“And the world will be better for this
“And the world will be better for this
On 8-8-08 I married the love of my life. I lost him tragically and so unexpectedly on 12-07-09. Some people say there is a limit to grieving. To them I say, “You have never lost a piece of your heart.” Surely some losses are easier than others to go through. But, when you lose that special someone, you will be spending some considerable time mourning and grieving. Even when you think you are finished, you aren’t. There will always be that street called familiar. Perhaps you’ll hear a favorite song, or notice something very special that was once your loved one’s, that will start the grief again.
And if you are one whose loss is fresh; as in it happened yesterday or a few weeks ago, or just over there in the distant past; I want you to know that here is one who truly understands.
Turning back to a page of my own story, not sure of the exact page, but somewhere way back now, about 5 years ago when the loss of my own beloved was so, so, so fresh, I found sleep to be elusive. Grief tormented me.
Oh to have a word or a way to come to terms with this pain. My heart and mind could not find lovely words to use to explain how to cope. A friend of mine did find those words. They are “keeping my heart open”. In retrospect, flipping back through these pages, that is what you are doing as you travel through this tumultuous time in your life.
You see, I had never been in this place of deep loss before. Never (even though I have had other losses in my life) had I been in such stark, raving grief. Not knowing what to do or what to say. Exhausted. Trying to come to terms. Scared and in pain. Still in love, but so terribly alone. Yes, still in love! Night after night, and day after day, because at some point I didn’t know if it was night or day. Still holding on to the essence of that pure and perfect person who had entered my life and now left me so suddenly and without warning—with no chance to prepare and no chance to say goodbye. My life and times of being unconditionally loved and desired now gone, just like that.
I could tell more, but I will stop except to say, “Yes, I still love him, still live with the soul of that love.”
Is this perchance your story? I call this whirlwind of emotion a dance with the Divine. Only at times, I feel like God is playing my 33 1/3 album at the speed of a 45 single, and I’m still trying to do the two-step. And I don’t feel like bopping and all of that snapping of my fingers and doing the jitterbug. I go on because grief has a way of making us feel that we must, that we have no choice.
Looking back, I know that agony was a time of learning how to “keep my heart open.”
At the time, crying, and more crying, was all I could do.
This is what I know now: tears are the only way our soul can speak when it is so profoundly and deeply hurt. Tears are the only language the mourning soul has. Let them flow. It is okay! Let your soul say all it wants. We dared to love, and love is huge. It has many expressions, times, and ways. So wonderful! When we feel its loss, our grieving reveals wounds that never show up on the body. But they are there, deep and more hurtful than anything that bleeds!
So, my grieving Sister or Brother, no more words for now. Please know that yours is a dance with the Divine. Just like with any other long, emotional dance, there are going to be some physiologic things that will happen; they are the adaptive responses of our bodies. Not being able to sleep is one. Headaches, fast heartbeats, and sweats are a few of the others.
Both your soul and your body are learning how to deal with grief and loss. Things like sleep and rest and good food can help the body.
But what of your your soul? It still has some pages to write. Let it! Even while life somehow is still going on around you, it will write on. God made us that way. The sun still will come up and day will come. The sun will go down and night will come. But during this time of pain and sorrow, the soul doesn’t understand all that. It just knows what it knows, and you will have no choice but to let your grieving soul take the time it needs.
During these five years, I have learned there are some things that will come. Grief is like a river, it flows until at some point you can come to a place where you can allow yourself to catch up with the speed of life. Now I know why God has put banks on the sides of rivers. As with any river, grief may overflow its banks at times. Don’t worry. Allow yourself the time you need to learn again how to “Keep Your Heart Open.” Know that it is still a dance, and you will learn the steps to this dance, too. Like the river, flow along and “Keep Your Heart Open.”
I hope these words give you some relief, for a moment or two, or maybe more. Day by day, you too will learn just how to “Keep Your Heart Open!”
Louise Malbon-Reddix is the Author of Stand In Your Anointment-This Too Shall Pass. It was written with the hope of coming along side of others to help and guide safely as they navigate through a time of unimaginable pain, grief and misery.
My great uncle had just celebrated his eighty-second birthday but he was dressed in his old police uniform, resting in the kitchen of his house on Chicago’s south side. Until my sister lifted me, all I could see was a fair allowance of flowers and his nose sticking up past the rim of his coffin. I recall thinking that old people sure had a lot of hair in their noses. It was that night, at his wake, after the grown-ups offered fifty-thee “Hail Mary’s” and more than a few toasts from some bottles of Jameson’s, that I first heard the word “banshee”. The deceased was from the Walsh side of the family, a common surname indicating that some ancestor had once emigrated from Wales to Ireland.
