“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.” -Adele
The photo above was taken at a surprise party for Todd Barr on September 8, 2002–his last birthday on earth. I wonder if the people in attendance that day know what a tremendous gift they gave him–just by being there to say we love you and we’re glad you were born. Todd told me (many times over the following days) that day was one of the happiest of his life. It was just like him to be so appreciative of something as simple as a birthday–something he should have had dozens more of.
Todd died three weeks after this picture was taken. He was 34.
A few days ago I attended a birthday celebration for my brother who just turned 57, and as with most ceremonial events in life (weddings, births, funerals and birthdays) Todd came along with me (in spirit) to the festivities.
It was impossible not to be reminded of my deceased fiance as I watched my brother celebrate his special day, but what brought Todd to mind most powerfully for me that evening was the fact that there were so many married couples in attendance–and all of them had been together for decades–happily–according to them.
My brother and his wife went to prom together in 1974 and they remain in love after nearly 40 years. My daughter and her husband met and fell in love in high school in 1996. My sister-in-law’s aunt met and married her “best friend” 19 years ago and another couple had been “matched” by my brother and his wife over 20 years ago. Of the married couples in the room, all but one (newlyweds) were in relationships that had stood the test of time, and the word “soulmate” came up in conversation over and over that night.
So, of course, I thought of Todd often, though I didn’t speak of him in that context. His name did come up, not in a discussion about love and soul mates (I find that bringing a dead fiance into those discussions tends to bring the level of joy down in a room), but in a discussion about swimming in the Pacific ocean and its danger vs. safety.
One of the women there was saying she would never get on a boat or even go on a cruise because she was afraid of drowning in the ocean. The old (pre-Todd) me would have insisted she was missing out on a beautiful relationship with the sea, and that she should maybe reconsider, don a good life-vest, and partake of the beauty and majesty of the open water.
The new (post-Todd) me doesn’t quite see it that way. The new me now understands and can relate to being afraid.
When I was a child, I swam and body surfed in the Pacific ocean with my brothers and sisters with absolutely no fear of any dire consequences. We would swim out to catch the “big ones” and ride the waves back to shore, sometimes rolling and tumbling in the surf when an especially powerful wave hit us. We often resurfaced tangled in seaweed, gasping for air and laughing with joy at the “fun ride” the Pacific can give.
I would never do that today. Nor would I let my children.
I told the ocean-phobic woman I thought she had good reason to fear the power of the sea, then I explained to her how my fiance Todd (a very strong swimmer) drowned in it.
She stared in my eyes for a long moment and promptly changed the subject. “You are not over him,” she told me.
One thing survivors of loss know is that you don’t “get over” the loss of a loved one. Ever. What you do is experience the grief, then move forward, slowly at first, until life returns to some semblance of “normalcy.”
Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, lists 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance (not necessarily in that order) as the stages a loss-survivor will experience over time.
I can testify to all five.
But, I would add a sixth (and possibly most potentially debilitating) stage that persists long after those five stages are traversed.
I don’t have anything wise or witty to say about it. I can only say that I remember what it was like to be fearless, and I miss that.
Happy Birthday Todd. I miss you. I wish you didn’t have to leave so soon.
(This is a cross-post from WilliamToddBarr.wordpress.com)
Wow, Kathy, such a beautiful remembrance of him and an honest admission of what hardship and trials can leave in their wake. We are often told how difficulties and challenges make us stronger, we rarely talk about how in some areas they actually weaken us, how we become “gun-shy” so to speak to engage life in ways we previously took for granted but now remain very cautious about, or even cut off from. I had a visceral response to you being in a room full of people partnered with their “soulmate” yet what you had was a memory, or the feeling of someone’s spirit accompanying you. I can feel the sadness through your writing, and also the rejection of the notion of the idea that it always works out for everyone if you just think positive enough, or have the spiritual discipline to manifest different circumstances. I believe there is a place for that, but also feel that it is not the complete story for someone like you who embodies both spiritual discipline and positive thoughts and intent.
