Today is my birthday, and don’t birthdays have a way of making one reflect and take stock? They do me. But I never quite know where that reflection will take me, so let’s see, shall we?
My Best Beloved, Ron, gave me a beautiful card this morning with a painting by Emily Carr on in. It’s called, B.C. Forest, and it’s a beautiful, mysterious, and somewhat dark wood. Inside, he wrote a lovely note, as he does every year, but this one was a little different than the note he usually writes. My Best Beloved, you see, is an incurable optimist and cheerleader. He is the Tigger of our household, while I am more of a hopeful Eyore. So generally, My Best Beloved’s birthday notes talk about how fantastic the past year has been, how much I’ve accomplished, and how thrilled he is with my many success. I admit, I sometimes look at these notes with affectionate confusion, delighted he thinks I’ve done so well, grateful for his enthusiasm, but baffled by his memory, which clearly incorporates a rosier-tinted glass than does mine. But this year his note said: “This has been a year of exploration and discovery.”
Huh, I thought — so it really was that crappy, wasn’t it?
And it has been a tough year. I suffered a couple of heartbreaking professional setbacks, a depression that was bad enough that My Best Beloved finally encouraged me to see professional help (which I did and I’m much better now, thanks), my Aunt Helen, the last of my relatives on my adopted father’s side of the family, passed away after a long battle with Alzeimher’s, and then, in April, just when I was crawling out of the dark wood, my brother, Ronnie, killed himself.
As some of you already know, Ronnie’s suicide was made all the more hideous because my other brother, Bernie, also killed himself in April, twelve years ago. Both brothers died as a direct result of drug addiction and alcoholism, a disease from which I also suffer, although I have been clean and sober for thirteen years.
So perhaps I’m even more reflective than normal this year. Ya think?
And yet. And yet. There have been moments of extraordinary grace in the middle of this dark year. One came when, at my parent’s request, I gave Ronnie’s eulogy (which, if you’re interested, you can read it here). I had no idea if I was going to be able to get through it without breaking down and cracking wide open, right there, for all to see. I had, in fact, told my step-mother — beautiful, gentle, adored Carmen — that if she heard me muttering something while I waited to get up and speak, it would be because I was singing, “I am stuck on band-aid, and band-aid’s stuck on me,” the most ridiculous thing I could think of, just to keep myself from sobbing. Several times during the singing and the homily, both of us were muttering that absurd phrase, holding hands, holding ourselves together.
And then the time came for me to speak. As I walked up to the altar, where Ronnie’s handsome, smiling face looked out at me from his photo in the silver frame next to the urn containing his ashes, the congregation shuffled and fussed a bit, and a baby in the third pew whined. I took my place and raised my eyes. For a moment, I was speechless. I had never seen so many people in a church. Every pew was packed, people stood along the walls, the choir loft was jammed, and out in the narthex they crammed around the door, which was open, and spilled out onto the lawn beyond. 500 people? 600? Friends of mine, Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds, had driven from another province to be there, and I found their faces in the crowd, next to Terri O’Shaughnessy, an old friend who lived in the same town as my Dad and Step-Mum.
How to describe this? The entire church hushed and my heart hushed with it. A strange calm poured over me. It was as though a trap door had opened over my head and a warm, honey-like veil floated over me. All would be well, and all manner of things would be well.
I had told My Best Beloved, and my father and step-mother, that I might not look at them during the euology, since to do so might make me cry. But I knew then that I would not cry, because I was not alone, but I was truly held in the palm of the hand of Something far greater than myself, where Ronnie also was held, and where we were all held in that moment (and every moment, I suspect, although we aren’t generally so aware of it).
I knew we would be all right. I also knew we would be in terrible pain for a long time, and that the wounds would never entirely heal, but we would learn how to live with them and honor them and be gentle with them, and that they would teach us, if we let them, to honor the wounds of others as well, and be gentle with them, as well.
And another, related moment in this past year — the night before we were to leave for to my brother’s funeral, I got a call from a woman whose husband I knew. He had talked to me about her problems with alcoholism, and I had said that if she ever wanted to get sober, to call me and I would help her. Well, here she was.
“I know some people,” I said, “who meet in a church basement on a regular basis and help each other stay sober, one day at a time. Would you like me to introduce you to them?”
She said she’d like that. And so, on the eve of my brother’s funeral — my poor brother who just could not live through the terrible anguish of addiction — I had the opportunity to witness someone begin to heal, begin to hope for life again, begin to believe there might be more to life than anguish. Heck, there might even be some joy. Ronnie was in that room with us. I have no doubt.
It’s been a tough year, but it’s been a year, as My Best Beloved said, of discovery as well. Sometimes exploring the abyss gives you a greater appreciation for the stars, and it also makes you appreciate the people who take your chin and tilt your face upwards again, towards the glimmer of those sparkling points of possibility you had all but forgotten exist.
So, thanks, everyone. You know who you are. Because of you, I’m really looking forward to the year ahead, gaze turned resolutely upwards.