It seems that all roads lead back to grace and love.
For the past several days, I’ve watched as a community has shared collective grief over the untimely passing of one of its own– Joshua Wolff, who died yesterday from pancreatic cancer. Joshua was a highly regarded jazz pianist and even more, a great spirit who clearly touched the hearts of many. From the time of his diagnosis, just over a week ago, to his death yesterday, Joshua’s friends and family have held a constant vigil on Facebook. The outpouring has been extraordinary and deeply moving. The grief is wrenching and the love is huge. Although I met Joshua once, I did not know him. But within this devastating loss, I recognize something familiar that is both beautiful and inherently hopeful.
A little less than a year ago, my son’s best friend Nap was involved in an accident that ultimately took his life. Similar to Joshua, we held Nap in space, time and love for several days. He died a little over a week before his nineteenth birthday. Now, as we approach the one-year anniversary of his accident, everything is still very vivid to me: the shock, the disorientation, the fumbling just to get through the day and the tsunami of raw, unrelenting anguish. But I also remember a prevailing sense of tenderness. In the chaos of confusion and despair, we all shared an almost magical sense of fluidity and ease with each other. Grace. We were beaten down and stripped bare. There were no egos or barriers. There were none of those stubborn obstacles– the usual crap that snags all of us from time to time–keeping us apart. In the face of our bewilderment, the only sure thing was love. And we clung to it. We’re still clinging to it.
Over the years, grief has become a familiar visitor. My father (who also succumbed to pancreatic cancer–the bitch mother of all cancers), my dear friend Lisa, my neighbor David and my son Zeppo all died way too soon. In the case of Lisa and Zeppo, their deaths were sudden and especially tragic. While all of these losses created their own unique pain and upheaval, the transcendent qualities of grace and love were the same. When we lose a loved one, we are robbed of the usual landmarks. We are fragile and naked. Yet somehow we return to something that is fundamental to our being. We are both grounded and floating. We are ripped wide open and, oddly, we are free.
Grief stops us in our tracks and demands attention. It is a force of nature that requires us to let go completely. When someone we love dies, grief is the only sure path to our healing. When we are free of the bondage of all the bullshit that doesn’t matter–the gig that went bust, the unanswered text, the asshole in traffic, stress over money–our compassion for others and for ourselves is limitless. We see clearly and our hearts can remain open, no matter how dark the pain is.
As I was standing on the porch on the morning of my son’s memorial, I felt an ethereal sense of expansiveness. Although I honestly don’t have words to adequately express that very brief moment, I felt that I’d been given a glimpse of the big picture. And the resounding message was to love. It’s really all that any of us are here to do: to love fiercely and enormously. That message has always stuck with me but being human and innately messy, I lose sight of it sometimes.
I think that love is the reason that we’re here and that grace is how our loved ones live on within us. The road always leads back to these. It’s how we find our way home again.
“Compassion is the heart’s response to sorrow. We share in the beauty of life and in the ocean of tears. The sorrow of life is part of each of our hearts and part of what connects us with one another. It brings with it tenderness, mercy and an all-embracing kindness that can touch every being.”
– Jack Kornfield