My comment is simply thank you for your candor in sharing your story with us. It seems ironic that I would be celebrating my 28th wedding anniversary on the day that you reflect on the birthday of your soulmate. And I can speak for all of the couples in the room by saying it isn’t always peaches and cream for us either, but our trials and tribulations are nothing compared to the dreams that died and the opportunity to go through the inevitable ups and downs that accompany a long term committed relationship. I hope the “fear” residue that is left over from that traumatic experience eventually gets transformed into something new…not so you can go swim in the pacific ocean, but so you can allow another soulmate to fill your heart as Todd did, without feeling as though you are betraying him in anyway. Thank you again for your beautiful writing. God bless. Kim.
Kim, you so completely and lovingly received my thoughts and feelings about my love, loss and ongoing recovery. Thank you for that, and for responding so beautifully.
I soooooo get and appreciate your point about the hills and valleys of a long-term love and that the journey is definitely not all peaches and cream. I will never know if Todd and I could have survived that journey, and I do feel blessed that the love we shared is preserved as it was–whole and sweet.
We like to believe discipline, faith and service protects us from tragedy, but when “undeserved” loss comes it is hard not to feel “punished” by it. It’s a flawed argument, of course, that sorrow is somehow a deserved punishment, but it is a common conclusion we humans reach when we experience the loss of a loved one, our health, our wealth, our relationships and other “important” things.
The story of Job is such a gift to humanity because it confirms that real faith in the Almighty cannot be contingent upon a life free of suffering.
I can agree with you that my life remains an attempt to embody positive thoughts and intents, and to be of service, but the concept of “spiritual discipline” eludes me these days, possibly as a result of the fear connected to this and other traumas I’ve experienced. I like to believe I’ve worked through the anger and feeling that God punished and/or abandoned me, but maybe a bit of it is still there.
Beneath all of my rhetoric about love and loss and fear is a silent prayer to God to forgive me for being afraid.
Fear, at its core, is essentially a lack of faith. Its presence is a sign of distance from the Creator (whose will and protection are more powerful than anything in the Universe)
Ahh, to realign myself with His will… Now, that would be a fitting end to this romantic tragedy.
“Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain.” -Baha’u’llah
And happy 28th wedding anniversary to you and your husband. such a blessing and a true testament of commitment and love!
My precious sister. I am grieving with you at this moment and wrapping my arms, virtually, around you to let you know that I acknowledge your loss and that I love you so!
I agree with all that you’ve shared from your heart and from the wisdom of others, as well as your own wisdom in experiencing the loss of the man you had hoped to spend the rest of your life with here on earth.
After experiencing loss of any kind, we are forever changed. We may learn how to life to the fullest again, but we do so differently.
Happy Birthday Todd! I wish I had been given the opportunity to meet the man that turned the world right-side up for my sister.
I love you SIs – XOXO
I am virtually feeling your hug and your love is always with me ! 🙂 Love you too! XOXO ♥♥♥♥
Happy Birthday Todd, and thank you for giving my baby daughter some of the happiest days of her life. I met you only once, but knew why she loved you so much. I love you too–still
Kathie: Such a beautiful tribute you wrote to Todd. He was and still is a beautiful soul. Words cannot describe what I felt for the two of you, and what I still feel for you. A mother does not want her children to hurt or be in pain, and when they are it is gut-wrenching, because we feel their pain, even though we may not show it always. I am so proud of your strength in the face of the devastation you have suffered, and are still going through with your baby daughter, so I know you understand what I mean by a “mother’s pain”, My prayers are always with you and Jadyn, and may God Bless you and keep you in the palm of His Hand. I love you so much. Mom
Thank you, Mama 🙂 I love you too!
Kathy what grace I feel regarding your eloquent and generous response to my reply to you. I feel so blessed that you responded in such a heartfelt way. There are so many ways I connect with you from an emotional and spiritual place. It is interesting that you brought up Job because I always say, that from 2001 through 2006 was my Job experience…everything important in my life fell away, finances, marriage (yes my 28 yrs. were tested), health, death of a parent, difficult job change, national tragedy (9/11) change in my relationship with friends and a burglary to boot. It seems every 90 days I was getting major bad news that had a profound impact on my life, and for the most part i was alone. I know i wasn’t really alone, God was with me, but in those times I felt a profound emptiness that I have never felt before or since.
