December 18th – it is a day etched into the calendar of my emotional body for many reasons now. The interesting thing about grief and loss is that there can be many conscious as well as unconscious thoughts and feelings and all of them are available to observe, discover, and process if you choose to do that instead of ignoring or stuffing them away. So this day – December 18th – brought extra invitation to do this.
Recently, a friend from my days of running marathons contacted me (and the group of us running buddy friends) by email with the news that Ziva, our friend Josh and Sarah’s daughter had been undergoing, and continued to undergo treatment for acute leukemia. My heart almost stopped remembering my own experience with this disease in my own family many years earlier when my little brother went through treatment and shockingly died within a few months. It flooded my body with the pain of helplessness, with the sadness of loss, and with the memories of holidays spent in his hospital room.
We heard of her passing on December 18th and the memorial was planned for December 23rd. Just a few years earlier my Dad had died on this day and we also had his funeral on December 23rd. Again, memories flooded my body.
I noticed my sadness spiral beginning. I then added to this spiral the thought that December 18th would have been my 20th wedding anniversary if I had stayed in my marriage. The failure of divorce and the loss of this relationship began to pile on top of all of the other swirling memories of loss.
If left to the unconscious, my action would have been to continue spiraling downward, buy a bottle or two of wine to numb these feelings and continue to make a “fuzzy” reality of what I was feeling.
Instead, in conscious awareness as I continued to feel the piling on of feelings arise, I said to myself “this is not about me” and began to let that part of my heart that knows some of this pain of loss reach out to my friend’s family. I took steps to clear my schedule in order to attend the memorial and be with my friends. The thing about the heart is that it has a strength beyond comprehension if we move into the pure expression of compassion.
Once I had made this declaration, “this is not about me,” I began to feel many other, more strengthening and positive things arise as the days progressed. The sad memories began to recede and I connected much more with the love I have of this family of friends that I reconnected with that would never have become my friends if my own life had not been touched by Leukemia with the loss of my brother. We all met each other in Team in Training, a program that raises money for the Leukemia Society of America. We became a family quickly and did lots and lots and lots of running together in long 24 hour relays (Hood to Coast and Napa to Santa Cruz) as well as ran several marathons together. If you are a runner you understand how everything about your life becomes about the running (eating together, traveling, tending injuries etc.)
The memorial was beautiful, heart wrenching, sweet, funny, and sacred. I came away from the day feeling strengthened. It was a long day and required most of the day spent in SF bay area traffic. Any other day might have been a grind to do this but I had my friends to talk to and catch up with and share our sadness together. Time in the car on the way back home to Sacramento gave me time to be with all of the tribute to this amazing little girl Ziva, and reflect on all that grief invites us into, to feel what you are feeling, and find meaning in this experience.
In Josh and Sarah’s faith, the day of the memorial marked the start of Hanukkah, a time of light! For many days afterwards I felt a great strength and light brought by the tribute to this young life, love of family, and recognizing that my own grief had been made lighter by connecting in love and support with my friends.