Today, I had lunch with a friend. I will call him John in this post. About a year ago, he and his wife went through the unthinkable tragedy of losing their baby twins through an illness. It was one of those situations where there was truly nothing they could have done to change the outcome. And the probability of that outcome, that they would lose both babies, was so slim. It was a one-in-a-million event, and it happened to my friend.
When John and his wife lost their twins, I went to the wake and saw that many people had come to pay respects and to support them. Such a large family… and so many friends because the couple had been both born and raised in northeast Ohio. And it’s like that often – when tragedy strikes, your community rallies around you. But as time passes, all that energy and attention taper off, and you are left alone to deal with the grief.
I reached out to John a few month later around January to check in on him and invited him out to lunch. He was still the friendly guy I knew, but the events from last fall had changed him. I could see him trying to live out day to day, struggling, but what could I say to the person who lost his twins? We ate, caught up on a few community items, and then I went into listening mode for most of the conversation.
As you know, things have been topsy turvy in my life for the last few months, so I didn’t have a chance to really take care of anyone around me. Now that things are calming down a bit, I reached out to John again and asked him to lunch. We started out talking shop about investments and our jobs, but the topic of John’s grief hung over our heads. During an appropriate pause in the conversation, I asked him about how he has been doing. He wore the same expression as he did back in January… one of sorrow and resignation. “I have to live with it,” he said. And again, there was nothing I could say. Only listen.
He asked me what’s been going on in my life. I caught him up on what happened to Jeff, losing Jeff’s mother, and losing Maris. I told him the story of how unlikely Jeff’s survival was for a situation where the aorta had already started to rupture. All the things that had to be in the right place for him to be alive today. How it felt like a one-in-a-million event. And then for a moment there, we looked at each other and I felt the cruel irony of our lunch. Both of us had experienced a one-in-a-million event with completely different outcomes. Mine was happy, his was devastating. I couldn’t tell him that things will get better because I no longer felt like it was my place to. Being on the receiving end of an improbable blessing, what could I tell a person who was on the receiving end of an improbable tragedy? He knew what I was thinking the moment I thought it. He caught the irony of it, too. John is such a nice guy – he just smiled and looked down at his plate.
Through all the troughs of my life, I had told myself, “this, too, shall pass” and rode the waves. Up and down, up and down. Sometimes that trough could last a long time… a while back when I was younger, I thought maybe there was a streak of shadow that I could never get rid of, and that I would have to live with it for the rest of the my life. In those days, you can’t fathom that there would be an ‘up.’ And you wonder when shall this pass? John’s grief is so deep and the experience so tragic that he must not be able to fathom a day when he wouldn’t think of the twins. The grief must stretch as far as the eye can see at this point in time. I couldn’t really tell him that this, too, shall pass.
I wanted this blog to be about joy because that is what my marriage to Jeff has brought into my life. And joy is also Maris’s legacy. But for my friend, I dare not speak of joy because it is the furthest thing from his mind. The best I could say was “take your time. A year is not a long period of time. Take all the time you need. And in the meantime, I will be praying for you.”