I find that I lack the spiritual discipline I once had and am guilty for it, embarrassed by it, and feel less self worth as a result of it. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a waking moment that I don’t think of a loving God, and offer my life as an instrument, however, the 45 minutes that friends tell me they spend in prayer, and the other 30 minutes they spend in meditation, and the amount of time the spend reading scripture, elude me. I can recall during my “Job” experience that I would try lifting my voice to pray, and my emotional suffering was so deep that only air would come out. My mind would go blank because I no longer knew what to say to Him. Today, I can pray, but day after day, my prayers are the redundant relics of the day before. I marvel at others who can so eloquently say beautiful things to God. I remember at the beginning of 2001 I claimed that the year would be the most joyous year of my life. Talk about fear of swimming in the pacific ocean?…my fear is of making bold spiritual proclamations!
People say you have something to learn from those experiences..that God is trying to teach you something…I personally didn’t feel like I came away with lessons so profound that I had to endure that much suffering to understand. Also, many times people come away from those kind of circumstances with a deeper and more committed faith. I came away feeling that there is some value in the superficial. I had been so spiritually oriented before and everything was so intense and so deep that I came away just wanting to have fun. I questioned everything I had once believed, and also threw the prior values I had embraced to the wind…I was open to everything..my only values were those that brought me peace and joy.
I envy people who are so “sure” of their life and spiritual beliefs. The perspective I have now comes from my favorite poet, Khalil Gibran, “on Joy and Sorrow,” by professing the 2001 would be the greatest year of joy in my life, sorrow was simply carving the container so that i could endure the most joy possible. For me and for you…when your “soulmate” so sweetly enters your life, please let me know, and invite me to dinner with the two of you.
On Joy and Sorrow
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
We are definitely kindred spirits! Your first two paragraphs are my sentiments EXACTLY. Thank you for sharing those thoughts with me–it lets me know I am not alone in my struggle to feel, and stay, more intimately connect to God.It is frustrating and demoralizing when you have experienced that closeness in the past and are unable to find your way back along the old paths that used to quickly take you there (such as prayer and meditation).
I am living my Job experience right now, and it is overwhelming to say the least. I have “stepped out on faith” only to be body slammed. Stepped out again–slammed again. And again. Test after test after test with little chance for rest in between over the last two years. The lowest point for me was waiting for more pain medication for my toddler who lost her ability to walk last September and was in constant, excruciating pain. The night before her bone biopsy she had a deathly allergic reaction to morphine (clutching in terror at her throat which was closing) and I cried out to God for mercy for her and did not receive it (right away). That night was the greatest test of my faith ever in life. After many hospital stays and tests over many months, she is doing really well now and is pain-free, so it looks like mercy wasn’t denied–just delayed. 🙂
I definitely experienced what you describe as “profound emptiness” over the last year, but thankfully I didn’t stay there too long. I don’t feel God has abandoned me, but I I don’t understand why the paths I used to take to get to Him feel unfamiliar, even barricaded, now. I am holding on to the teaching that says tests and difficulties are for our growth–the idea that I may develop a greater capacity to love and serve from these hard times shines like a bright light at the end of this very long, very dark tunnel.
“Thou knowest full well, O my God, that tribulations have showered upon me from all directions and that no one can dispel or transmute them except Thee. I know of a certainty, by virtue of my love for Thee, that Thou wilt never cause tribulations to befall any soul unless Thou desirest to exalt his station in Thy celestial Paradise and to buttress his heart in this earthly life with the bulwark of Thine all-compelling power, that it may not become inclined toward the vanities of this world.” (Baha’i prayer)
Thank you for reminding me of Gibran’s words on sorrow. He is one of my favorite wordsmiths ever. I named my first daughter (Khalia) after him 🙂
This was one of Todd’s favorites. We shared it aloud together many times:
“When love beckons to you follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth. Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself. He threshes you to make you naked. He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant; And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast. All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart. But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears…”
♥ Word ♥
“…descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.” Damn, I can’t say I wasn’t warned (lol) 🙂
As for the part about a “soul mate” coming into my life, I’m not averse to the idea at all and I don’t think it would be a betrayal of Todd in any way. I believe we have many soul mates in this life and they take many forms (best friends, family members, children and lovers)
But, I pity the fool…