I thought I was going through a tough time after breaking up with my boyfriend. I was wrong. I wasn’t even close to that vicinity, because to be honest, I had only known him for a couple months and never really connected with him on a deeper level. It was a clean break up because both of us knew that we weren’t right for each other. The pain that came after was more from disappointment that he wasn’t who I had wanted him to be, and having to let go of the tender romantic moments that are still fresh in my memory. All this, I knew I could handle and get through because it was something I had done before. Then life threw a curve ball at me.
Two days ago, I received a text message that the student I had been teaching English for the past two years had passed away. I am still reeling from the shock and disbelief that my student, who I had just met this past Thursday for class, was gone. Gone. I will never see him again. I started teaching English to upper management at a big corporate company back in 2013. It’s not a fancy gig by any means. For about a year and a half I did Business Conversation 1:1 three times a week, then when my schedule got busy and I got different students I went once a week. So for the past two years I’ve been meeting this student every week at 7am in the morning to teach Business vocabulary and conversation. He had went to grad school in the States, so his English was pretty good. Over the years he has told me about his busy life and his precious two daughters. The students that I have met during this job have been the hardest working people I’ve known. They wake up at 5am every day to get to work and don’t return home till around 10pm or 11pm. They work during holidays and they work on Saturdays. My student’s greatest regret was that he left for work before his daughters woke up in the morning, and many days got home after his daughters were in bed. He would sometimes tell me of the times he got to spent with his daughters on the weekend and how they had gone to eat something yummy or played badminton outdoors. He asked for my advice when his youngest daughter, who is in elementary school, solemnly asked if it would be ok if she got a boyfriend. He was soft spoken with a kind heart, and always had a cup of coffee waiting for me in the conference room where we had class.
This past Thursday I had told him about running the 10k and he told me that he was going on a 10k hike on Saturday with his boss and other vice presidents from his company. It was this hike that killed him. He died of a heart attack during the hike.
So I cried. I cried that night for my student, and I cried all morning the next day as I visited the funeral home and paid my respects and prayed for him and his family. I cried on the bus and on the subway and in the rain. I cried and I cried and I cried. I cried because I couldn’t understand how someone so bright and kind could just suddenly be dead. I cried for his two daughters in elementary school and middle school who have lost their beloved father. I cried for his wife who is now a widow when she is only in her 40s. I cried for his future. I cried for his parents who have lost their son. I cried because I have lost a student who I have had wonderful conversations with every week for the past two years. I cried from the grief of losing people in my life. From all the people who have left me this year, and the only comfort I could find was this piano piece from the movie The Pianist.
I felt as though life had literally decided to slam all these trials against my body, all in the span of a month. I was torn by grief and so I did what one does when the world is a muddled mess. I turned to my pastor. Now, I have not been the most diligent nor the most faithful over the past couple of years. While I have a deep, firm belief in God, I have railed at him and tried to understand him and asked him to be patient with me while I trekked along in my life making a mess of things. I have my gripes with the church and the judgement and the anti-gay attitude that some people have. Because if God can love and forgive murderers, and if all sinners are the same, then surely God can understand that some people are born wired that way? So I have my questions and I have my complaints and anguish and torment, but all I needed was some guidance towards some scripture to meditate on to wrap my head around all these people leaving my life. So I met my pastor and my pastor gave me tough love. Of course I would get tough love. I would get tough love. Because that’s the story of my life. I don’t know how I expected anything other than tough love, because I was raised on tough love and I’m surrounded by friends that give me tough love. Consequently I’m not very good at giving anything other than tough love, but I’m working on that. So tough love is what I got. I feel like I had a therapy session with tough love, because the first challenge I got was, what is your identity? The second challenge was, the people leaving, do they need to stay for you because you want them to? The third challenge was regarding my breakup, if you know this guy is not right for you, why are you wasting your time and his? Let me tell you, that it stung. It stung, but it was exactly what I needed to hear, because in that muddled mess it became the clarity that I needed to let things go.
Grief is painful because we were never meant to live a life of grief or death. The only thing that can comfort deep grief is someone that is bigger than all that. This is how Elizabeth Gilbert described it.
