I received an email last week, and in the first four words, I was drawn into a deeply emotional time. Those 4 words?
“I have terrible news.”
An old friend and colleague was writing about the death of her husband, best friend, life partner and father to her 6 month old infant. He lost his courageous battle with cancer.
My heart was heavy.
She’s been in my thoughts for days, and today was the memorial service for her husband, and I attended with my 7-days-away-from-being-6 year old son, whose energy I thought would balance out what was going to be a difficult afternoon for me, and everyone else there.
Within minutes of my arrival, our eyes met. And then they were teary. I knew her husband, in as much as you ever really know a friend’s partner. But I was there for her. And she knew it. We had a long embrace – with her infant son in her arms and mine wrapping around my leg it was a true “mom” hug. We both needed it.
She is a classy woman. When we get older, she’ll be a “dame”. That’s how she rolls.
But fuck it is hard to be in a room full of grieving family members and to be holding, nursing and now single parenting what remains of their loved one.
Her husband was a Grateful Dead fanatic, and even though the priest mentioned how he was a “non-conformist” there were moments when I felt that this whole service was not really a reflection of him. This stuffy, small room with the shitty acoustics. I got a bit lost in my own thoughts.
But then the preacher did something I didn’t expect. Over the sniffles, occasional sob and general rustling of purses and kleenex, he said,
“We’ve heard some very moving speeches, but I think we need a rest. Let’s listen to some music. This was one of Jim’s favourites, an old Dead tune.”
I looked up. I admit I was shocked.
He said, “hey man, I was a deadhead long before I was a preacher”.
We listened. I hugged my son close and he grooved to the music.
And now, I get it. From deadhead to preacher, it is the people we meet, and the people we love, that define us. Most days, I work really hard to cure disease, save the whales, protect women from violence, feed the hungry, give help and hope to people who need it.
Today, I couldn’t really say or do anything to ease the agony my long time friend is feeling. After all, when you lose your life partner a little piece of you dies too. But not their relationship. Not our relationship.
It is our relationships that define us.
In our sector, we build relationships between people and what they believe. Between people and what they love. What is most precious to them.
Respect those relationships, nourish that love and let those who care most deeply for your cause help you change the world we live in.