I have a friend who has been struggling every single day since the murder of his son. The man is doing his very best to deal with the reality of what has happened to him and his family, but life has mostly been a rollercoaster ride since that fateful night in July. So many things remind him of his son and the times that might have been. So it is with each of us who have lost significant people in our lives. We eventually heal from our wounds, but small things can tear off the scabs and cause our hearts to bleed even when we think that we have overcome our sorrows.
The triggers that do these things are different for each of us, unique to our personal experiences. It may be a sound or a smell or a memory that rouses our feelings and reignites the pain that lies mostly dormant until that moment. I’ve known people who cannot listen to certain songs or think of particular places without becoming emotional. For me the month of May lurks like a marauder in my memory, threatening to bring me down without warning. It was on the last day of that month in nineteen fifty seven that my father so suddenly died.
While I am long past the gut wrenching grief that enveloped me back then there is a kind of regret that nibbles at me each time we enter the month of my father’s passing into eternity. I think of how he was a young man of thirty three forever frozen in time while I have grown old. I wonder how he might have marveled at the progress of the world. Would he be driving an electric car? What would he think of his grandchildren and great grandchildren? What kind of wonderful discussions might I have with him like he often had with his own father?
Mostly the month itself is a time that I have to muscle through. Some years are better than others. The final moments before I retired were not so good because in that May my mother was dying and she would leave the world only days after I had officially left my job. The party that my daughters had planned for me had to be cancelled. There was no celebrating that year, only sorry once again. Last May it was my dear Aunt Valeria who died near the anniversary of my father’s death. She had been the one who broke the news of his demise to me when I was eight years old. She had been a stalwart in my life and losing her was harder than I had ever imagined it would be.
May is doing no better this year at distracting me or keeping me feeling optimistic. News that one million Americans have died from Covid has shattered my joy at least for the moment. I wonder how many of these souls might have lived if we had genuinely joined together as a nation to make every possible sacrifice to keep our population well. It is mind boggling to think of how much pain and sorrow a tiny virus has wrought, but also to realize that many of these deaths happened after we had readily available vaccines.
The war in Ukraine has kept me in a continuous state of anxiety. The Slavic people there look and sound so much like my grandmother who once lived just across the border from them in Slovakia. I weep at the images of destruction and the dead and dying that continue without pause. I try to imagine the terror and horror of having to leave the safety and calm of my home because invaders are attacking me and my neighbors for no good reason. It feels so wrong to only watch what is happening but what else am I to do aside from sending support for medical supplies and praying that God will stop the madness, end the death with a miracle?
Eighteen years ago my beloved mother-in-law, Mary, died just before Christmas. I have missed her so, but our family carried on just as people always do. My father-in-law met a sweet woman named Janell who helped him to set aside his sorrow. They married sixteen years ago and their time together has been fun and good for both of them. It took awhile for me to call this lady my mother-in-law but when I saw how much joy she brought to our Papa, I knew that she deserved the honor of that designation. I too have enjoyed her presence in our lives. We talk just like Mary and I used to do, but the conversations are different. We speak of decorating and cooking and where to find good shopping deals. She is fun and happy and I like being with her. I love her.
Now in the month of May that so often weighs heavily on my spirit my new mother-in-law is dying. Her heart is slowly failing her and the doctors can do no more. Her suffering is great and it is difficult to watch her discomfort. I am reminded once again of how fragile we all are and how important it is for each of us to treasure the time that we have.
May is a reminder that all of our fighting and disagreements are a waste of the precious moments that we are allotted on this earth. Instead of battling with those who differ from ourselves we should be building legacies of understanding and acceptance and peace. We don’t have to own power but we should possess love. Our eyes should be on the future of our families and the world at large. We should be willing to sacrifice and compromise to provide as many people as possible with a fair chance of finding happiness and security. That means setting aside our fears and our prejudices and working together while we can because the Mays of our lives will ultimately catch up with us all. Each of us will one day be that soul drawing a final breath. In that moment my hope is that we can let go knowing that we have done everything possible to leave behind a world even better than the one that we entered on the day of our birth.