Discover more from The Luminist: Personal growth through grief, loss & death
#28: Love is legacy enough.
It’s never too late to live a life worth remembering.
Greetings from Hawaii, dear readers! I am here for a conference and a team visit, enjoying the contrast… a step out of my regular blistering-sun-and-gritty-sand-vista work trips to palm trees and crystal blue waters. The change of scenery has me shifting my perspective on other things, reframing the idea that a big impact needs a big action. You’ll see what I mean in the post ahead…
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I think about honoring Mike a lot.
With The Luminist, of course. How I raise our kids, all the time. But also how I speak about him, share him, illustrate him to absolute strangers in a way that lets them feel just a bit of warmth from a soul that burned so bright. As anyone who has lost someone knows, it’s important to get him right.
Which is why my jaw hit the floor when, out of the blue, I received the text message:
“Front page of WSJ.com today!”
This text greeted me when I returned to my car after a crack-of-dawn Friday morning workout, slinging kettlebells and straining through deadlifts, making sure this 54-year-old body is capable of lifting her roller-bag into the overhead bin.
I stared at the words. Time stamped 7:01am.
The video dropped? I thought it wouldn’t be until Monday or Tuesday. My stomach dropped to my ankles.
I texted back the work friend who shared the words with me.
“Have not seen the end product yet! Yikes!”
He responded, “I learned a new term — view shed!”
Uh boy, that means he not only saw it on the homepage, he watched it.
With shaky hands, I started the car and let my internal autopilot guide me where I needed to be… Great Falls Park. At stoplights along the way, I looked in my email and saw the note from the Wall Street Journal video producer Nikki sharing the link. I forwarded it on to a few besties — Julie, Luanne, CeCe, Takis, Dave — with an “I can’t bear to watch, but here it is” note.
By the time I arrived at the park, I had Julie’s response:
The fear, the anxiety I was carrying drained out of me like a water-filled clay pot shot with a pellet gun. Emptied of the nerves, the clay pot shards were still coated with a chalky residue it took me a minute to recognize. It was sadness. I missed Mike. Then I started to cry.
My initial hesitations about doing the Wall Street Journal video —
once the news article was published and the cat was irrevocably out of the bag — revolved around two things: dishonoring Mike and embarrassing myself.
My logical brain knew I was in good hands with Nikki (the producer) and Roddy (the videographer). I was confident they would produce something visually stunning, encapsulating the beauty that is the Treehouse. No-brainer there. But I was still worried I’d make myself look bad. And in the process — unintentionally, unknowingly, unforgivably — Mike.
Though I took to filming like a fish out of water (or perhaps a fish out of water trying to ride a bike), I slowly emerged from my shell under Nikki and Roddy’s patient tutelage. To the point where I found myself climbing up on my couch in my fanciest oxfords (something I often do when no one is looking) right in front of the camera.
Toward the end of the taping day, I was at home enough with the duo that I showed Nikki and Roddy my box of mementos (including the notebook from last week’s post where Kendall re-did my to-do list). I started shuffling through, looking for a specific picture of Mike. Then I saw his precious college-ruled triple-folded letter, titled with a cursive Sweatheart, resting on top of the sought-after photo in its clear protective sleeve.
I explained what was in the letter. Nikki asked if I was ok to read it. I said absolutely.
Roddy filmed while I used all the intestinal fortitude available to me to steady my voice and get through it without breaking down. (I seriously engaged core muscles I didn’t even know I had. My trainer would be so proud.) I had to keep my composure. Because I wanted the world to hear Mike. I wanted the world to know Mike.
When we were done, we paused in silence for a while. Roddy said, “I don’t think I will ever find love like that.” Nikki and I were both surprised. I leaned in purposefully and intensely, “But why not Roddy? There is no reason you cannot have the same kind of love Mike and I had.” His face went from skeptical to hopeful.
The last shot of the day was the walk in my backyard meadow. We were catching the golden-hour light gleaming off the green leaves and gnarly tree trunks. I felt comfortable and was riffing about my life without Mike and his overflowing love for us. I lapsed into silence, taking in my tree-filled haven, forgetting about the camera. Then something caught my eye. A baby buck in all his burnished, tan, fuzzy glory was standing right there, looking at us with deep brown eyes. With a gasp, I pointed out our unexpected visitor and we stared at him in awe.
