In December, my father-in-law died. He was both an accomplished and warm-hearted man who loved babies and hated sour things. He was deeply loved by his big family and his small town. He is sorely missed.
He had been declining for some time and on Thanksgiving Day we drove to Minnesota to say goodbye. Less than three weeks later, we drove back for the funeral. It was a sad, exhausting time. And yet, when I think back, all I can remember is the kindness.
My husband’s enormous family is the biggest bundle of gracious welcome and care that I’ve ever been part of. The whole town of Roseau, Minnesota offered a flood of generosity in the form of food and hugs and cards and words and presence. When I returned home, feeling bruised and foggy, my people – friends, colleagues, students, everybody – were easy with me, gave me space, cut me slack, and were just so kind to me. I was and am grateful beyond words.
A month or so later, I came across this wonderful essay by John Pavlovitz, “Everyone Around You is Grieving. Go Easy.” He describes what I experienced better than I ever could. I hope you’ll read it. It reminded me how held I felt by my family, my community and even by strangers and what a difference it made.
As the months slide by, it hits me every once in a while. I’m in line at CVS and I wonder what weighs on the young person with the tattoos and piercings behind the register. In traffic, I wonder what the bearded trucker is worried about. I see hospital helicopter fly over the house and wonder about the person inside. I remember sometimes that everyone around me is grieving, but not as often as I wish I did.
Not long ago, I came across this extraordinary video about empathy made by the Cleveland Clinic. I have watched it over and over and I sniffle my way through it every. single. time. And it inspires me to remember. Please please be brave (if you need to, grab a tissue) and watch it.
This is Memorial Day. Unless you come from a military family or you’re a politician who needs a photo opp laying a wreathe on a soldier’s grave, most of us see this as a day off, a day for picnics, and the unofficial start of summer. This year, my invitation is to see this as a day to remember that everyone is carrying something, everyone has lost something, everyone is grieving. Go easy. Go gentle. With everyone you meet. And with your own sweet self.
Have a Happy – and Gentle – Memorial Day.