Impossible Loss

sad bear

The community I live in and love has been struck hard by tragedy in the last month. Two young families have lost their Dads…quickly, shockingly, unfairly. The two families have 5 children between them, all 11 and younger.

The two men, both dedicated outdoors men were friends. They worked together, shared similar passions and lived their lives with enormous intensity and capacity for joy. They died 3 weeks apart, separately, in two completely unrelated tragedies.

Last night on my flight home from a visit to the big city I brushed up close to that pain. I sat with the sister in law of the most recently lost husband, father, friend, Daddy. Her heart was in pieces, visibly. She was lovely. She was so sad, so worried for her sister, her little niece and the shell shocked boys. Their father died trying to save them from a river; them and the son of the woman sitting next to me for 3 hours. I felt…still feel, gutted. I am grateful that I was there, able to help her with her own young daughter, be a new face, a new ear, a new mirror to look in to see who she is now.  As she told me the story, my heart broke again and again.  At one point, she said, there were six people in the river, all drowning. Half were there to save, half were being saved. All were at risk of being lost. Too few safety measures afforded by the resort they were visiting, so many people, so much crying and fear and screaming, so little anyone could do. And so, one Daddy died. One husband is gone. So many lives are forever changed.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know the family personally, though I feel so connected to them. I felt that connection even before meeting this woman who has so much to try and block from her memory, so much to move forward from. I felt that connection because I am a wife, I am a mother.   I feel that connection so much more now, having had the little girl with the saddest face I’ve ever seen sit on me, play with my phone and take sad photos of herself. This little girl has just lost her Daddy; she is 3.

The two families, linked by friendship and interest and passion and love of the outdoors are now linked by sorrow, loss and tragedy.  I am now, forever, linked to their story. I will never erase from my  heart the sight of this woman, this heartbroken sister, the aunt of these children in shock. She almost lost her own son and father to the river, lost instead her brother in law, her sister’s joy and her own sense of security in the world.

She said it was so awful. So horrible. So unbelievable. She has touched my life forever.

Yukon, we have two families who need us terribly right now. 5 children who will need all the support we can provide. Two mothers whose worlds have just been turned upside down, and who haven’t even begun to measure what lies ahead. I want to do something. I wish I could do something.

Aside

On grief, loss, friendship and hearts that can’t be unbroken.

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I spent last weekend with her in the beautiful home they built together on top of a hill overlooking a river.  A home they dreamed of, worked toward and loved. It was the realization of a lifetime of hard work and planning… truly their dream home. They shared it for three years, and it made them so happy. There is so much joy everywhere in that house.. in every tile, fixture, deck chair. I’m happy I visited a year ago, with him proudly showing off every bell and every whistle.

When people have been a part of your life for, well, your whole life, it’s hard to measure their importance. This woman is not my mother, this man was not my father. They occupy a different, separate space in my heart that’s hard to define.  I have so much love for them that I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about or been fully aware of.  His death has hit me hard;  not the same as the loss of my own Dad, but still a powerful hurt.

Sitting with her last week, holding her while she cried, listening to her try and make sense of this bleak new universe,  I realized I had nothing wise to say. I have no words to make it better. I can’t fix anything. When she turned to me with a panicked and confused look on her face and asked “when will I remember? I keep thinking I can’t wait to tell him about our visit”, I felt helpless. I want so badly to mend something for her, to answer even one of her millions of unanswerable questions.

So I will do what I can… tiny, inconsequential and impotent as I feel. I will send her random texts reminding her that I love her, I will phone her, send her beautiful pictures and powerful stories. I will send her music… all her music is so deeply entwined with his memory that it hurts her to listen right now.

I know I will do so much less  than I want to for her.  What I truly want to do just can’t be done.