I was recently at a retreat center in western Massachusetts with a dear friend, Marie who had invited me to join her for a couple of days of R&R. At first I was hesitant to go as I had just been away so was trying to justify spending the money but the draw to share that time with Marie whom I hadn’t seen in 5 years was too strong a pull. It turned out to be a couple of days ladden with several unexpected gifts.
Marie had come with a close friend of hers plus that friend’s sister-in-law. We were nestled in the glorious Berkshire mountains with a thawing lake in the near distance and surrounding us was the budding of spring awakening. It didn’t take long for our bodies and souls to begin to relax into the comforts that were bountiful. From healthy food, to yoga, self affirming lectures, a whirlpool, and hiking trails, we had found an oasis away from our lives with the greatest of joys …..being together surrounded by nature’s peace.
From the moment of our first hug I knew Marie and my friendship had survived the distance of time and we could reach out to each other with a thirst to catch up, to listen, and to share from the center of our souls. On walks through the muddy trails that transversed the hills we shared our life stories from the center of our authentic selves. With a bond of trust that brushes away all pretenses, we laughed and we cried. We both had experienced life sadnesses, and joys, and were willing to speak of them in all their complexities. The gift of frienship that allowes that level of sharing is a treasure to behold and cherish.
As it turned out Marie’s friend’s sister-in-law had also lost a child. She and I didn’t know that of each other until Marie made that connection for us. Immediately that created a bond of shared experience. There were moments over the next couple of days when we mentioned the terrible loss we each felt in our lives and that awareness peppered all that we talked about from adventures we wanted to embark upon, to what our other children were doing and their lives. Behind the scenes we knew that whatever we were pursuing was greatly shaped by having lost a child. And just as this was a chance encounter , we knew that throughout our lives we would each come across other parents who were living on after the loss of a child. I found myself wanting to know what had helped her on her journey with loss. What nuggets had she held onto that gave her the strength to take another step ? What were her “ stepping stones “?
We were all headed to our evening presentation that sounded interesting, but as I tried to settle in, my gut kept telling me that going to the writing workshop, that was happening symultaniously, would be a better fit for where I was at that moment in time . So I quietly snuck out and tentitively settled into Nancy Slonim Arone’s workshop on, “ Writing from the Heart “. I hadn’t heard of Nancy prior to this chance meeting but I was immediately mesmorized by her theatrical ,funny, endearing presentation of how she began her career. This tall ,slender ,older ,but ageless , woman with curly blond hair which sparkled with tinsel ,was bursting with energy and charisma. She told her story from an awkward tall youngster , to a suburban housewife who for many of her middle years got lost in the hurry and scurry of raising kids and living the typical life of carpools, recipe sharing, decorating her home in marimekko fabrics until she realized she no longer wanted to continue on in this frenetic pace nor be the expected comic at dinner parties. She wanted to write and speak from the heart and help others do the same. That was her introduction to having us write our own piece ; “ The hardest thing in my life was when…….”
For the next 10 minutes I settled myself into a corner of the room and began to write. When given a spontaneous writing assignement there isn’t much time to process but my pen was flying across the page. I began to speak of when the doctor had first told us that our daughter, Chava ,had cancer. What ? Who? This isn’t real .This isn’t true !…..I flashed back to tell of the longest 2 1/2 hour drive of my life ,through thunder and lightning and torrential rain to pick Chava up at camp in N.H.and take her to Children’s Hospital in Boston where that diagnosis of cancer was pronounced, and from there fast forwarded to a year of her living with various treatments until her death 10 months later.
When Nancy asked for volunteers to read what they had written I pushed myself to raise my hand, as another part of me was saying…are you crazy ?! With tears streaming down my checks I made it through what I had written. There was a hush that fell over the room as I fiinished. Nancy had created a safe environemnt where people gave supportive and heart felt comments. When it was over I could feel my body gradually relax ,and once I had taken my first deep breath, I could settle into listening to other’s stories.
I went up to Nancy at the close of the workshop to thank her for the opportunity to be in her session and to share my story. Instead, she thanked me and then said in a soft voise, “ I don’t know if you knew but I also have lost a child.” For that brief unspoken moment our eyes held each other’s in a knowing gaze. As I walked out into the hallway I was overwhelmed by emotion from sharing what I had written but also by yet another chance encounter.
As I drove home the following day I had 2 1/2 hours to rewind the tape of all that I had experienced over the past few days. I couldn’t help but say to myself…..look what you would have missed if you had taken the practical path and not ridden the wind of chance. Instead, I was blessed with many unexpected gifts that I will carry with me….and thus my life has become richer.
submitted by , francie