The rainy days this week have reminded me of something I read while enjoying my most recent book-club book, Tell Me More. The words practically jumped off the page at me, hitting me like a ton of bricks. “Into every life, some rain must fall,” It’s so simple yet so profound. An answer for the age-old question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” And it is truly that simple: Because they just do. All the time. And so often we ask WHY? Why him? Why her? Why this family? Why does something like this have to happen to someone who is so good, so kind, so generous, so young…?
And this unmistakable explanation remains, “Into every life, some rain must fall.”
It can’t be all roses. Everyone has their “stuff.” All people, at some point, will experience pain, adversity, loss, grief, sadness, trials, and tribulations. And it’s what we do with that “stuff” that really matters. Do we let it take us down? Or do we let it teach us? Do we curl up in a ball and hide from it? Or do we face it head on, live in it, feel it, experience it and absorb the lessons that are meant for us.
Seven years ago, I experienced my most devastating and traumatic moments to date. I found my husband lifeless on our bathroom floor and after that unbearably harrowing encounter, I never had the chance to see him smile again. He was gone in an instant. However, I look back on that experience and choose to focus on the blessings: I had two more days to hug him, to talk to him, to hold his hand, and to tell him how much I loved him. Dozens more who loved him were able to do that too. We all gathered together in the hallways and waiting room of the hospital for two days, sharing stories and “Markisms” that made us smile and united us in grief and love. After being taken from our home, Mark was never breathing on his own again, but the EMTs who arrived to rescue him were able to restart his heart. For this, I am eternally grateful, because as a result, Mark was able to give the gift of life to four people and impact the lives of countless more through his donations. Miraculously, Mark was the perfect match for my uncle, who was in need of a kidney.
I spent the following days, weeks and months grappling with my new reality. The path that I had been given had been thrust upon me in an instant, but somehow I had the fortitude and focus to simply take each day, one moment at a time. When I lost Mark, I never once asked God “Why Me?” While I know that this thought is something that many people feel and experience in times of sudden loss and devastating tragedy, the thought never crossed my mind.
Why Not Me?
I don’t fully recall what I believed about life and death before losing Mark, because that experience has altered my belief system so drastically. However, I am certain now that there truly is some sort of plan for me, for all of us. I’ve experienced the magical synchronicity of the universe. I marvel at the remarkable connectedness which binds us all together, whether in a moment in time, in a specific place, or more deeply in a way that is not determined by external variables. I am profoundly aware that there is so much that we don’t know, but that we just have to have faith that there really is a plan for each of us and that opening our minds and hearts to this truth will help us to create a life deep with meaning, authenticity and purpose. Some find comfort in the belief that God is in control of all things while others find solace in trusting the universe. I have faith that surrendering to either or both of these philosophies can help to cultivate inner peace.
I began that journey toward inner peace in the most profound way in the moments and days immediately following my discovery of Mark when I called 911. Commencing with my initial ride to the hospital, I had what I would describe as an out of body experience. It was almost as though I was watching a movie, because surely this couldn’t be my own life that I was observing. But it was. Throughout these mind-numbing instants, time seemed suspended. I was walking through each excruciatingly painful minute in a complete and utter daze, yet I simultaneously felt a tremendous sense inside that something was guiding me, and that somehow despite these horrific events, everything was going to be okay. It’s difficult to put this experience into words but it was as though there was a comforting voice whose words were landing directly on my heart but it wasn’t actually a voice at all. It was more like a deep and vast ‘knowing,’ that these circumstances, which surely had forever fractured my reality, somehow made sense. Oh my. Even all these years later, this admission feels like an incredibly unusual thing to have been feeling at a devastating time like that. I remember beating myself up about those thoughts for months, and quite honestly, I feel extremely vulnerable writing them and sharing them now. But it’s my truth. In the hospital room, Mark’s ipod was playing in the background for almost two full days. I didn’t even know how to operate it because Mark had always been in charge of the playlists. A kind friend had found it at our home and brought it to the hospital knowing that hearing Mark’s musical selections would bring me solace. But it was so much more than a comfort. The music was speaking to me. It was the soundtrack of my life and the lyrics were magically leading me through each fiercely intense moment and life-altering decision. All at once, I understood Mark’s wedding vows, which ten years earlier had struck me as so uncharacteristic of him, when he said we’d be together “until the day that God decided” that we’d be apart. Standing hand and hand with him on the beach, his words practically pierced right through my heart. I was planning to walk with him to the edge of old age. I had never contemplated our time together being cut short by anyone else’s plan. But there at his bedside, I had the deepest understanding of how fiercely significant those words had been. Suddenly I knew, it wasn’t just a coincidence that, after attending the funeral of our dear friends’ father earlier that month, Mark and I had shared in depth conversations that following week about our own relationship and our wishes for when we die. Now, it all made sense. I was quickly and acutely aware that it wasn’t by accident that we had chosen to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary ten days early and just three days before Mark suffered a tragic accident. These and so many other revelations about our entire life together were flooding into my heart and mind. I kept asking myself if somehow he’d known. But of course he couldn’t have known.
