Connecting Purpose to Loss

Why was I crying as I walked down the street, carrying a salad I’d picked up for lunch? No, not because I’m a moosh bag who sobs to any decently scored coffee commercial around the holidays. (Well, not only for that reason.) I was moved. A little closer to where I’m supposed to be. And I felt it deeply.

I’d received an email from Terri Wingham, founder of A Fresh Chapter, asking if she could include me in an email she was sending to participants of the non-profit’s upcoming Peru excursion “Can I include you so that you start to see our broader communication strategy? I’ll introduce you as a contributing writer, if that is ok :)???”

I’d just written an article for A Fresh Chapter’s blog about a participant of a recent LA/Grand Canyon excursion. A Fresh Chapter is a non-profit whose mission is “to heal the emotional scars of cancer through volunteering and meaningful travel.” I’d initially applied for the Peru excursion, spoken with Terri, but as the deadline loomed, I realized it wasn’t time for me to go. Yet. (Or ever?) But I knew I wanted to help her — and A Fresh Chapter — and share its vision and help others who have been impacted by cancer or loss or faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Speaking with her felt like talking to an old friend on our first call — almost as if we were supposed to meet.

I’m a writer. So I offered to write for AFC’s website and blog. She offered up an interview with fellow tribe’s person Theresa, and I jumped at it! I hadn’t interviewed anyone since college, but I knew one thing: writing is my jam and I’ve done a good job at telling my own story, so maybe I could tell someone else’s.

There was only one way to find out!

“How are you feeling about the interview?” Terri asked me on one of our monthly check-in calls.

“Nervous,” I replied.

“The bad kind of nervous?” she asked. The thing you should know about Terri (a cancer survivor herself) is that she is fundamentally a teacher at heart. And when she interacts with you, she wants to leave that interaction feeling better than you did when it started — even if you were already flying high. She can top it with her calming and healing qualities.

“No. The excited-kind-of-nervous.” I’ve been averse to trying new things in my life (see Peru above), but writing is a part of me. I wanted to push my boundaries and see what else I could do besides writing about myself. I was most definitely excited.

After I spoke with my interviewee on the phone, feverishly asking questions and taking notes, I grabbed my iPad and ran to the nearest bench in the sun and fell into a trance as my fingers rattled away on the keyboard, stringing my random thoughts, observations and interpretations into cohesive sentences. It was all bliss. My bliss. The perfect combination of feeling so very big and so very small in the same instant.

I’d recently had a text exchange with my sister Shelli when I told her about my interview with Theresa and the work I was doing with A Fresh Chapter, and it reminded me that perhaps that’s part of why I’m here. Why the guy who only bets on sure things fell in love with the guy who’d had cancer — and would have it again.

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Sharing Theresa’s story brought two important through-lines in my life to a precise intersection on the bench I was sitting on in the middle of Lincoln Square: an understanding of loss and the compulsion to write about it. And when I saw Terri’s email, I was jarringly reminded by a few things: that I hadn’t shrunk from losing Ken, I’d grown; that I’ve kept following my passion of writing (something he needed to hear me promise to do in the last weeks of his life); and the path was becoming clearer in how I’d use it; and — maybe most importantly — that he’d be so proud of me for all of this.

Being able to connect a purpose to loss — my loss of my husband — doesn’t change what I went through. But maybe it somehow validates it. And frees me from it in a way. I’m not trapped by it, but respectfully tethered to it. A sort of constant companion. And I can make it what I want it to be: into a lens that lets me help others.

So, please follow this link to read my first contribution to A Fresh Chapter’s blog which went live today — serendipitously, on what would have been Ken’s 51st birthday.

It’s my favorite…so far!


Originally published at the xanax diary.