I went to the funeral today for the mother of a friend of mine I haven’t seen in a few months. I thought he was simply too busy with work and family obligations. It turns out, his mother had been very sick and he took a tumble off a ladder and broke his arm in three places putting away Halloween decorations for his family home. He never told me of either until his wife encouraged to call me up and invite us to the wake.
We’d gotten close for a while, even to the point where he invited my family and I to go on an overnight family vacation with them. It was a lovely time.
I do feel bad I never called to inquire about his silence. I didn’t know he’d been undergoing some agonizing trials. I had been feeling that the last couple of interactions I had made me feel a little hurt, so I was hesitant to barge in on his life. I was waiting to hear from him first. But I wasn’t quite expecting this kind of news.
I was reminded during the memorial service to reflect on the wonder of the influence and impact we have on the lives of others and that we never really lose our loved ones when they pass on…pieces of them live on within our hearts as we remember them.
The existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom talked about leaving ripples like this to help ground us when the twin demons of existential depression and death anxiety rear their ugly head, as they often do the older you get.
I sat and listened to my friend give a touching eulogy about the strong matriarch of his Italian family and I sat and watched my friend convey his love of his mother and the love of his family through his tears. I always thought he was a bit of a smart-ass and, as a police officer, it kind of comes with the persona, doesn’t it? I realized as I sat listening to him that his way of being in the world was a very sensitive one, and he covered his anxiety and pain with cocksure humor. I never knew how to take him. I was never quite at ease around him. I could sense his sensitivity at times, but his attitude sometimes said, “I’m fine, I don’t need anyone”. Clearly, that was a cover he hid behind.
That’s him, with my daughter a few years back. Nice guy, but always sending out those mixed messages.
I think I understand him better now, and I was delighted to hear him talk very highly of his mother, his wife, his daughter and his entire family. I saw his love and devotion shine through and I was very grateful that his wife encouraged him to invite us to be with them during their time of mourning.
I am reminded yet again to always look beneath the surface of people. The subtextual clues of suffering are there. Though people ache for deep connection, they often do a lot to mask those needs. I understand why. It’s not acceptable to be soft and sensitive in today’s increasingly impersonal, disconnected, competitive world.
As for me, I shall continue to do my part to touch the hearts of those whose paths I chance across for it keeps my own death anxiety and existential depression at bay.
I’ve been lucky to reach a few souls out there. I hope to continue to leave ripples through my being in the world and my words.
I encourage you to go out and touch someone today. You’ll be glad you did.