My Eyes Into Yours, Painting by Kelly Eddington
Afterward, I felt I had to close off my heart to protect myself from hurt and harm. But the opposite turned out to be true. I just needed to take it a day at a time. Each day of grief was different. Some days were full, like when I was surrounded by family and friends who made me laugh as we celebrated all that was good and cantankerous and funny about him. Some days I allowed myself to just feel the pain.
And then one night I gave a speech at a Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. I had heard too many people debate whether it was cruel to give cancer patients too much hope. Was hope just a means of denial. I knew how much hope meant to me, and so I wrote a speech that I became very passionate about called “Sometimes Hope Is A Strategy.” After my address, there was a long line of people waiting to talk to me and share their stories of impending death–more important–their stories of hope. Who cares about denial; we all need hope. We were bound together by it.
I stayed until I had spoken to every single person in that line. And then I felt it, the presence of that mysterious heart overflowing. I had become so open that it emanated from me. I could feel it and they could feel it, too. People were drawn to that inexplicable energy. They wanted to touch me, to shake my hand or caress my face, or ask me for a hug. And with each hug or handshake, or tear I wiped away from another’s cheek, I knew the answer was not in closing myself off, but in allowing myself to be vulnerable. I became open to connecting to the needs of others. To assure and be reassured. To love and to be loved. That is the healing I am hoping we can find in this divided world today. I want to return to that mysterious, inexplicable healing energy. It is more powerful than weapons of war.
I was reminded in that moment of the feeling of gratitude that I had somehow reached during Roger’s illness. It was such an unexpected gift amid the shock. But once he became clear in his conviction to live life a day at a time and relaxed into this attitude of gratitude, we both were able to breathe a little easier. We journeyed to a presence of love that needed no words, just the feeling of unconditional acceptance. Sometimes imperfect, but always imperfectly perfect.
Today I sit in contemplation and open my heart to the empathy Roger said we all need to practice in order to live together harmoniously. It is that place of wholeness and healing that I am holding out for in this world on this the tenth anniversary of his leave of presence. Roger and I both felt that it was goodness, not sadness, that causes us to well up with emotion. To know that someone is so good that they want to reach out to alleviate the suffering of others. Or when the bigness of a heart can forgive the wrongs of another and leave space for redemption and a return to the presence of love, a space of nonjudgmental healing.