“It is with a heavy heart” – I never knew what this phrase meant until I got older and started losing friends to cancer, and other illnesses. The first major death in our family was when my uncle got into a car accident when I was 18. It was on Halloween week and we spent most of the week visiting him in ICU. I remember holding his hand. It still felt warm. Even though the doctors had technically declared him as brain dead. It was my first experience losing a loved one. And it was tough.
I think the next tough loss was my grandmother in 2003. We weren’t really close, but we often visited because my dad was close to her. I remember it was the only time we were allowed to sip pop. Happy pop – usually a gingerale. She also had an organ which I always sat at and played with as a toddler. The funeral was a tough one – but it was beautiful.
Nothing for a few years until 2006-2007 after I joined the church as an organist. In 2007, we lost fourteen members and many of them were long time family friends. We also lost my mum’s dad and my aunt’s sister in the same week. I played for both funerals which were…difficult, to say the least.
After the seventh funeral, I had an emotional break. I had to ask someone to help and come play for a couple of funerals. I couldn’t do it. My grandfather’s funeral broke me.
After that, I became numb to the news when someone I knew had died. I didn’t even cry when my mum died. Well, I did a bit on the day of her death. I didn’t cry at all the whole week she was in the hospital beforehand. And I didn’t cry after. I didn’t even cry at the funeral. The tears would eventually come. I wrote about it in my book – When I Get to Heaven – and then it felt like the tears wouldn’t stop.
I stopped counting how many people we lost and how many friends I said goodbye to. I embraced death as part of life. It seemed for every funeral we had, it was followed by either a wedding or baptism. I once experienced the entire cycle of life in a weekend. From a celebration of prayer, to a funeral, to a baptism the next day. People ask what I get out of being a church organist. How many people can say they’ve had experiences like that?
I’m trying to find the words to explain what I’m feeling today. I think part of it is shock. Part of it is sadness. A lot of it is regret. And some of it is — maybe fear. Because sometimes, I think of a person right before they die. And that happened again this week for like the fifth time.
You all know I’ve been off work for a long time. Work didn’t always suck. When I was hired, I was hired by this amazing woman who was full of life. She and I had the best working relationship I’ve ever had. We became fast friends. I truly loved her and learned much from her in dealing with people. When she left the workplace due to her own health issues, things changed rapidly. It wasn’t the same job anymore.
She had a stroke last year which led to a series of strokes. This woman had the biggest of hearts, and maybe that’s why it finally gave out on her. She died on the weekend. Just a couple of days after I reached out to her daughter.
That’s not the first time that has happened. It happened with my mum too. I saw the phone call and I knew. I knew our last Christmas would be our last holiday together. I just knew. Maybe you’re connected to certain people that way. Like soul spirits. I don’t know.
And so, today, I finally really understand what a “heavy heart” means. Because let me tell you, my heart is fucking heavy. It hurts. At times I can’t breathe. I’ve felt grief but not like this in many years. Maybe it’s not just Harriet’s loss that I’m mourning. Maybe it’s everyone I’ve lost in the last few years. And there’s been a few in the last twelve months.
I think maybe what hurts the most is not being able to see her due to the pandemic. I can’t help but wonder if the isolation was part of it. When someone is a larger than life kind of person with a huge heart, being cut off the world and living in fear and isolation can be a silent killer.
A heavy heart.
It’s not just a metaphor.