As I sit to write this on the afternoon of April 21st, my already somber heart saddens even more. On this sunny spring day that for the first time this year feels warm even in the shadows, I grapple with dark emotions brought on by two deaths. One of them a creative icon known to all, the other a relatively unknown painter. One I never met, the other I’ve know all my life. One death took the world by surprise, the other not unexpected. Within a 36 hour span of time I experienced the deaths of music genius Prince, and commercial painter Reginald Carter, my grandfather.
Death has seen fit to make itself known to my family with fairly alarming frequency this past year. Over the past ten months we’ve lost my wife Jennifer, my aunt Olivia, and now my grandfather. They were in their forties, sixties, and nineties respectively. Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in the feelings of unfairness and loss. The truth is, they never really go away. Every new loss compounds the previous losses. Under normal circumstances, I would have been saddened by the news of Prince’s sudden death. His music touched the lives of so many. Those of us of a certain age remember where we were when we heard Purple Rain for the first time… and not just the song, but the whole album! But today I feel uncharacteristically deep profound sadness about the passing of a celebrity I never knew, and I know it’s because of the losses that preceded his.
In the midst of ongoing grief, the edges of my despair are softened. Not so much by the passage of time, but by certain perennial truths that inform my way of being. For example, I take comfort in knowing that they still exist. I am not necessarily referring to the mysterious undefined afterlife. I mean in the here and now. We may no longer experience the physical presence of those who died, but we still feel their presence nonetheless. It may in real feelings of love, tangible possessions, images, and memories. My grandfather was the first person who let me drive. I could not have been more than seven or eight as I sat in his lap and steered his pickup truck down pot-holed roads.
Another truth is that, when we stop to think about it, this complex tapestry we call life leaves us with no surprises. We know there will be peaks and valleys, loves and losses, life and death. How we navigate these depends on how well we know ourselves, and our Divine nature. When we walk through life from a higher/expanded level of consciousness, our emotions take a back seat to a deeper realization...that everything, yes everything, is an opportunity for deeper knowing of and connection with God. If we let it. The pain of loss is a force that we can use to our benefit. Rather than letting it squeeze us shut, we can allow it to break us open so that we plumb the endless depths of our spirit.
From my experience over the last few months, it would seem that we can only begin to grasp the fullness of love in both life and death. The void created by loss has to be filled, and if we choose love, it not only fills us but helps us grow beyond our previously perceived capacities. This takes time though, and being aware of the journey doesn’t make it a smooth one. Prepare for the fits and starts of transformation through grief. In a few days I will go home to help bury my grandfather. Family of all ages will gather and relive his finest moments, keeping his spirit alive for generations. And today I will play my Prince favorites. It may be a sunny day, but all I see is Purple Rain.