The Gift of Grief

In 1993, one year before I joined AA, my mother lay dying in Florida. Toward the end I made a number of trips from LA to spend time with her. By then she was on liquid morphine and out of it most of the time. I’m glad she wasn’t lucid because all I could do during those trips was to sit by her bed and drink. I couldn't cry. I couldn't tell her I loved her. I couldn't make my amends. My parents both died on the same day. Dad helped mom die, then took his own life. I never fully grieved their loss. I had been running from feeling anything, except anger, for thirty years.

What a difference twenty years in recovery makes! My beautiful, young Chinese wife, Lola, died on November 30, 2013. I was graced with the opportunity to serve as her primary caretaker. I walked with her through her final bout with cancer — through all the pain, frustration and disappointment. I stayed by her side 24 and 7 for eleven months. I cared for her in a way I had never cared for anyone before. Some of our friends said I was a saint for the way I cared for her.  I didn't have a choice really. Alcoholics Anonymous made me a stand-up guy. You  guys taught me by example to be responsible, to suit up, show up and to trust God with outcomes. I watched you guys walk through tough life stuff and I knew I could too. I never would have signed up for this experience, but today I am so very grateful for it.

Lola's illness and death was the most excruciatingly painful experience of my life. Yet, in a way I can’t explain, it was also the most beautiful. My heart opened as the waves of sadness crashed over me.  We became closer than ever before. We prayed together--she to her beloved Jesus, me to the God I discovered in Alcoholics Anonymous. We laughed together. I held her hand as she took her last breath while the women from her church sang hymns in the background. Today I am more connected to my Higher Power than ever before.

The hole in my heart will never completely heal. Yet, thankfully, my memories of Lola are mostly happy. Chinese New Year is just wrapping up. During Chinese New Year we had the habit of going onto the rooftop of our apartment building in Shanghai and watching the non-stop fireworks that exploded 360 degrees in every direction from where we stood. I see her there now on the roof top. Joy lighting up her face.