she is curious about the movement and seeking an exercise program to fit her lifestyle and needs. This is a typical answer to the coach’s “why are you here?” question. The first unique aspect of our meeting was that Caitlin was the only one in class.
We got talking right away!
I warmed up with her and went through the mechanics of the weightlifting movements. Naturally athletic she picked up the technique right away. It was about 15 minutes in to the class that she mentioned her loss. Her best friend, true love, forever person had died in a plane crash. I stopped for a moment. I had been asking her where she was from and what she did. Where had she lived, gone to school, you know all of the relatively safe questions one can ask a stranger to keep the conversation relevant and interesting. While all of these questions describe her overall reality, this one piece of information defines her current reality. At just three years from Dano’s death, she is so very early in her journey.
So that is what I said.
Her response was one of surprise. She said something to the effect of “you’re the only one who has ever said that to me”. I then shared that I had lost Molly, and at seven years into my own grief journey I still felt new to this reality. It was then that the real conversations began. One of the truly best feelings in a journey of trauma and grief is meeting someone who totally gets it.
We “totally got” a lot about each other.
Dano was her true love, her partner in life, her adventure buddy. There is no “reason” that, at 29 years of age she should lose this person, that she should be left with unfixable loss and indescribable pain. In her life and her experiences this loss is perilously similar to my loss of Molly. Not only is your person gone, but every plan you had, and every milestone you thought you would experience together is gone.
Every aspect of every day utterly decimated.
Does that sound harsh? Well, that’s because it is. As I led Caitlin through the workout, we shared our stories. While we have navigated grief quite differently, both of us could totally relate to and accept each other’s stories. While I lost myself in social media and those online connections, Caitlin isolated herself and sought comfort in the confines of home. While these are quite different approaches to grief navigation, we found connections in our need to “stay still”.
Stillness, for us, maintained balance and survival.
For me anything that evoked any feeling made me cry. This was true for her as well. The notion that any sudden movement or event or emotion would cause me to crumble was at times overwhelming. When I was explaining this to her, a look of complete and utter understanding crossed Caitlins face. She totally got it. She knew this feeling. She felt it.
The comfort this connection brought me is profound. I feel it still.
I then asked her to tell me about him. His name, what he did, how they met. Her face lit up and she began telling me about her wonderful person. While his name is Daniel, she calls him Dano. They met at a NOLS conference and essentially fell in love immediately. While they both had arrived at this conference with life plans, it wasn’t long before they combined their dreams and began their own wonderful adventure.
Did I mention they love nature?
A carpenter by trade, Dano was creative and skilled with his hands. True creators “see” with more than their eyes and it became clear as Caitlin spoke that Dano had a kind heart. As a restoration landscaper Caitlin spends her days preventing and correcting damage to our natural treasures, beaches, wetlands, mountains etc. She also has a kind heart.
I told her about Chaz.
Dano and Caitlin lived in Wyoming. I had visited Chaz there when he worked at Yellowstone. Slept outside under full moons, hiked at night in snowstorms, interacted with nature. It was Chaz who unplugged Molly. Her eyes widened at this piece of my story, much like mine widened at pieces of hers.
Joy in grief, happiness in sadness.
When class was done, (she did great by the way) we shared a hug. A hug that included tears. We exchanged information, we reveled in the magic of meeting one another. I so very needed to meet Caitlin, and she so very needed to meet me. At that moment, at that time, we were both open to this chance encounter.
Here is another seeming contradiction in the reality of me.
I was (and remain) SO HAPPY to have met Caitlin. I love meeting people with whom I can honestly share my story and know that I am understood and supported. So, meeting other grievers brings me joy. Does this mean I like that she is grieving? That her loss was a good thing because misery loves company? That I am grateful other people have suffered like me?
No not at all, except that yes kind of.
I would love nothing more that to take away Caitlins loss. To erase it so it never happened. But I can’t. And she cannot bring back Molly. What I can do, however, is provide her, and all of the “Caitlins” I meet with a truly empathetic ear. I can share and listen. I can sit in silence by her side. I can just “be”. And she can do the same for me. Our loss is here and it is forever. While sharing it does not lessen it, it does ease the isolation that accompanies losses like ours.
So, Caitlin, please know how utterly sorry I am for your loss of Dano. There is no reason in the universe that makes this ok.
And Caitlin, thank you, for sharing your beautiful story with me, and listening to mine.
To Molly and Dano, thank you as well, for sharing with us what you could, we will love you forever.