After grappling with these thoughts for weeks, I shared them with a friend who provided a swift and decisive response: His soul knew. And I think, perhaps that’s true. Because if there is one thing I know for sure it’s that there is so much that we don’t know. Why, for example, did another dear friend magically share these words with me just days before my life was drastically altered forever, and which tops the list among the best advice I have ever received: “Oh Erin, thunderstorms make rainbows.” She couldn’t possibly have known that I was about to experience the most catastrophic downpour of my life.
After saying goodbye to Mark in the hospital, the “signs” kept coming. They surrounded me every single day. There were meaningful objects which seemed to be magically moving around in my home. There were 33s everywhere. There were incessant flickering lights and music unexpectedly blaring significant songs, sometimes at the most crucial moments, other times out of the clear blue. There were frequent inexplicable circumstances that happened so often they couldn’t be random and I could barely keep track of them all. There were rainbows and bow ties and cardinals and flagpoles and they were all staring or waving or wondrously saying hello to me, like hugs from heaven, exactly when I needed a reminder that we are still always connected. The fact that my heart had been cracked wide open was allowing the love and light to flood right in.
Since experiencing great loss, my journey through grief has also taught me that resilience is like a muscle. I first heard this metaphor from Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Option B. I haven’t read her book but I have seen her speak and I appreciate the analogy deeply as it has become an explanation for me of the adversity I have faced throughout my life. The theory is that resilience is always there within us, but it cannot get stronger unless we train it and load it with weight. With practice and by facing challenges we exercise our resilience and build up the ability to better cope with hardships and manage crises. I have come to believe that while these painful experiences cause tremendous heartache, they are actually gifts from God to help us build up our resilience muscles. I look back now at the difficulties and anguish that I’ve endured throughout my life, from my parents’ divorce when I was young, to a difficult break-up in my 20s, to the heart-wrenching rollercoaster of infertility, and the loss of Cooper’s twin, and I feel gratitude. I am truly grateful for those trials because they strengthened my resilience muscles and prepared me for the most painful tribulation yet, and ultimately helped me to become more fully me. My experiences with loss and grief have shaped me into a person who is more capable of genuine empathy, profound gratitude and endless love than ever before.
My journey isn’t done. I hope it’s just getting started. I am most definitely a work in progress. While I have much more clarity than ever before, I also don’t have it all figured out yet. I could certainly use more time to practice and to anchor my beliefs with action. I pray that I’ll have lots more time left to enjoy the ride and promise that I’ll always try to focus on the blessings in each and every day, even the hardest ones. However, I’m human. Of course I get side-tracked by the little things that never mattered to begin with, and that’s when I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m still here to enjoy it all with most of my favorite people.
So when the rain comes pouring down and the wind almost knocks me over, when life gets really heavy, I try to remember that sometimes, all I can do is hold on, flex my muscles and wait for the rainbow. ❤️
Oh Mark, I miss you so. Until we meet again.