My family recently experienced a loss. I received the call while I was at my laptop, noodling over topics to write about.
The call wasn’t entirely unexpected. We’ve been navigating this territory for several months, knowing the end was drawing near and sadly hoping for a peaceful, painless passing for our dear one.
It is a blessing that our secret prayers were answered. Our loved one left us, breathing one moment, not breathing the next. It was a gentle letting go, merciful.
This journey has not been a particularly public one, as is no doubt evidenced by my careful writing, avoiding the specifics, omitting the central ‘who.’ It is a fine line we walk these days, between what is public and what remains private.
So much daily life is played out openly, online, posted on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. My life, especially.
As an advocate for authenticity, and being real in the virtual space, I try to set an example with my posting habits, revealing myself, showing up in joy and sorrow, sharing personal and professional struggles with the online communities I serve.
Yet, still there is a line.
My instinct after I got the call was to connect with other family first. I telephoned my mother, then FaceTimed with a close friend. I was not at all tempted to shout-out the news on Facebook or Twitter. I wanted comforting, and the closeness of kind words spoken into my ears. I put on a pot of soup, and made tea, hot and sweet with honey, and drank several cups.
Later that afternoon, an almost-perfect day of blue skies and clear autumn light, I walked along the Fraser River with my husband. The water sparkled and winked. Mount Baker gleamed whitely in the distance. A stellar jay perched nearby for a momentary visit.
My husband spoke of his days as a child, playing tackle football on perfect days such as this, surrounded by yellow leaves and long shadows. We held hands.
This is the world of touch and colour, weather and temperature. The world our dearly departed one has left behind. A precious world that, try as we might, we cannot recreate in cyberspace.
I returned home for more tea and a bowl of soup. It was time to craft the words needed to notify close friends and more distant family. What is appropriate? Facebook Messenger, texts?
We settled on email, with some kind of public post to follow when the family is ready.
Still later, the telephone began to ring. Condolences and sympathy, along with thoughtful offers of foodstuffs and errands.
Later, I know, we will get cards in the mail, perhaps flowers at the door. These are things we can touch and hold.
Looking out the window, I see clouds begin to gather. I watch the cottonwood leaves in the last of the autumn sun – yellow, gold, brown – one by one the leaves drop.
Effortlessly, when it is time, they let go of the branch.