- Founder of Healing Care Hospice
This article is adapted from a talk I gave at Healing Care Hospice’s recent “Celebration of Life” event on May 18, 2019.
I want to start off by thanking our outstanding Healing Care team for organizing this very unique event and bringing us all together on this gorgeous day. When I experience days like this, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and pride that I have found so many amazing partners to help me realize my vision of building a company that makes a positive impact on our community. I always encourage our staff to embrace their inner passion in their work and in their lives, and as you can see here today, they certainly have.
My personal experience with grief and loss largely centers on the death of my best friend Jeffrey Powell, who passed away on July 26, 2011, at the untimely at age of 54. I was in my mid-twenties when I first met Jeffrey, and though he was nearly twenty years my senior, we became close friends. Jeffrey had a young spirit, and he made friends everywhere he went, without effort.
Jeffrey died from Pulmonary Fibrosis, which the doctors explained may have resulted from exposure to harmful chemicals during his twenty years as a painting contractor. Jeffrey had also battled extensively with drug addiction and I knew that his experiences during his active addiction had also taken a terrible toll on his health. Jeffrey spoke often about the eight years he lived homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, underneath a barren bridge in Chinatown. When he passed, Jeffrey had been clean nearly twelve years and he had built an extraordinary life for himself, including a devoted wife, a broad network of friends and family who cared deeply for him, a thriving business, and a peaceful home in the South Bay.
I remember the night that Jeffery died. I felt this terrible heaviness, as if the skies had descended down on me, pushing me into the floor.
For months, while driving on the freeway, I would suddenly and inexplicably break out into tears while thinking of Jeffrey. On these occasions I would re-feel that deep sense of emptiness and longing that I first felt when Jeffrey died.
Jeffrey was a unique person. He was warm, individualistic, and eccentric. He felt great love for people, and unlike most people I encounter, he would consistently and repeatedly tell you that he loved you, that he appreciated you, that you were important to him. I didn’t understand how special this quality was until after he was gone.
What I remember most powerfully about Jeffrey, and what I long for, is how I would feel when I was with him. I always felt comfortable; I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be at that moment in time; I felt like I mattered, not because of what I offered, but because of who I was; I felt at peace.
What really broke my heart about Jeffrey’s passing was that just one year before he died, Jeffrey finally met and married a woman who loved him the way he deserved to be loved. Deeply. Absolutely. Passionately. He brought her to my home one day and said that he had found the woman he had been searching for all his life, and I believed that he had. She also expressed that she had finally met the man she was searching for her whole life. And I believed her too.
His whole life, it seemed, Jeffrey was searching for true love, and when he had finally found his soul mate, he died one year into his marriage.
I can’t explain it. It makes me angry at God that Jeffrey didn’t have more time with his soul mate. It makes me angry at Fate that I only got to spend ten years as Jeffrey’s friend, that I couldn’t him help him heal when he got sick, that I couldn’t protect him.
Best I can do today is to try live out what I found so special and endearing in Jeffrey. Every day, I tell my wife and kids that I love them, that I adore them, that they mean the world to me. I learned that from Jeffrey. At work, I tell people that I appreciate how much they have changed my life and how much they have taught me. I learned that from Jeffrey. When I see someone, I try to see only what is best in them, and to accept what is not. I learned that from Jeffrey. I try to see what is magical and special in everything around me, with a sense of awe, gratitude, and inspiration. I learned that from Jeffrey.
I am a big believer in the parallel nature of things.
Loss is a heaviness, an emptiness, a longing for someone who is gone forever. All of that is very true and real. Nevertheless, perhaps loss can also be guidepost, giving direction to the lives of those left behind. Perhaps Jeffrey’s loss can help clarify for me who I want to be in this world, how I want to impact those around me, how I should conduct myself, and how I should spend my time. Perhaps loss can be an inspiration, to offer to others that which I lost. Perhaps loss can be a reminder to slow down, to breathe deeply, and appreciate everything around me.