Since I last wrote we have had a 10 ½ month friend die and a young man, my daughter’s age, get some potentially devastating news.
Each event has challenged me. How to stay present to my friends and not be overwhelmed? What is the best way to help? How to accept that sometimes there simply is nothing to understand?
Our baby friend was seriously ill in hospital when we went away for our summer camping holiday. Prior to going camping I had been popping into the hospital as I could, just to say hello and sit with them for a while.
When I was camping, I initially struggled with being away enjoying myself while they were in Auckland experiencing a very personal sort of hell. I ended up giving myself a talking to about making sure I enjoyed the opportunity I had. All the while knowing that there was nothing I could do to help anyway. Such a feeling of helplessness though.
As I thought about it some more I decided I would at least send a daily text – just to say, “You are not forgotten”. So when I climbed the hill to change the freezer pads at the communal freezer I would also gather at the site where I could get signal – where we could all get signal actually. It was a hilarious sight to see us all there pointing our mobile phones skyward from the hill, waiting and hoping for communication release! I would briefly say what we were up to at our end – a quick chat – and then carry on into my day. The occasional return text assured me of the delight of ‘normal’ communication and of being kept in touch with.
When I returned to Auckland the visits continued and I would stay light and present during the hospital time and then cry on my way home - nothing to do, nothing to say.
My friend does beautiful drawings and it occurred to me that drawing might be one way for her to stay grounded during her experience, especially if they were in this for the long haul. I asked if she would like to do this and one day I took in several sketch books and a bunch of crayons.
It didn’t end up being a long haul – our beautiful baby friend died late January and we attended one of the most exquisite funeral ceremonies I have been to. At this time we got to say good bye to her and to honour her Mum & Dad.
We don’t expect to have to say good bye to a baby and to grieve with parents whose hopes and dreams have been so radically changed by such a loss. It was a time of deep reflection for us all – both during her illness, as we offered our prayers and meditations and readings, and at her death.
And the drawings – well I may be privileged to see them one day - or not - as the case may be. However they were begun and are being continued. As someone outside the situation I could be an observer and make a suggestion around self care, without it needing to be a magic cure.
Our other friend is an inspiring go-getter and leaves the rest of us behind with his matter-of-factness. At a much younger age than I, he is teaching me that sometimes there are no ‘reasons’, there is nothing to understand. Life just is, so just get on with it. I want to look for reasons, for understanding – because if I did, surely there would be something I could do to make it all better again!
I still don’t get the WHY of these events. I DO get that staying in touch, acknowledging what is going on rather than pretending it isn’t, staying grounded myself and present to my own living, all help.
Sometimes there is nothing to understand. There is something that can be said and done.
Arohanui Kerry-Ann (www.kerryannstanton.com)
Juxtaposed with these events were two heartening ones.
On the day I heard of our baby friend’s death I was doing a naming ceremony for a small boy the same age. As one family grieved, another family and their circle of extended family and friends, joyfully welcomed their small boy into the world and their community.
I have also been helping a friend make a scrap cot quilt for her first grandchild. I knew her daughter as a small child and looked after her with my own daughter. Making this quilt has been a form of prayer for me – keeping me in creative action and soothing my soul.
Indeed the yum/yuck of life as I call it.
After thought: Poems can offer solace. These two moved me.
God be with the mother (father) by Michael Leunig. Find it in A Common Prayer – a cartoonist talks to God, Michael Leunig, HarperCollinsReligious, 1990
A small wave for your form by Mhairi nic Neill. Find it in Life Prayers, ed. E. Roberts & E. Amidon, Harper, San Francisco, 1996