“…Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
– John Donne
As I left my place this morning, a man asked me if the elevator was taking awhile. I thought about it and said, “Yes, I guess I have been waiting a little.”
I noticed he had a few garbage bags on a cart, as well as a box in his hand. I asked him if he was cleaning out his storage locker and he said he was cleaning out his brother in law’s place. His brother in law had just passed away last week.
I stumbled with every word I said after that. I’m sure “I’m sorry” came out somewhere in my words, but it didn’t seem like enough. And then I realized I started talking about the box in his hand- a box for a hand held vacuum cleaner. I think I said I need one for my car, and he responded that unfortunately, the box is empty.
God, what was I thinking? But I know what I was thinking. I was thinking, God, what’s with all this someone just up and dies again business all about? I don’t get it. And because I don’t get it, and this stab in my stomach had formed that suddenly climbed up towards my throat into this uncomfortable ball, I just rambled, about stupid, meaningless things.
I must have seemed so insensitive to this man and what he was going through. But when I apologized, and told him that I actually just didn’t know what to say as the subject was so dear to me- a loved one passing away, because my mom passed away, he complained about trivial things that then made me wonder how he could be so insensitive. He said he had to deal with lawyers and funeral arrangements and where to put his brother in law’s closet full of suits. He said he just wants to be done with it and go back home, to Prince George.
“He was a concierge for a hotel here,” said the man about the brother in law, as I was stepping out of the elevator.
I immediately turned towards him and held the elevator door to stop it from closing. “Did you say he was a concierge?” I asked, now realizing my own sadness was coming through. “Yes. Did you know him?” the man asked.
I used to see this man all the time in the elevator. He was so friendly and always smiling. He didn’t look like he had any medical issue going on. And I couldn’t believe that just like that, he was gone.
And we just go on with our lives, either because we are in a rush to catch an elevator, or because he wasn’t related to me, or because his relatives want to get back to their daily lives in Prince George. But I wanted to then know what happened to him. Was he sick? Was he in an accident? Why are there no signs out in our apartment to honour this man, who lived on the same floor as me? This man who always greeted me with kindness. Why am I back in my apartment continuing my day as if nothing happened?
It’s so sad, Mom. I wonder how your neighbours must have felt when they found out you passed away. That they would never see your smiling face in the elevator again. And it also makes me angry thinking that they too just went back to their every day lives, as if nothing happened.
What can you do right? I guess that’s what we’re all thinking. What they’re all thinking.
It doesn’t matter if they didn’t know you well, or weren’t a relative. It affects us, or it should affect all of us, when another person leaves this earth. I know you understood that. You went to so many funerals, of people you sometimes had hardly spoken to, people you sometimes never even met. But you knew that each and every one of those people mattered. And you attended their funerals to show that we are all connected, and that that loss is a loss for all of us. It humbles us, and reminds us that none of us live forever.
And though you never spoke about this to me, I realize now that you were always very aware of this – that our time could come just like that. How brave you were living and enduring even though so many people around you had passed away, including your own loving mother.
And I so admire you, for being that strong person who always showed up, and always reached out a hand to people who experienced loss. It didn’t make you too sensitive or weak. It made you compassionate, and loving. And I am so sorry that I didn’t always listen enough, or take the time to just even sit in silence with you when you would tell me that this person or that person’s son, or this other person’s wife, or so and so’s brother had passed away. I couldn’t connect to it maybe because I didn’t know how to, or probably because I was too scared to. But you faced the fear, despite how much it must have weighed heavy on your heart. You faced it to honour those people.
What a difference it might have made to you if I had just taken those moments to acknowledge that these people mattered to you, that you were saddened by these losses. That you didn’t have to face this alone. It’s not about one person, it’s about all the other people that person touched, and all the grief and sadness, and the holes that are caused by that one person being taken from the earth. It’s a ripple effect of grief. And it reaches all of us.
The bell tolls for all of us, every time.
I didn’t fully understand this until the most important person in my life was taken.
Thank you for teaching me to care about each person around me, Mom. Thank you for caring so much about everyone around you.
I hope you are getting back all that caring and love and nurturing and peace- a hundred times over- that you gave out.
Thinking about you always. That will never change. Ever.