From Grief to Joy Excerpt

Chapter One

When Time Stood Still

It was one of those beautiful summer days you wish would last all year, but for me it was the beginning of the "long dark night of the soul." I just didn't know it yet. I only knew when I got up that morning that something didn't feel right. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I was uneasy. No matter what I did, I couldn't shake that awful feeling. By afternoon, my stomach was queasy and my hands were trembling. Something definitely was wrong.

So many times in my life when someone has died, I had a sense of it before it happened. This time it was different. The feelings were all there. Why didn't I recognize them for what they were? Perhaps I wasn't supposed to. It was a question I would soon ponder over and over.

Just the day before, I had ordered an expensive piece of equipment for my music studio. When I woke up with such strong feelings of foreboding, I thought to myself, "Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I wasn't supposed to do this," so I called and cancelled the order. "Something is wrong," I told them, "and until I know what it is, I'm not going to buy this."

Later, when my husband, Neal, got home from the meeting he had been attending, I told him about the awful day I was having, how I was feeling so terribly insecure. He tried to comfort me as best he could, but it's hard to help someone when you don't know what's wrong.

Desperately I needed him to hold me, so we stood there in the office and he held me in his arms. What I really wanted was to go into the living room and sit on the sofa, as we sometimes did, so he could hold me there. The first time he did that many years ago, it was so comforting that I fell asleep right there in his arms! He just sat there and held me until I woke up. We laughed about it many times. It was sofa holding I needed now, too, but we both had a lot to do, and students were coming soon, so I didn't suggest it. I didn't think we should take the time, so we just stood there in the office and held each other close. I didn't know it at the time, but I had just given up my last chance for sofa holding, all for the sake of a teaching schedule.

Neal, on the other hand, was having a very good day. He'd been to an important meeting and had been asked to share his vision for the organization to which he had literally dedicated his professional life. He had always been "ahead of the pack," seeing how they could make a significant difference in the world if they just kept their sights high and strove with all their hearts to truly serve. That day he was filled with the satisfaction of having shared his dreams with those he had worked with for so long. I knew what this meant to him and shared his joy over his having the chance to speak his heart in such a special way.

When I came up from my afternoon lessons, dinner was ready. Neal and I shared the cooking, and since I was having a tough day, Neal offered to fix supper. It was a beautiful meal with all of our favorite foods. I could see it had been lovingly prepared. It was a special hour, spent going over the high points of his day, rejoicing in his good feelings, and ending with words of reassurance for me.

"These kids are so lucky to be studying with you! You make it fun for them. Look at their faces! Don't you see their excitement? Their anticipation? How they can hardly wait to come here? So why are you feeling this way?"

Little did I know, as I kissed him on the forehead before going downstairs to give one last lesson, that when I came up my beloved would be gone. And I have no doubt that when Neal went outside to check the sprinklers after supper that evening, he had no idea he would not be coming back. Life does have a way of surprising us when we least expect it.

* * *

It seemed so strange and still when I came upstairs an hour later. There was an eerie feeling in the air unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I looked around for Neal, but he wasn't in the house. I looked outside and he was nowhere to be seen. "He's probably visiting with one of the neighbors," I thought to myself, and I went outside to see if I could find him.

We have an area of common ground in which our particular group of houses sits, but he wasn't there, so I decided to follow the street up around the hill to look for him there. It was deathly still. Why was it so quiet outside? Not even the birds were singing.

As I came around the bend in the hill I noticed a rescue squad, fire engine and police car all at the end of the block. I wondered if the woman living there had had a problem. I knew she had not been well. Suddenly a woman ran out of the group that had gathered there yelling, "Won't someone please help us identify this man before they take him away?"

Fear grabbed my heart and I started running as fast as I could. "Oh no! It couldn't be! Please God, don't let it be Neal!!!" But it was. There was my beloved, lying in the street. I fell to him and started talking to him, but he didn't answer. The paramedics who had come so many other times when he was having problems were there working with him, but there was no response. I wanted to go with Neal when they left for the hospital, but they told me to follow in the police car. Never in my life have I prayed like I did then. "Angels of mercy, please let him be all right. Angels of mercy, please let him be all right. Angels of mercy..."

