There is a line from a song in the musical Wicked, that says that “people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow.” My dear college friend, Jane, lost her beautiful daughter, Kate, a few years ago and this song, “For Good,” was one of Kate’s favorites. I played the song and when Jane started writing about her experience, I read all of her postings and came to know Kate. It was easy to fall in love with Kate - her brightness, her goodness - and I could understand why someone as special as she was would love this song. It touched my heart too. Indeed, as the lyrics go, everyone that knew her had been changed for the better.
Every now and then someone comes along who, like Kate, stands out from the crowd. It was my turn to say goodbye to two such people in my own life these past few weeks, my brother Perry, who struggled with the limitations of Downs Syndrome, and my brother-in-law Steve Lief who battled an ongoing disease for years. And so I listened to this song again reflecting on how my life is different because they were in it. When my parents brought Perry home as a small baby they told us he would be treated the same as the rest of us, and that’s the way it was. He knew he was different to the outside world, but he never felt different in our house. He was just one of the kids! Like Perry, Steve lived his life with grace and courage, his outlook always upbeat and positive. I can still picture him sanding the floors of our first house in Connecticut to help us out. There was never a question about whether or not he would be there, he just showed up and pitched in. Always a with smile that reflected his sweet nature. Both of these guys were able to face the travails of life because they were so full of love they could completely let go of fear. The scholar Joseph Campbell would have called them, Heroes. They didn’t go through life kicking and screaming, but rather accepted the obstacles placed in their path and dealt with them … flowing with the current of their lives. They taught me something about patience and kindness, courage and acceptance. There is no doubt that I was forever changed because I knew them.
It’s a funny thing about grief. You can’t conquer it. I’ve tried a few times. It’s best to just allow yourself to be a part of the process, welcoming the tears and taking solace in the understanding that everyone in our life mirrors something about ourselves, that when we look into their eyes a little bit of our own soul is reflected back. I find this notion so comforting, knowing that these wonderful people are never really lost because I’ve kept a small part of them inside …
Many times we don’t realize the impact a person has on our life until they are gone. Yes, we miss them, how they always put us at ease, made us laugh, the kind things they did, how we felt when we were around them. We are so sure of their goodness and the void they have left in the world, but how often do we think about how they have changed us, maybe made us a better person? That we will never meet them again in this lifetime makes saying goodbye so hard, but, as the lyrics go: “whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine … so much of me is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me … because of you I am changed for the better.”