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What Sticks

Everything we put out there for the public has power. Sometimes the backlash is immediate and highly charged. For example, the recent controversy over the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. That was a swift and violent reaction by the public. It makes sense that the reaction would be big because the company is huge, right?

Let me ask you this: what about the little guy? You know, people like you and me. While we may not have influence on the scale of a heavy hitter like Nike, do we have enough influence to send even the smallest ripple across someone else’s pond? I believe we do. Even when we don’t think anyone cares what we have to say, there are times when the most unlikely thing we throw out there will not only hit something, it will stick.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen a short piece I wrote on Labor Day. It was a present tense, third person perspective vignette about a woman who is reminiscing about her deceased loved one. She finds an old bottle of perfume and sprays it into the air and then some unexpected and mysterious things take place. The piece stops abruptly, leaving what happens next completely to the reader’s imagination. That post was not meant to be anything or do anything. Honestly, I was just cleaning house and playing music. A song came on that reminded me of Eric (my late husband) and as I was listening to it, I spied an old bottle of perfume. It was a scent I wore when I was with him, but have not worn since he died. I found it unexpectedly about a month ago, in a random box I was looking through. Anyway, I looked at the bottle, then I did it. I sprayed it and mentally I was transported back in time. The music, the scent. It sat me down, let me tell you.

As I sat there on my bed, I thought it was a good time to take a break. Picking up my phone and posting what I did was unintentional. By that I mean there was no intention behind the post other than to record the scene that played out in my head as the result of my experience. I could have written it in the “Notes” app on my phone, but my finger didn’t tap that icon, it tapped Facebook. I wrote and I shared, but I was barely aware of doing it at all. As I typed, I was watching things play out. Why his hands closed around her throat at the end, I can’t say. It’s just what I saw. That’s where the scene ended in my head so that’s where the post ended. Call it compelling or disturbing or intriguing, but it was not intended to be any of that. I rarely post fictional narrative on Facebook. That is something reserved for books. Still, it happened. The reactions were swift but favorable and completely unexpected. The people who saw it wanted more. I was surprised but happy. Then I got the private message that waylaid me.

Not only did my post hit something. It hit something hard and stuck. The message was from a Facebook friend who had lost a spouse a few months ago. He included a picture of two bottles of perfume – her perfume. The imagery in my post had instantly connected with this person in a very personal way. He went on to tell me a beautiful story about buying and giving one of those perfume bottles for her. It was a once happy memory, now simply bittersweet. We chatted for a while and I shared some of what I went through after Eric died. I already felt horrible that my post may have caused him some emotional pain, but then his next message popped up: “I was going to ask how long it took for you to want to feel like living again, but now I’m afraid to know.”

I don’t know exactly how long I stared at that sentence but it was a long time. I struggled with a response. This man was only a few months into his loss. I thought about where I was emotionally at that point and I didn’t want to tell him how long it took. At that point, I was still numb and mostly going through the motions; trying to appear like I was a living person when in reality I was a walking corpse. Inside I felt devoid of joy and hope. If I smiled, there was no real happiness behind it. If I laughed it was empty and hollow. My heart was beating but it was merely an echo of what had once made me feel alive. I still had to be reminded to eat. I slept entirely too much. At the three month point, I was not talking to God much, other than to ask him repeatedly to end my misery – I didn’t care how. I was dying by degrees and infatuated with the idea of joining Eric. Infatuation led to obsession and soon it was all I thought about.

I was never angry with God for allowing Eric to take his own life. Eric had free will and it was his choice, albeit one that was heavily influenced by anti-depressants mixed with alcohol. Still, God did not strike him down. Eric chose to leave me. There I said it. The love of my life chose death over toughing it out with me. Wow, Cheryl. Issues, much? Sure. At three months into my grief, not only did I feel that I had failed to prevent my husband from taking his own life, I felt as if I had failed to give him a reason to go on living. At three months in, I was lying on a couch suddenly able to relate 100% with how Eric had felt at the end. I was depressed. I had no hope. I felt like this heaviness would never be lifted and the darkness that now pervaded my life would never be chased away. I realized that my life had become the same struggle to maintain the line that Eric’s had. I was now in his shoes, feeling the full weight of a huge decision: to stay or to go.

“I was going to ask how long it took for you to want to feel like living again, but now I’m afraid to know.” Remembering where I was three months in, made me wonder if my answer would even matter to this man. I do remember that nothing anyone had to say to me actually helped me during the height of my grief. How long? Too long. No, that’s a terrible answer. Even if I couldn’t help, I surely didn’t want to make things worse. The truth is it was one year before I could even fathom the idea that I might someday want to feel like living again. Maybe. Could I be less committal? Well, here’s the thing, when you are raw and in the midst of the hurting, you just can’t imagine anything different than the hell you are experiencing at the moment.

Time has a way of healing even the deepest wounds, but the scar remains there forever, a constant reminder that something once pierced you and ripped your heart out. Clearly I did not kill myself or remain in a depressive state. I had a choice to make: stay or go. I chose to stay. When I chose life, I had to agree to live again and do it to the fullest. I might night get there by the end of year one or year two or even year three, but I would get there eventually if I just took it one day at a time.

The vibrancy had been drained from my life, but slowly it came back. Little by little my smile became genuine again and the joy returned to my heart. I laughed and felt it from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I found love again. I cherished my life again. But all this took time.

The thing about a situation like mine and like this man’s is that it seems like it will never change or at best, progress is so slow it cannot be detected. People looking in from the outside don’t have the same concept of time as the person suffering or grieving. To say, hey you have a good year to go before you will want to think about being okay again, might as well be saying it will take a decade. Time doesn’t exist the same way for people in his shoes.

I told him, no matter what happens years from now, keep the perfume. Hoard it and treasure it. Open it and sample it often. Just don’t ever throw it away, even if you meet someone and you think it would be wrong to hold onto the past. Hold on to it. Forever. I threw out almost every letter and card and piece of Eric that I had kept because I thought keeping it was hurtful to the person I was with years later. I told myself, the living have to live and the dead have to be buried. I regret that. Oh, it seemed very noble at the time. I was freeing myself. I was showing respect for my new life. BS! Those items were tangible things that linked me to someone precious to me. I do have memories of course. Eric was not erased from history because I tossed out cards and letters. However, I felt like that bit of advice – keep those bottles forever – was far more valuable than trying to tell him when things would get easier.

The whole point of this long rant is this. I could think about a piece and spend hours, days, weeks perfecting it and put it out there to be read and have it touch not one single person. Then I knock something out while almost in a trance and it’s like an arrow that hit the bullseye on someone’s broken heart. I don’t know that I helped him at all that day. I apologized if my post had hurt him. He assured me it had not. The memory it brought him was a treasured one. He felt connected to someone who might, by some miracle, understand what he has been feeling. I did. I do. And I know he’ll be okay because I am okay.

God knows our needs, even when we do not. He never makes mistakes. My completely random and abruptly ending post should not have gotten any attention whatsoever. What are the odds this man would see it anyway? He’s not someone I interact with often at all. Why did he even see it? My mind is blown by the UN-randomness of God’s plan for each and every one of us.

Never underestimate how God might use you in the most unsuspecting ways to connect with another human being. We don’t have to know why or even what service we provided. Sometimes just knowing someone else understands is enough to keep someone afloat for another day.

In case you are curious about it, I did share that first post and the follow up post on my blog this week. The post I am referring to in this article is titled, Specter – Part 1. The follow up is appropriately titled, Specter – Part 2. You can simply scroll down through my blog posts and you'll find them. Future installments will appear in my blog.

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