They did their best at the hospital, too, but there was nothing they could do to help him. Everyone on duty that night was grief stricken. There were so many times when we'd come close to losing Neal, but they were always able to pull him through. Now he was gone. ...

Chapter Twenty-five

Accepting the Divine Design

... If someone had asked me twenty years ago what I thought I would be doing now, I have to confess my answer would have been nowhere close to where I am. I think life is like that for most of us. We make plans, but life does not always listen to our plans. Life has plans of its own. While we may not always welcome what life brings, there is one thing of which we can be certain - whatever life brings, it always comes bearing a gift. I know I've said this before, but it is true. It may be a while before we find the gift, but it is there. Finding the gift is part of the journey. I never thought that would apply to the "separation" that comes with death, but it does.

All my life I've watched others live with grief and sorrow. To a large extent their loss became their identity, but I found I could not do that. I knew I had to let go of the pain that grief wants to impose if I was going to move on with my life in a way that would honor those who had gone on before me. It was a gradual, but necessary, process. Eventually I realized I did not need the pain any longer. Moving beyond the pain allowed me to see what I still have, what I never lost at all. The wonderful, indescribable, nurturing love we shared expanded and resolved into a presence that filled my days. In changing form, our love became even more. Day by day I grew into the realization that our time together here was just the beginning, that the best is yet to come, and all that follows will be an expansion of that love.

Accepting the inevitable and making peace with it enables you to find a Way when there does not seem to be a way. It allows you to reach for the heights even while your spirit is at the depths of its grief. Accepting life on its own terms makes it possible not only to move on, to find new meaning and purpose for your life, but to do so knowing that all is not lost, only changed. While that change can be shattering, strength can be forged from the crucible of our grief as we learn that death is never the end, but rather a beginning. ...

Chapter Twenty-six

Reflecting Back

... I read recently that many times our serious spiritual work doesn’t begin until life puts us in a position where we have no choice. Dr. David Hawkins says when that time comes, we’re either going to go up or go down. He is right. It was definitely sink or swim for me.

I’ve never been a very good swimmer, but I was learning. The crises that confronted me forced me into a time of becoming. Of growing. Of finding the new, and yes, the miraculous right here in my daily life.

One of the most miraculous experiences for me was finding out that we are loved - and accepted - so fully, so completely that there is nothing left to forgive! This is true for all of us, and that is why I’m sharing my story, because the challenges I’ve faced are universal. We all have our mountains to climb, both inner and outer. No one is exempt.

Life is a school, and what we learn through that school are the lessons we are ready for, things we could not really know until we lived through them. I’m talking about experiential knowledge, not just head knowledge. “They” say you don’t really know something until you become it. “They” are right. And that is how I found out that relationships change, but they do not end. Physical death is definitely not the end of the story.

Our trials and tribulations are so rich with promise. It may not seem like it at the time, but they are. Nothing is ever wasted. The potential for growth - and new life - is hidden in even the most difficult of situations. Especially in the most difficult ones, because all things do indeed come bearing a gift, if we can just hang in there long enough to find it.

It helps if we can accept and embrace what is. That means being open enough to let go of judgment – of yourself, and others, and even the challenge itself. It means letting go of our expectations so we can be open to the higher plan. Surrender fits well here. Not my will, but Thine.

Eventually, you find out that your life isn’t just about you. It’s about all of us. That means wanting for others the same things we yearn for so deeply. May we all be blessed.

As I said earlier, it’s been quite a journey. The more I’ve learned, the more I realize how far I still have to go, but this much I know: life isn’t about “things.” It’s about be-ing – being your highest and best.

As I look back, I think Neal knew we were on the cusp. We’d loved each other fully and completely through thick and thin - and there was a lot of both, with all his physical challenges. We’d taken each other as far as we could, and probably as far as his physical body would allow. Now we were both ready to move into a larger way of being. It was time for both of us to spread our wings and fly. Of course, I didn’t see that then, but I do now. In fact, I can’t help wondering if perhaps this was the plan long before we found each other, and that’s why I think Neal knew this was coming.

That last year especially, there were so many times when Neal said he wanted to buy me something, but what did I want? All I could answer was, “I only want you, honey.” He must have known how short the time was getting, but he never said so. He just lived each day wishing there was one last thing he could do for me.

Well, he got his wish. What I’ve learned has been the greatest gift of all. ...

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