This past week, I discovered an article that I had written in September 2018. It was never published.
I came to know that today was the day to post it as I, and his family and friends, celebrate and remember my nephew Connor on the second anniversary of his death.
Upon rereading the article, I resonated powerfully with a section I wrote about the rip, the tear I felt go through me upon hearing the news of his death.
“You know that sound when something thick or heavy rips, and you can feel the vibration go through you?
I felt something rip inside of me. I could feel an energetic tear rip violently through the fabric of my inner self.”
Over the past few days, I sat with those words and had a magnificent and beautiful realization.
These past two years, for me personally, have been amazing, dynamic, and transformative in countless ways. I have spent so much time and energy doing the work of acknowledging, healing, forgiving, and evolving in so many areas of my life.
I now know it took something as painful, tragic, and devastating as the death of my beautiful, sweet nephew, to cause such a deep rip inside me that allowed the opportunity of light and love to enter into the deepest and darkest places of my life.
Darkness cannot exist where there is light.
There is no arrival or finish line with any of this that is our journey. It’s an ongoing set of experiences that continuously unfold before us. It’s how we choose to meet and define them, that ultimately defines us.
I often think of Connor. There are days that he is with me in moments of remembrance of the physical tokens around my home, in the glimmer of the sun on the water, the unexpected and unusual visit of a monarch butterfly, or a feeling that comes from within.
This journey continues.
The Transformative Rip Of Grief
Originally Written September 2018
I never imagined that my first article for Manfulness Living would be about tragedy and grief. I had planned a full list of other topics to begin writing about as I prepared to launch the program, and this was nowhere on the horizon.
But it was. More than I could ever have imagined
The afternoon of August 11, 2018, will be one of those days embedded inside of me for the rest of my life. It will not be because of something joyful but in reality, something powerful that changed my life forever.
I remember that afternoon at Clear Lake because it was pleasantly cool for 4 pm on a South Louisiana afternoon, and it looked to be a beautiful sunset forming on the horizon.
I was in all my joy, working on the screened-in front porch surrounded by such natural beauty with majestic pine trees all around the house hanging out with their cousin elm trees, whose leaves were waving at me in the slight Southwestern breeze coming across the lake. I was finalizing slogans, graphics, and messaging for a full-scale launch of Manfulness Living the upcoming Monday.
I heard the ringtone of my spouse Paul’s phone as it lay on a table on the other side of the porch. I didn’t notice who it was as it was a common occurrence for Paul not to be around his phone. He was inside, putting away clean dishes.
Then my phone rang. I could see on the caller ID it was my spiritual brother, Mike Lynskey.
Mike and Paul had been friends since the 4th grade, and I became instantly part of the family upon meeting them in 1998.
It was very unusual that he called me as we often communicated with each other through Paul.
“Orhan, this is Mike,” he said in a tone that I had not heard before. “We lost Connor. He was killed last night…”
You know that sound when something thick or heavy rips, and you can feel the vibration go through you?
I felt something rip inside of me. I could feel an energetic tear rip violently through the fabric of my inner self.
Connor, my 18-year-old nephew, was killed by a drunk driver.
I met Connor right after his birth, as Paul and I traveled to upstate New York often, sometimes multiple times a year. The thousands of amazing memories, as one can imagine, in the span of 18 years with him filled my life with joy and laughter.
Connor and a group of friends celebrated an end of summer concert at an area in Upstate New York known as Darien Lake. After a Jason Aldean concert, they walked along a rural highway on their way back to their campground. Connor decided to run ahead of the main group and catch up with some other friends.
Moments later, a female driver of a jeep and her passenger, both extremely intoxicated, struck Connor, launching him across the highway into a cornfield where he lay missing until the next day.
I’ll never forget Paul’s face as I walked into the house, my phone in my hand, hearing Mike sobbing in the background as I unwillingly repeated the news.
