Saturday May 23, 2009 -- This morning an e-mail came
from my best friend of childhood. Kath doesn't write that often,
but she is good about letting me know when someone back home has
made their transition. Today I learned it was the father of one of
our closest childhood friends. Bill was 82 and had passed away on
Tuesday of this week after suffering from Alzheimers.
My first reaction was relief. Relief not only for Bill, but for his wife and family. Due to the nature of his illness, the last months could not possibly have been happy ones. At least now Bill's suffering was over and his respite has begun -- something to celebrate.
At the same time, I read the obit that was so thoughtfully chosen and appropriate for Bill, and I burst into unexpected tears. Although I hadn't seen this man in 37 years, it brought me right back to when I was a young girl, included in one of their family outings to the woods along the Wisconsin River. I recalled, almost as if it were yesterday, my delight and fascination with the unusual neighbor man who triggered my love of the outdoors.
The family had chosen a quote from Walden: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Such a fitting quote for the man I looked up to because his interests diverged from those around him. Unlike other fathers in the neighborhood who had jobs and went to work, Bill stayed home and worked as a time study engineer, designing office equipment and games. His wife worked full-time as a nurse.
He was a nature enthusiast who loved bird watching and often took his children and their companions on outings. He enjoyed classical music, poetry and encouraged reading and creativity. He had a profound influence on my life at an early age, I have no doubt about that.
I have been out of touch with the family for many years, especially since moving to Colorado in 1978. I suppose I have become somewhat philosophical in how I have dealt with other transitions in the last few years. I've lost old neighbor chums, cousins, uncles and close friends, not to mention my husband just nine months ago. So why this sudden flood of tears over someone in my distant past?
It is because my relationship with Bill, 26 years my senior, was on a soul level. There are all kinds of relationship transitions... divorce, losses such as with my husband, new relationships coming in with friends and all kinds of family members. Last year I gained a new grandchild. Each transition involves a new kind of adjustment in our lives.
Our challenge is being able to deal with those adjustments. Often, such as in the loss of a mate, there is a vast lifestyle change in the making. In my experience I was suddenly faced with loss of income in addition to losing a vital part of myself. In fusing my feelings with Bill's transition, I have come face to face with my inner child and how he contributed to my growth at an influential time in my life. I look back upon that experience with gratitude and fond memories.
In order to integrate a transition such as this one into your own life, you can reach out to the family members who must be dealing with it in a much more difficult way. They were close to their father while I was way outside the picture. Their pain is more intense, for sure. Letting them know that their father had such an impact on my life, perhaps by sending a note along with a sympathy card, expressing a happy memory, is one way I will deal with my own sadness. Better yet, a phone call may bring comfort.
Grief is more than just an emotion we experience when we lose someone. Grief comes into play when we lose a job, when we must move from a location we love, and even when our perspective changes on viewing a certain situation. Grief is not something to stifle and ignore. It requires acknowledgement, at least in some way, and tears have traditionally been the most healing pathway when we have lost something or someone in our lives.
In the future I will be looking at the other transitions in our lives, such as the role codependency plays when we get ourselves into relationships for less than good reasons, and how it can devastate us. There are also transitions within relationships that don't involve a relationship ending at all, but shifting to new levels.
Sooner or later, everyone has to face some kind of major transition in their lives. But it is not the end of the world. It may feel that way for a while, and in some cases, for some people, it can last for years. But there are ways to integrate these changes into our lives so that we come out richer and stronger, able to tackle the next one that comes along.
Bill's passing has stirred something inside of me and caused me to examine and acknowledge a part of me that grew into something I value because he was in my life, if even for a short period of time in comparison to the scale of things. I look back and can't help but smile when I think of the wonderful times we all had in the woods... I can still smell the fresh spring blossoms and autumn leaves after a rain, and I recall how Bill taught me the joy of nature and the wittiness of word play.
I'm sure I see him, in my mind's eye, whistling along a path in a green forest in the Great Beyond.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT my new column at the Denver Examiner, where you can find articles on Relationship Transition.
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