"Getting clear on what and who you want and what brings you joy comes through a shared experience and having someone to talk to as you wade through the sea of life."
- Shannon Vaughn
When my father died abruptly a few years ago, I spent a week in the hospital and hospice managing his care - which really meant reaching out to everyone he knew to tell them he was diagnosed with terminal caner and had 5 days to live. Unfathomable.
But after seeing the weather report and ignoring the medical scans, I accepted he would die on Sunday. We were expecting a heavy snow. He died that Sunday with the snow falling as I anticipated. Heavy was my heart as the large white flurries fell from the sky that I had been praying to so deeply.
After I left with his few sparse belongings from the hospice and went to his home, I had two things I wanted to retrieve and was determined not to weep over every material memory I would see and eventually have to throw out. I went in with a plan to collect his artwork (he was an artist) and his poetry (he was a writer). As I was going through some papers near his bedside, I came across a letter. Amongst all the piles of paper, it spoke to me.
It was letter to Mary Kathleen, a woman my father had loved over 50 years ago. The letter was simple and words were not lost on recollecting the time that had passed or what my father had done over the years since they departed each other, but was very direct: "I loved you. I am sorry we never ended up together. I regret, and I love you still."
I decided to mail the unmailed, stamped letter to Mary Kathleen in Alaska.
A month later, I received a letter in the mail thanking me for sending this letter and adding some color as to this lost love, revealing why so many years later my father still loved her and wrote her when he must have known he was close to death.
My father volunteered for the war (Vietnam) he was in college; he was not drafted and felt terrible guilt so tried to enlist. They sent him home and said the war was over and they were not sending anyone else. The profound effects of this experience sent my father to seek some inner purpose, and he looked to the Quaker faith and other forms of self introspection. Mary Kathleen entered his life in the middle of this “searching” stage and he ended up going in a different direction, away from her.
I often think about my father and why he chose introspection over love. Mary Kathleen was there for the long term so why not revisit their relationship after he did some soul searching...was it too late for him? Too late for her?
What I do know is that he made the decision he was capable of at the time, and that regretted not being with her or at least trying. It got me thinking - in the things that we do often for our own peace of mind and the dismissal of other parts of our life (a singular search), we believe we will wade through our own mud and come out shiny and new on the other side. I find that expectation to be a grave mistake.
Often, getting clear on what and who you want and what brings you joy comes through a shared experience and having someone to talk to as you wade through the sea of life. And so, I am sad. Not sad for Mary Kathleen or my father, but for the love that was lost. Love is a precious gift that we are given. The ability to love another deeply is a rare occurrence and for some reason only really happens a few times in our lives. I know from this sad letter next to the bed of a dying writer, who only had little time, what he deeply wanted to express was the love that got away.