The Walsh brothers, and one sister, my grandmother, traveled one by one from Ballylongford in County Kerry to Chicago, the lads each joining the Windy City’s constabulary soon after stepping off the train from New York. The last to arrive, in 1889, was little Mary Ellen. Twenty-three years later, that girl with the black pin curls and Irish brogue became my mother’s mother after marrying Edward Conners, an Episcopalian member of the Ó Conchobhair clan. She liked to say that she had rescued him from several generations of Orangemen who had so “miserably butchered” the family name. According to my aunts, Catholicism was Grandma’s gift to Edward and the O’Conchobhair (O’Connor) banshee was his gift to her. Grandpa could be forgiven for saying there was too much superstition among the Catholics. Too often, that was true. Being devout was not the same as being well instructed. On the other hand, it was his family that claimed to have a banshee.
Given the times and the Troubles, my grandparents seem to have done a remarkable job of removing bigotry, resentment, and prejudice from their lives. Edward, a bridge tender for the railroad, admired the dedication that his wife’s Catholic brothers put into keeping the peace. When Prohibition arrived, they all had enough rank to make sure you could still even have a drink in peace. They may have been guilty of accepting some “gratuities” but they weren’t afraid to put their lives on the line. One of them died in the line of duty trying to rescue a young girl who was being attacked in an alley. Grandma shared her husband’s religious tolerance. She admired the pioneering spirit of Grandpa’s family and would at least allow that the outhouses in England probably didn’t smell any worse than the ones in Ireland.
Grandma was not altogether unfamiliar with Protestants even in a Catholic village as small as Ballylongford. She grew up only a few doors away from the childhood home of Horatio Herbert Kitchener, First Earl of Khartoum, and Great Britain’s Secretary of State for War. While city folk might dismiss Ballylongford as merely a wide spot on a road that followed the estuary of the River Shannon, our family knew it was home to Earl Kitchener, home to the former Jesuit writer Malachi Martin, and home to Grandmother Mary Ellen Walsh Conners. It was also the first village in Ireland to have a refrigerator for their pub. Nobody from Cork or Dublin or Derry could claim any of that!
Some of this might have been part of the conversation the night of my great uncle’s wake. I only remember bits and pieces, scenes frozen forever in my mind, snippets of conversation. I was a child, and had the scene not seemed so very peculiar to me, I might have forgotten it entirely. Perhaps the only reason I remember any of it was that I was quite sure we never ever kept a dead guy in the kitchen at our house.
“Did he hear the banshee?” my mother asked. No doubt, some of the retired cops in the room smiled, perhaps even smirked at the question. I don’t recall. What I do remember is my Aunt Harriet saying, “She means was he prepared.” At the time I couldn’t begin to imagine how one prepares to recline and remain motionless in a wooden box while dozens of folks cry, laugh, pray and talk about you.
The Walsh brothers may have scoffed at the notion, but to my mother, the banshee was very real, a family spirit that came to help you prepare for death. Apparently there is no Walsh family banshee, but the tradition of the O’Conchobhair Banshee has been passed on for centuries. The O’Briens, the O’Neills and the O’Gradys each had their family banshee. The Fitzgeralds, I was told, were not allowed to have one. I don’t know if that was a blessing or a curse. Often in literature and film, a banshee is a terrifying creature. To some Irish families, a banshee is a fairy-like being. To others it is a frightful female spirit that sounds like the mournful keeners at an Irish funeral. Our family banshee was always portrayed as an angelic spirit who came with a beautiful song to remind you to repent, to forgive, and to let go of earthly attachments. My grandmother claimed to hear the banshee shortly before she died.
The tradition of the banshee goes well past the shores of Ireland. It can be found in Scotland and Wales and some Vikings even carried tales of the banshees back to Norway. Once out of Ireland, banshees appear to no longer tie themselves to clans or families.
According to my mother, Grandma Conners attended Mass every Sunday before praying the rosary. After that, it was her tradition to sing as she prepared Sunday brunch for her husband, son, and five daughters. The song she sang was always the same, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”. “I never heard that song in Ireland,” she would say, “but I think it’s so beautiful. If ever I hear the banshee, I pray she will sing something beautiful like that.”
I don’t know if Grandma really heard a banshee. I don’t know if they are the stuff of fairy tales or actual manifestations of heavenly spirits. What I suspect is that in a society where we tend to avoid thinking or discussing preparation for death, the song of the O’Conchobhair banshee might just be worth hearing. The simple fact is that sooner or later we all die. I suspect that no matter what we believe, or even if we believe in nothing at all, we would probably have a better death if first we forgive others and let go of our resentments and earthly attachments. Like it or not, the day of the banshee is seldom as distant as we want to believe. My own hope is that some spirit will remind me of all that before I get stuffed into a wooden box, be it in a Chicago kitchen or elsewhere.
T.R. Heinan is the author of L’immortalité: Madam Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen, a reflection on justice and compassion set in the historical context of a haunting 19th century New Orleans legend.http://www.amazon.com/LImmortalite-Madame-Lalaurie-Voodoo-Queen/dp/0615634710