by Laura Crum
I’m talking about the “rug” that gets jerked out from under your feet. It can happen to anyone. I just read a facebook post by Sheryl Sandberg. (Sent to me by a facebook friend—thank you Maryben Stover.) Sheryl Sandberg is facebook’s COO and was married to the CEO of Survey Monkey. They had children, they were no doubt quite wealthy, they knew lots of famous people, they were apparently well liked and a happy couple. They had, in short, all that the material world could offer in terms of happiness and security. And yet, Sheryl Sandberg had the rug jerked out from under her feet, just the same as if she had none of these benefits. Her husband, who was only 47 years old, died suddenly in a freak accident.
Her post about her grief and her struggle to carry on touched my heart. So many of the things she said resonated for me, and remind me of my own struggle since my husband died. Many of her insights resemble my own. Her sense that she wanted to share her thoughts in case they might help someone else is the exact reason that I have also written about my grief and my journey. In short, I am not alone. None of us who walk this path of deep loss are alone. We just feel alone.
Sheryl Sandberg and her story remind me to be grateful for what I have been given. My husband lived to be 64. We had seventeen years together as a happy couple. We also had some warning that he would die and so were able to prepare a little. He was with our son until our boy was fourteen. And he left us financially very secure, which helps us to go on with our life now. Of course, none of this takes away my grief, but for a fact, gratitude does help. The more I remember to be grateful for the happy life I have had, and for the gifts that I still have because of Andy, the sweeter and cleaner my grief becomes.
And more and more I am aware that the rug gets jerked out from under everyone eventually. It’s just a matter of when. Whether your spouse dies or your child or your parent that means the world to you or your beloved dog—even if you live to a good age and NONE of this happens to you—eventually you face the loss of your happy life. And this is assuming that you (like me) are lucky enough to consider your life happy. Because if you live to a ripe old age untouched by tragic loss, you will face the loss of your health and independence.
A certain wealthy old man that I know is just now (in his 80’s) dealing with moving from his longtime home into assisted living, and his sadness is palpable. The independent businessman, the world traveler, the happy gardener…these are no more. Ill health, doctor visits, giving up his beloved house—this is the stuff of his daily life. His wife is gone, his girlfriend is gone. His grown children visit him—but he doesn’t smile to see them. He doesn’t smile much at all. And this is a man nearing the end of a very long life in which he had all the benefits that the world can offer. But the rug is still being jerked from under his feet.
Slowly but surely my own woe-is-me-why-did-this-happen-to-me emotion is being transformed into gratitude for what I have been given and love for what is here now. Along with understanding that this is part of the basic human condition. I am always reminded of the woman who went to the Buddha because her son had died and she could not bear losing him. She begged the Buddha to bring him back to life.
The Buddha said he would do this if she would bring him the ashes from a house fire in a home that had not known death. The woman went to every house in her village, but everywhere the answer was the same. “No, my mother died-- no, my husband died-- no, my sister committed suicide…etc”
In the end she understood. She went back to the Buddha accepting that her grief was part of the human condition. I’m pretty sure that didn’t change how deeply she missed her son. But it does change the bitterness of woe-is-me-why-me.
For me the truth comes down to facing my loss and trying to walk the path I’m meant to be on. I believe that my husband’s spirit transcends his death and that our love for each other remains. I believe that our relationship continues—but in a different form. That’s my belief, and it comforts me. But whether or not I’m right about this, there is one thing I know for sure.
I am not in control of much of anything. None of us are. As I started out to say, the rug can be jerked out from under anyone at any time. You can lose your spouse, your child, your health, your financial security, your home…etc. At any moment. Without warning. There is NOTHING you can do or achieve that will protect you from this basic truth of life.
Equally you can believe anything you want about God and spiritual reality…etc, but you cannot make or prove these things true. You have to trust. You have to walk in the dark.
But there is one thing you can be sure of. One thing you are in control of absolutely. This is what I have discovered and I tell myself every day.
I can choose to love. I can choose to love my husband and our son and this little life we’ve made together. No matter what happens I can choose to love. As long as this entity exists that I recognize as myself, I can love those that I love. Not even God can do anything about this—except by causing “me” to cease to exist. As long as I exist I can love what I choose to love. No one can stop me. It is absolutely in my control.
This truth is a great comfort to me. When I feel most lost I repeat it to myself. I can love my husband and son and this life we’ve made together. Even if I am given not one more single message or sign that Andy is with me, I can still choose to love him. I can still choose to trust that he is with me. Even if my world collapses around me, even if the asteroid wipes out the planet, as long as I exist in any way that I recognize I can choose to love. And so can we all.
Not that making this choice transforms me—or anyone else—into some kind of saint. I may choose to love, but like everyone else in the human condition, I have my baggage. I am quick to anger; my chain is jerked by anxiety. I may be sorry, every single day, for the ways I have failed to act loving. And circumstances beyond my control may make it impossible for me to protect and care for those I love the way I would wish. I can do nothing in the face of many disasters but remain true to my choice to love.
This is one rug that cannot be jerked away.
I love you, Andy.