When Kat was barely two, my boss at the time had a little boy named Alex, her favorite playmate, a child so full of life and contagious joy, there were no walls, counter tops or couch cushions that could contain him. He was a flaming spirit of play and laughter, a lot like his mom, and nothing he did could not be instantly forgiven.
One of the hardest moments of my life was going to his funeral, his mother bathed in unimaginable grief became no longer my boss, but part of my soul as I worked with her every day, my greatest teacher to date. She taught me that being in grief with someone made you not weak, but strong. I will treasure her for life for all the moments she allowed me to practice the art of loving someone who is drowning in grief, and the realization that there is no life jacket to throw, nor did she need or want one from me.
She taught me to look at life, death, love, loss, God, and motherhood through a whole new lens, but the ultimate lesson she gave me, is that you can not say, pray, wish, love, or cry the pain away. You have to just be there, sit in the devastation with her, and just be. It is the hardest and most important lesson I have ever learned.
When I left her and that job, there were lessons yet to remain. I quit to have Lola, to divorce, to grow, and in a full cycle, to return to the same job, changed, irreversible, yet so incomplete.
I had yet to meet Heather Murphy.
My first day back on the job, I found myself in the office with this beautiful young blond mother who in small talk about our girls, took out a picture of her incredibly beautiful Isabella, the perfect vision of brown springing curls and big eyes that would melt the hardest of hearts. Then, she took out a photo of Liv, her baby who had died not too long before we met, just a year old. I thought I could die of heartbreak at that very second, flashbacks of the same office, the unforgivable grief, all the details entirely different, the horrifying reality absolutely the same.
My new boss was a part of my soul now too, in an instant, like someone in heaven were snapping their fingers at me, to wake up, to realize she and I were strangers no longer, but together in that moment, for a reason.
It was bigger than me. It was bigger than us.
I don’t know if she knew it, but I knew it.
I watched that woman outside of my body for months, waiting, asking, praying, wanting. She is a spitfire, a hilarious person full of playful energy with a sneaky smile, sarcastic humor, kind gestures, motherly instincts, strength, and has an uncanny ability to do her job amongst men not just well, but incredibly well. She had walls as tall as Berlin, a tough exterior of strength and professionalism, calling me out when I needed it, running the place when I wanted to fall over from fatigue, but she remained. She exhausts me, sometimes mowing the grass at night, just because it needed to be done.
I believe it is her greatest strength and weakness, this strength, because everyone believes she is capable of everything, and sometimes I wonder is she just wants to sit in a chair and be rocked, mothered, taken care of, a realization that no one is there for her, but her, and she is responsible for everyone else.
Slowly, she let me in, and it took time, and the right moments of listening and asking, to hear her stories of Isabella and Liv, the moments moms exchange with knowing looks and hysterical laughter over what their children do and say, the joy that light us up and the acts that put our heads in our hands with worry. After time, I got to see and experience what happened behind the office door closing, the truths I was ready for, the job I wanted, fearfully, but qualified. I knew the job I had been trained for was not in counting money and doing side work, but in listening, crying, staying, and being.
No money can account for that kind of work, the work of one soul inviting another in, the exchange of pain so unimaginable and unreachable, it is what I believe, the very hope to see life each day as priceless, to approach death in humble awakenings, the thing we fear the most, the loss we never want to imagine. It is a gift and she let me unwrap it, the images of Liv and the stories, her chest of toys and lasts, her journals of letters she writes her, the guilt and horror, the daily hell of waking up to a nightmare you can not numb or escape.
I wrote of Alex, back in the day, and I still have those memories on file, an imprint on my soul, but I was too afraid to share his story and life, the fear and pain a choking sensation around my neck. But, I am ready for Liv.
Alex changed me but Liv freed me. Becky taught me to be in the mud, in the dark, in the grief, and she shown like a star so bright, it was too painful for most to witness. Heather has shown me in your vulnerability, you are invincible. She walks the line of greatness and destruction, a beautiful mess, a tragic disaster, and I know she is afraid of going crazy with her own fear, but I know it will be the arrow to show her the way home.
I am waiting for that day she knows. I wonder what will happen when she arrives, the arrow slicing her heart open, her blood a price will become her gift to herself, to the world. It is a miracle what the human Spirit can endure, that every bit of pain of her loss is giving the world a different lens, a price too high for any mother to pay, and for that, I am so very sorry. That line is almost too pathetic to write, how sorry I am to even write it.
What the hell kind of word is sorry for the price you have paid?
I still will not be sorry to hope, to cry, to endure, to give gratitude, because that is just a piece of what you have given me. I hope to share her with the world, through her mommy’s eyes, her life so big and full and immeasurable in moments not only a mother can understand, but all who have seen angels, walking or not. Her Spirit is too beautiful to have gone anywhere but here, and I feel her now, as I write, and I feel it every time her name is breathed, every time I see her mother cry.
…..I hope you will feel her as well, the anniversary of a year since she left, published on the hour she took her last breath, and I ask that today, you say a prayer for Heather, light a candle, release a butterfly balloon, open your heart to the life you have been given, and remember.