A short while later, I walked down the steps of my porch into the open space of earth, sky, and water as that blazing sun began to make its departure into the horizon across the lake. As the waves of pain and anguish kept crashing down in and on me, I eventually came down to my knees, feeling the ground beneath me as I wrapped my arms around my stomach, feeling the rip inside of me and sobbed from one of the most hopeless moments of my life.
Life for us had been suddenly, and tragically changed forever.
The Manfulness Living planning disappeared. Life was happening. Nothing about Connors’s death fit into any of my plans, schedules or to-do lists.
This was never supposed to happen. Not to this kid nor this family. They were one of the “good” ones. And yet it did.
The experience of losing something we value is a part of life that no one can escape. Loss has many shapes and forms. The death of a child is one of the hardest for anyone to bear.
The days and weeks that followed brought about some of the saddest and, ironically, meaningful moments of my life. There evolved this sense of present moment awareness inside of me, often just to get from one task to another, frequently minute to minute. I would explode into tears with a sense of emptiness that seemed to erupt from my core. Then there would be other conversations and remembrances that would result in stomach aching laughter.
Work. Flights. Family. Planning. Supporting. Honoring. Remembering. Returning. Revisiting.
I would question this supposed “magic mindful practice” that I had come to believe in so much. What was the purpose of all that now? What good would it do? How in the world was I going to sit for any amount of time and focus on my breath to find gratitude when there was so much hurting inside of me and those around me.
But I did it anyway or least I tried to. On some occasions, I would be in the middle of meditation and burst into tears where other times, I would be overcome with this sense of peace and calm.
On the morning of Connor’s memorial service, I meditated at the edge of a favorite river of mine at the family home. I was given the honor of delivering the final eulogy for my beautiful nephew.
Upon opening my eyes, I saw the most beautiful disruption in the flow of the water. It moved in a way opposite of the flowing current of the water. I knew Connor was there, supporting me in what was to be a very intense and emotional day. It was that and more.
As the days passed, I began to understand what my practice of mindfulness was offering to me. It was offering me the opportunity to feel whatever emotions came up without the need to suppress or deny.
It permitted me to feel what I wanted to feel when I wanted to feel it, and for however long, I wanted to feel it.
And in my practice, I also gave this permission to everyone around me. I was allowing them to be where they were without expectation or judgment.
“And the truth of the matter is that whatever you are feeling, it is ok. I think we can all permit ourselves to be right where we are,” I stated during the delivery of the eulogy.
This was powerful. This was mindfulness.
Like most men, I had struggled with the social expectations of manliness and masculinity and, in this case, how it relates to grieving.
Was I crying too much? Should I suck some of this up and move on? Was I showing too much emotion? Was I weak?
It was an ongoing struggle within myself until I realized that I have the right to feel whatever emotions I choose to feel for however long I choose to feel them. This was my right. There was no rule book of proper masculine etiquette.
And then it came to me, that’s what my mindfulness practice offered, the ability to be present with my thoughts and feelings, observe them as they are, without judgment, and allow them to be.
When an experience of loss happens, learning to manage is essential to be able to heal. When we lose something, we go through a period of grieving, which often starts with denial and then goes to feelings of anger, sadness, and acceptance. Awareness is vital to make sure one doesn’t get stuck in any of these stages and process each and move forward, in your own time.
That’s what my mindfulness practices offered, awareness.
I was having a conversation with a friend named Greg, whose purpose is to help families in the death of a loved one and be a part of the grieving process. He said something so simple and yet so profound.
“Orhan, you now have to navigate a new normal. Life will never be the way it was before. It just isn’t possible,” he told me.
I found a lot of comfort in those words. As they resonated within me, I realized that my ongoing mindfulness practices would be essential in developing and defining my “new normal.”
“Because this journey does not end here, not in this place nor on this day. This journey continues. The scene has changed drastically, and yet it continues,” I said to a church packed with family, friends, and loved ones who came by the hundreds to honor Connor’s life.
So does my journey. So does yours. I am choosing to continue the healing process mindfully.