When Artie died my friend Celeste wrote me a letter of love. As I have moved it has moved with me. I want to share it with you. Celeste is a tiny woman with a huge heart. She has a cloud of now gray hair around her head. Her beloved husband died many years ago. She has never stopped loving him and told me that she sits in his chair because she doesn't like to look at it being empty. A few years ago her only child, a loving son, also died.
How does she spend her life - even as she ages and walks now with a cane? She visits prisoners, she works in hospice and with the church. She protests against the death penalty. She invites people who need a home into hers. At her last birthday party there were people there of every age from the tiniest to the most elederly, every race, every religon, and every sexual orientation. I have never seen anything like it. She has not let her grief get in the way of her love. It is a love that goes all the way through - not a love that percolates on the surface of frozen denial.
There is a famous story of how she broke up a fight between two huge men weilding lead pipes in the middle of a Memphis street by walking up and saying in her soft southern accent, "Now boys, you don't want to be doing that." At this last birthday party she told me that the bravery I have always admired is really not caring which side of life or death she is on. She is another example for me of someone who is fully alive and yet continues to feel the pain of living without the phsycial beings of those two wonderful men: her husband and her son who she so loves.
Here is what Celeste wrote to me in 2009:
My dear friend,
I am so very sorry for your loss of your Artie. Now I know why you have been on my mind and heart so strongly the past weeks. I have felt your pain over all the miles. I have searched my heart for words of comfort to offer you. There are none. Words are so inadequate. All I can say is with time the pain and loss will "gentle down" and you will be able to think and feel past the last days of illness and death. back to all the good and joyous times you shared.
I know from going through the death of a loved one comes the question, "What do I really believe?" Following is my answer.
1. I believe love is the strongest force in the world.
2. I believe love, if it is real, lives on long after the lovers have gone and becomes a part of UNIVERSAL LOVE that surrounds uss all the time and is there for us to call on and use whenever we need it. Use it, Jan!
3. I believe love works. We may not see or be aware of this working but it will eventually.
4. It's fun. Especially when unexpected and undeserved.
Two thoughts that helped me when Harmon Sr. died.
1. The thought of all the millions of women who had experienced the same loss and had survived.
2. The thought of all the women who had never known a good man, but only abusers. I had a good man for 40 years and consider myself lucky.
I have certainly not "grieved appropriately" for Harmon Jr. as I have not cried a single tear. I would have thought I would just collapse and die, but am being held up by his spirit and by the life of service that he lived. I recently spend some time in Nashville with the prisoners he taught and learned from them what a profound effect he had on their lives. Did a mother's heart good.
After his dad died, Harmon Jr. asked me, "Mother, have you cried?" and my reply was, "Not much, but I sure say "SHIT" a lot." He said, "That's just as good."
I will have you on my mind and heart for the weeks to come.
I love you, Jan.
Thank you Celeste. Three and a half years later I read your words and feel supported by them. I cry and say "SHIT". Still,I am inspired by your example, your courage, and your unconditional love.
Grief warriors: I wish you the love of Celeste combined with her ability to say "SHIT" when that is what is needed. It's about doing what we can while we are still here, about remembering to love when sometimes that seems a difficult thing to do. It is also about treasuring the joys we have been blessed with. I give you all Celeste's love which is a constant star and mine which still flickers but doesn't go out. xo
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