For anyone who has lost someone, you know that it is an extensive emotional process through which you must travel in order to get your feet back underneath you. We are all familiar with Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s 4 stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, and acceptance.
I wouldn’t say I’ve added my own stage of grief, though I would say that I have found within grief a profound stage of growth. It is that of truly and deeply understanding the meaning of the word honor. Honor has taken many forms for me in this past year. I was completely unaware of the levels it contained in itself. Though, I am almost certain I have still not reached an end of all it holds.
I am coming upon the one year mark of losing someone very close to me. Someone with whom it feels I spent a lifetime. He and I experienced some of the most beautiful things in life together, as well as some extremely fearful and angry moments as well. This is life right? We shared many titles: husband and wife, ex-husband, ex-wife, jerk, bitch, love, dear, honey, teacher and the list goes on. The two years prior to his death, though, we shared our most precious relationship of friends and co-parents. According to me, they were our best two years together. Our journey to that point was long and riddled with lessons, for both of us. Anyway, that’s another story.
His death last year was my immersive journey into honor. His brothers and sisters in the fire department began showing what it meant to pay regard to a loved one that had served; someone who had given their all for the better of their community. Honoring someone who had sacrificed their well being in the service of others They knew something in their hearts I truly, at the time, only understood with my mind. They knew what it meant to give 100% of yourself everyday to those around you. They shared the experience of seeing the atrocities, feeling the grief, dealing with loss, and facing the chaos only those who are public servants or military personnel would know. This was my first lesson in honor, to hold in esteem, and respect, and love, someone who gave all, someone who reflected their own hearts and lives.
As time slowly passed my daughter and I began having conversations about what it meant to honor someone. How to show them the respect and pay homage to the place they held in our lives. How do you show that? How do you keep alive all they did for you, what they meant to you, and all they taught you? This was a tough one. These were soul-searching questions that had no easy answer. We began by just remembering. Remembering the laughs, the qualities he embodied, the one liners he enjoyed, the things that made him laugh, his affinity for film and electronics. It was a good start. It was a place of honoring his memory, of having him know that he was constantly in our hearts and minds.
We stepped up our game on Father’s Day. We created what will become our tradition. It wasn’t an easy day as we stepped onto the newly manicured lawn at the Fort Snelling Cemetery carrying our bouquet of flowers. It was actually a little uncomfortable. It was my daughter’s first visit to the grave, one that she had been determinedly putting off, as I’m sure she mimicked my thoughts about cemeteries. What’s the point, our loved ones aren’t there anyway? This was to be my next level of understanding honor. Although I feel he is always with us, this gave us an opportunity to gather in a place that was dedicated to his memory. This solidified the experience of having a tradition, having a memorial. It gave us a place to come, to bring gifts of flowers, to bring our tears, to bring our hopes and dreams to share. It was a place that not only the two of us can be and share in the memory, but also a place the community of family and friends can come to pay their respects. It is a memorial that extends past our personal needs of marking his name, saying that he has been here. It is a pillar standing on sacred ground that allows for everyone to come and share, and celebrate his life. It is a place we come, though not at the same time, to continue to honor him. This was a new depth, this continuance of remembrance, not just for us, for everyone.
I’m still figuring out this next layer that I’m moving through. It applies to those still with me. It is this new sense of deeply loving everyone around me for who they are, what they bring to my/our life, and what that means for my life. This level of honor is sacred, it is pure love, it is seeing and understanding the meaning of connection at a heart level. It is seeing the upset and the happiness, and moving through all that it brings and means to our experiences. I don’t quite have the words to explain it. I would sum it up as an awareness of sacred conscious connection.
Somehow I have always wondered what it would be like to have someone in my life that would help me understand love, help me really feel it deep to my core, enough so that I couldn’t imagine life without them. How ironic that it would take losing someone to more fully understand the meaning of love and honor in a relationship. Shane Clifton, you were my friend, my co-parent, my teacher in life and death. I am honored to have walked this path with you, and I am even more deeply honored to have you show me the way of love, in my love.