I give you a plentitude,
unwrap them carefully.
– one’s as fragile as the other –
Patterns of death weave their tapestries through my life. Sometimes the connections are uncanny, tightly knotted:
12 years ago, grandpa died.
Part of me died, too.
Nine years later … so did my marriage.
Same day. Different year.
My grandfather was one of the most important people in my life. As a young girl, I’d interview him, pretending to be a journalist.
Stories of our heritage, including our Irish ancestors, fascinated me from an early age. He’d spend hours telling me where we came from. These were moments we’d spend alone, looking at old photographs, soaking up genealogy.
Through this, I felt connected to my lineage … so much so that during my teenage years, when alone (I’ve never told anyone this before!), I’d play “Oh, Danny Boy” on the piano and cry, dreading grandpa’s inevitable death, intensely feeling it within my bones; it was almost like a practice run … a way to prepare for when he did die, so it wouldn’t hurt quite as much.
Even though he wouldn’t die for many more years, the raw thought of being without the person who loved and accepted me unconditionally, unraveled the few places in my heart where I felt worthy, important, and valued, leaving me with an impending sense of self-doubt and vacancy.
As an adult, when he was dying from Parkinson’s, the ritual of interview was repeated so I could collect our history, his history. Sometimes he’d raise an eyebrow, whisper, smile coyly, and ask if grandma was out in the garden so he could speak freely…
Then he’d tell secrets.
On St. Patrick’s Day, he died.
…And the knot tightened.
I was living in Ethiopia at the time and had just attended the expat community’s annual formal – yet riotous – St. Patty’s Day Ball at a swanky hotel. One of my most beloved memories was sitting amongst Irish friends, early into the morning, as they sang harmonious folk songs. Bittersweet melancholic tunes echoed through the somber rooms, saturating us with the timbre of another life, another home. Perhaps grandpa was there, too, watching on the sidelines, being sung out … I think he would’ve liked that.
Grandpa loved my husband – an Englishman who spent a few years with the British Army in Northern Ireland.
…And the knot tightened.
And it was on St. Patrick’s Day, three years ago while we were living in Myanmar – and I was remembering grandpa, feeling the loss of him – that my husband said he wanted a divorce, that he wasn’t happy, that he could not give me what I needed, that he needed complete freedom, and was not living the truth of who he was.
It was too easy not to slip into feeling incredibly betrayed, like a victim. Especially on that day.
…And the knot tightened again.
I felt emptiness, a lack of worth … to the point that I willingly – greedily – grasped for crumbs: Just tell me you love me, sometimes. That’s enough, I exclaimed. Ask me how my day went. Occasionally tell me l’m beautiful. Hold me. That’s all I ask, that’s all I need – and I can stay!
Writing that now hurts my heart. My belly aches. My throat tightens. Tears well up for that girl, that woman who prided herself on how “low-maintenance” she was.
I flew that flag like it was a positive trait, a winning factor, something so rare that he’d be stupid to discard it. This is how I puffed myself up, compared myself to other women: Who else could be as accommodating and non-demanding? No one! Who else would be so independent and non-needy.
Within my heart, I knew this was all a lie, some elaborate story I sold myself so that I wouldn’t get hurt. If my emotional needs were low, then I wouldn’t be disappointed. Or rejected. Or reminded of the dark crevices where I pocket feelings of inadequacy, of not being enough, of not being lovable.
Play it safe, don’t have needs, and then I can be invulnerable to feeling these parts of myself that need a bit of love. The parts my grandpa filled up. These parts – in truth – that I still ache for someone else to fill up. These parts that I don’t fill up … or fill up in ways that do not lovingly sustain me.
Of course, this didn’t work. Of course, I actually have needs. (Gasp.)
And so, after X amount of time of them not being met – because I didn’t ask for it, because I said I didn’t need it, because I created and attracted relationships with others that were unavailable to give – then I’d take a deep breath and do the unthinkable for me: cry out for what I need and withdraw my love, close down my heart when it was not given … even though I set it up like that.
…And the knot tightened. Another little death. Another excuse to not stay radically open-hearted.
But here’s the thing. Challenges in our lives can bring us back to life. Resuscitate us. Jolt us to face the sword of truth staring straight at us. Force us to look at the lies we tell ourselves and how we create victim-y type situations without even realizing it, playing out old tales that we’ve tightly woven for years.
I still do it. We all do. We’re human. And, yet, we have the ability to – even when facing death – feel the stillness of our hearts resonating truth, wide as a horizon. In those moments, it is as if a hand rests upon our cheeks and says, “Shhh. All is well. It’s time to start listening. It’s time to be who you are. Open to the possibilities.”
So, on this Irish feast day, I honor all the ways we experience death in our lives: the death of loved ones, marriages, careers, friendships, romantic relationships, ideologies.
It is through these endings that the foundations for new intersections and weaving knots of stories can take form. Through death, we begin … again and again and again.
Through the stillness of death, all things are possible.
And this I hear:
Surrender to my desire.
You are here to listen.
You are here to write a new story.
You are here to be my reed:
Hollow, tender, attuned.
May you surrender to all that needs to be let go of at this time in your life. May you face each loss, death, and challenge as a gift so that you make space to create that which you truly desire.
…Do you know what that is?