I like to think it was Mike.
After having a good cry in Great Falls Park,
my close friend Mike called. He’d had the article forwarded to him by one of the analysts that cover our public company. I told him I had not watched it yet and why. He told me not to worry.
“The deer was the icing on the cake.”
“By the way, they absolutely got the best of Mike because you read his letter. That was him. And then the photos on top of it. You showed how much he truly cared for his family. With just a few sentences, you captured how much he cared.”
With these words, my sadness fully burned away like a morning fog… and from behind it emerged the sparkling, clear-blue-sky inspiration that carries me through the writing process each week.
The words bubbled out of me like a spring, “That was a total unintended consequence, but the best possible outcome of all. I hope people will hear the words from that letter and think ‘I still have time. I want to be the best partner/friend/coworker/etc I can be. I want to make a difference by the way I love and show up and take care of the people around me.’ Like Roddy… It’s not too late. It’s never too late. Because you never know which seemingly small action, like writing a letter, will have an enduring impact!”
Like I said… I think about honoring Mike a lot.
And, if he could whisper in my ear, what message he would want to leave the world — of hope, of motivation, of inspiration.
This would be it: it’s not too late. You have no idea how some hypothetical letter about an airplane crash that you leave for your spouse is eventually going to make it into a WSJ video and hearten a young videographer to keep chasing his dreams.
We simply have no idea. We don’t know what our most impactful act in this lifetime is going to be. Each action we make — minute or seismic — ripples and ricochets like a wave plowing into a coast of boulders and cliffs. It’s a system too chaotic to predict.
So we don’t give up. We never throw in the towel — “I’ve tried everything! Nothing I do is going to make an impact. I’m resigning myself to Star Wars marathons and Chunky Monkey pints for the rest of my days.”
Just like Mike had no idea his letter to me would be read on the front page of the internet (or close enough), I had no idea that I’d find my purpose (the mystical, elusive, better-than-black-coffee kind) until my husband died one random Tuesday morning.
It’s part of the mystery. And that kind of sucks. Because we want to have a job, a goal, a summit we can climb to the top of, proving we have “won” at life. But once we recover from taking ourselves so seriously, it can be liberating. All we can do is do what we want to do… well. Do it with our whole soul — squeezing every last drop of being and loving into the mundane actions that make up our lives — with no clue which ones will “stick.”
I pulled into my garage,
hung up with Mike and went in search of Kendall. She was tucked into her bed amidst the fallout zone of strewn clothing, tote bags, and mate-less shoes in her crypt-dark room.
“Will you watch a video with me?”
“What video?” She responded.
“The WSJ one — it just dropped.”
She could tell I was tentative and unsure, abnormal for me.
She sat up with a whoosh of air, patted the bed next to her, and commanded, “SIT DOWN!”
I gathered up the fingernail clippers and nail file taking up the space where I was instructed to sit. She keeps a little keepsake blue velvet box — containing a metal heart with Mike’s ashes — tucked just under her bedside lamp. I put the paraphernalia on top of the box and said, “Hold this, daddy.” Then snuggled in beside her, opened up the iPad, and held my breath.
For six minutes, we watched the video.
“This turned out great. You were yourself, real and authentic. And that’s what people want to see. Not someone fake or pretending… Daddy would be proud of you,” she said. (And Kendall isn’t one to blow hot air.)
“And that deer at the end was crazy!”
So tell me,
Do you have an experience of someone touching you with an action, a word, even just a smile? Something that would have seemed insignificant from the outside but meant so much to you?
Or the reverse scenario — did you offer some small act of kindness or respect that turned out to be a big deal for someone else?
And finally, how can you move through today, just a little bit more intentionally, remembering that the ripples you create with each step, each moment of eye contact, each email drafted and sent hold the potential to change lives?
Like the imperceptible butterfly wing flap that creates a hurricane on the other side of the world (but in a good way).
With rippling love,
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