I was moved to tears on Sunday reading the December 28, 2014 New York Times interview with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, the team in charge of bringing in our New Year tonight on CNN.
Something Anderson said resonated with me personally.
As a child he lost his father and then a few years later his brother took his life.
In the interview he says this about that: “There’s something about experiencing loss very young. My mom used to talk about it all the time because her dad died when she was an infant. In my case, it was my father and brother. You never feel safe, but at the same time, you know everything is possible — both good and bad.”
I didn’t lose anybody when I was young, but I did lose somebody this year.
When my youngest brother died suddenly, unexpectedly, at the end of August, my world felt very unsafe. I was scared. If something this awful could happen in an instant, what was coming next? How could I prepare myself? I didn’t trust life.
It’s been four months. It still feels fresh. Someone recently asked me what stage of grief I thought I was in. I have no idea. I know that the day before Christmas Eve I was in agony and couldn’t stop crying.
And then I woke up, the morning of Christmas Eve, and every turn in the day was sweet. Throwing a few more lights on the tree was fun. Being in Whole Foods buying groceries with the masses was delightful. Listening to a song list on Spotify called The Best Christmas Songs of All Times added flavor to the afternoon of cooking and baking my families favorite dishes. Setting the table, going outside to pick some greenery for the table’s floral arrangements — it all felt normal.
Later that evening when our families were all gathered together, my son handed out song sheets and said, “I’m not sure if you guys are going to like this but I thought we could sing a song together.” He grabbed Russ’ guitar, tuned it, and then led us in the hymn, Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Here.
It was beautiful and sweet. We were together and we were safe.
“Glad this year’s over”
A couple of days later I overheard someone say, “I can’t wait for this year to be over.” I tried that statement on for size. I guess I could say that too, but I know the grief won’t disappear when Kathy and Anderson count down to 2015. It’ll still be here. I’ll still want this to be over and for my brother to be back in Minnesota giving me updates on the horses on the farm.
But there’s also the good that Anderson referred to in that interview: everything is possible–the good and the bad.
“Everything is possible”
Thirteen years ago tonight I was going to the movie Ali starring Will Smith. First I’d meet my son for an early dinner. He had a New Year’s Eve gig that night in SF. I wished him luck and got to the movies early and sat in the car so I could talk to Mom and Dad in Minnesota for awhile. I was ready to make some changes in my life although I didn’t know how that was going to look. My parents are great listeners. We solved pretty much nothing in that phone call but we had a few laughs. They are so dear to me. We hung up, I went to the movie, and hours before midnight I was home in bed.
The next day my life changed forever. Does that sound impossible? No, it truly did happen that way. I had a housewarming party to go to of a newly engaged couple. They’d just bought a house together in Mill Valley and were celebrating.
Saying “yes” to the invitation had seemed like a good idea at the time. I was very happy my girlfriend, the hostess, had found her guy and that they were starting their new life together.
Historically, saying “yes” to parties always makes sense at the time but as any party hour comes closer I suddenly remember what an introvert I am. I’m a horrible mingler. I can’t small talk. I don’t drink or if I do, it’s a half glass of wine over the course of three hours. I’m not a partier.
I made a plan. I’d go for the last hour and I’d wear a favorite outfit. A good outfit can make anything better. I slipped into a pair of slim red corduroy jeans, a black V-neck top, added two layered red necklaces and my black leather ankle boots.
I walked in the door and spotted him immediately: a tall, dark and handsome man. In fact, he was the most handsome man at the party which meant I would definitely not be talking to him. Too scary.
So I found two people I recognized and sat down and spoke with them. Soon the hosts invited me to join them in the kitchen to try some homemade limoncello. People were leaving and I started to feel more at ease. Soon it whittled down to six people: the couple we were there to celebrate, the couple I knew, the handsome guy and myself.
My hostess asked me to share my Oprah story, how I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show with my first book, 40 Over 40. It’s a story of thrills, chills, and laughs with lots of poignant family vignettes thrown in. I felt the handsome guy looking at me and listening.
When I hit the end of the story it was a natural time to make a move to the door. Everyone seemed to line up making it efficient to say goodbye.
I had a kiss and a hug for my host and hostess, a kiss and a hug to the couple I knew already, and then there was handsome guy. What was I to do? I hadn’t spoken a word to him all night but here we were face-to-face.
Oh heck, I decided. It’s New Year’s Day, just give him a kiss and a hug and be done with it. You’ll never see him again anyway.
So I did. A kiss and a hug. Easy peasy.
But here’s the thing. There was so much electricity between us. I felt it. I thought it was my secret but then I knew he felt it too because he leaned back and said to me, “What just happened?”
I could find no words so I said nothing and headed out the door.
My friends said, “Brenda, do you need a ride to your car?” “No,” I said. “I’m just parked down the hill. I can walk.” Behind me I heard handsome guy say, “I’ll walk you to your car.”
He walked me to my car and we stood in the drizzle for two hours, talking. He was fun, smart, and available. I thought his name was Ross but he corrected me. It was Russ.
It was time to head home. Before I left he said he’d follow the single guy rule book and call me in two days and ask me out.
I suddenly got anxious. I’d only known this guy for two hours! “Oh, I don’t date,” I said.
“How about this,” he said. “I’ll call you and we’ll meet at a bookstore. The first thing we’ll do is kiss and hug because we know how to do that. And then we’ll sit down and see if we can string a few sentences together. Okay?”
He called me in two days and had a plan. I agreed to it.
We met at the Book Depot in Mill Valley about a week later. We greeted each other with a kiss and a hug, got coffees, sat down and strung dozens of sentences together.
And now we’ve strung thirteen years together. Tonight I’ll go to the movies with Russ and tomorrow morning we’ll go to breakfast at Boonfly, like we’ve done the last ten years, and celebrate the amazingly great thing that happened to us: finding each other.
Moving ever closer to 2015, I know that everything is possible. I pray for the strength to face the bad things and the grace to accept the good things.
May your year be rich with blessings and the strength you need to face the hard times too.
Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine was written in 1873 by Fanny Crosby. The last verse goes like this:
Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.