“…I fell into a depression that felt to me like I was full of a dark hole that was eternal. There was nothing I could throw at it that could fill that hole. So my friends and their love couldn’t fill that hole, food couldn’t fill that hole, good movies couldn’t fill that hole. All the things that we do in our lives to distract ourselves, I’d throw it in there but it was just this eternal black hole of despair. And when I experienced that, I finally had this revelation one day which said, the only thing that can fill an eternal hole, is the eternal. So you keep trying to fill this with like worldly things, but you have to fill it with something that’s as big as that hole itself, and there’s only one thing in this universe that’s as big as that empty hole and that’s God.”
Her journey towards God was different than mine, because she is not a Christian, and I am this somewhat rebellious Christian demanding answers from God while knowing that you’re never going to have all the answers you want in this world. Still, I have a high amount of respect for Liz Gilbert’s writing because she has such a poignant way of describing pain and grief, and you can always tell that she has put a great amount of time and thought into pain and the healing process.
Some people don’t believe in God because it’s not scientifically proven and the amount of wretched things that happen every day, every hour is so hard to stomach that there couldn’t possibly be a God that stood by and let it happen. To which I would like to say, that there are things in this world that have nothing to do with science. That we humans aren’t thinking scientifically and rationally all the time, and that emotions and feelings are just as real as the logic that comes out of us. That love, hope, and creativity have nothing to do with logic. That life is not logic or science. That there are things that can’t be explained by science. That if I decide to be a b**** today it’s not because God wanted me to be, it’s simply because I decided to be. That bad things happen a lot of the time because people decide to be selfish and self-centered and those around them have to suffer the collateral damage. To me, God is not a vending machine that pops out the things I want when I put prayer through the coin slot.
So if I don’t expect God to give me anything, why believe in God? Because life is so messy and difficult and painful that I need that sort of grace and support in my life. Because there is nothing in this world that is permanent. Because two days ago my student who was there every week for the past 2 years is gone. The father of two daughters is gone. Because my grandmother passed away a few months ago and she is gone. Because one day my parents will pass away and they’ll be gone. One day my precious dog, Kip will die and he’ll be gone. Because my friends may move away or pass away and they’ll be gone. Because even if I do find the right guy and get married, who knows if he’ll get in an accident, have an affair, or simply fall out of love with me and be gone? I’m not saying this out of crippling anxiety and fear. I’m also saying this because I too have fallen in love with boyfriends in the past, and fallen out of love before they did. So in this chaotic life where nothing is constant or permanent, I need that constant and permanent, and the only one that can fill that space is God. So you are welcome to not believe in a God, but I need a God to cling to when I’m in the clutches of despair and I have no idea what to do with my life and where to go. Because let’s be honest, there is a limit to how much new hobbies and interests can help you. These things can distract me for a good hour or two, but it doesn’t take away that pain or grief.
So this morning when I woke up full of grief, I spent two hours meditating by copying the book of Psalms with calligraphy. All the while my mantra was, take my grief from me, take my grief from me, take my grief from me. Because my student is gone. Just like that. His time here was done. He had so many things he wanted to do. He was going to take his girls to some island that I can’t remember the name of, but basically a nice beach island to get away from it all. All of that is gone.
I know, that everything is going to be ok. Ok, given the circumstances I mean. I mean that I know that life will go on. That this too shall pass. That I can get through this by internalizing affirmations, practicing gratitude, and meditating and leaning on God. That I can only do the best that I can at any given moment. That today I am grieving and my grieving may continue until I have grieved enough. That I will grieve for his family. That today it is hard and the only thing I can do to cope with my grief is to write, and do calligraphy, and listen to the Chopin piece from The Pianist, and listen to the audiobook of Eat, Pray, Love and to do everything I can to keep a grip on myself. Christians say that we should be ok with people passing because they are going to a better place and are with God. I think that you can know all that in your head, but we are all only human and the heart will grieve when it needs to grieve. So today I am grieving, and I know all the rationalizations in my head and know I’m going to be ok eventually. But today I am grieving.