As most of you know, it has been one year since we lost Hans. I wrote at six months that it was easier to talk about what we are doing, than it is to talk about how we are doing. Now, at one year, I’m compelled to share some of my personal thoughts and feelings. In the past year, as I’ve read different books, a few things have really popped out at me as helpful and meaningful. I am going to share some of them and put my thoughts together about losing Hans and the emotional/spiritual aftermath of our loss.
This year, I made my way through War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. One passage helped me put into perspective the thoughts and feelings we may experience passing from this earthly life onto death. Prince Andrey has deathbead revelations about life, love, and his almost unrequited love in Natasha. "Love, what is love? Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God. And to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.” How beautiful to think that as we witnessed the outward signs of Hans’ last minutes of life, he was tapping into a greater, more beautiful source and reconnecting to that place from which we have all have come and to which we shall all return. Prince Andrey goes on to describe, “I knew that feeling of love, which is the very essence of the soul, for which no object is needed.”
The morning that we lost Hans, one year ago today, we were overcome by a feeling of Amazing Grace or, a peace that surpasses all understanding. Perhaps it came from a transcendence of knowing that Hans was somehow truly in even better hands than he was in his cozy home, in his little body, with his adoring family caring for him.
My favorite quote about what is to be found once you get to the other side comes from Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who experienced an entire week in Heaven, the same week he spent in a coma and by all outward measures was “brain dead”, not to return. He chronicled his experiences in his book, Proof of Heaven. Once he “died”, Alexander experienced a message of unconditional love and acceptance he received beyond the scope of language. He was greeted by a beautiful lady (who he’d later find out was the sister from whom he was separated at birth) who shared with him a look of love that was beyond all our earthly constructs of love. “It was something higher, holding all those other kinds of love within itself while at the same time being more genuine and pure than all of them.” The message he received had three parts: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” What a welcome! What a beautiful and almost incomprehensible comfort to think that our boy had passed on to be even more fully loved once he departed from his adoring family. And, oh, he was so loved right here! (Serendipitously, Kevin stumbled across Newsweek Magazine and its article with this passage on San Juan Island the day after we celebrated Hans’ life in Seattle!)
I love to read about love and the way it transcends death. I continuously think about the beautiful, powerful unconditional love Hans had for us. Our boy endured hundreds and hundreds of treatments and procedures in an almost endless nonstop stream, just to be here, just to be present for each of his days with us, to be a part of his little family, to love and to be loved. He repeatedly summoned the force to get back into the ring like a tiny little gladiator. He’d go back in and take anything that was thrown at him, tapping into an energy reserve from deep within. That was his job and for it he gave his lifeblood. We witnessed a sustained and intense effort and indeed, we were humbled and awed to be the little family that he was fighting to simply come home to. To be so loved and to have loved so is a gift-what a gift!
When I think deeply and am heart broken that Hans is gone, that he is no longer physically here, I have precious and deep moments of realization about what he has left behind. I know that Hans’ love was as real a thing as I can imagine. I keep thinking: Love is a noun, like a brick, or a blanket. Hans’ love was that real. His love had energy and that energy affected and changed us. We have been metaphysically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually altered by the impact of that love. Hans’ love for us has changed us at the very core of our bodies, spirits and minds. Thus, Hans’ love remains alive in us. It has affected the way we go about living our lives and interacting with others.
Yes, we are left without him physically here. But there are caverns that have been carved into our very beings. These caverns are now filled with something else, something deep and still. There is now an internal well or rich reservoir of love and compassion. Hans created that space, he carved it out and left it there, and his love permeates the sacredness of that space.
I was blown away by this passage from Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, about the aftermath of catastrophe. After losing her mom to cancer, Strayed went on an epic hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. She hiked through most of California and, once in Oregon, came upon Crater Lake - the remains of what was once Mount Mazama - a volcano whose massive eruption about 7,500 years ago left behind no mountain at all but a vast emptiness that would eventually become the deepest lake in the US. “This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But, hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye. Not the mountain, or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They were simply not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water. What a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.”
We shall never be healed of the loss of our boy. We shall never recover from the plucking away of that gorgeous blonde thing, with his sea green eyes and radiant smile, our only son and brother. One year after our loss of him, and all we can say is: Love prevails and endures. Love is forever. We comfort ourselves in knowing that he was beloved while he was here with us. Hans lived a beautiful life and now he is a part of something bigger and (again, incomprehensibly!) even more beautiful.
I still find myself having difficulty balancing on the slippery log of perspective. I can focus on the tragic loss of the boy that doesn’t get to play on a soccer team, graduate, get married, build a life and a career, or do any of those things that make up the life that each of us has come to expect and take for granted. Alternately, I can focus on the beauty and the completeness of Hans’ life and his fight for it, which he gave everything he had.
What do we hope to get out of life? How many years, how many things, how many possessions, how many relationships? How many goals do we hope to meet? I am comforted in knowing that although Hans’ life was short – he got from his compact little life all that any of us can ever hope for. Writer Raymond Carver left this question for us, engraved on his tombstone:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
Love is not only the very essence of the stuff of the soul, but to love and be loved is the end game of this life. I was always consciously grateful for the gift of Hans’ love. I always used say to him, “Thank you for loving me." I guess I wanted him to know that I would be eternally grateful for the gift of it.
I have to generously thank each of you who also loved Hans and who helped him to be so beloved for his time here on Earth. I know and I saw how he loved each of you. Thank you for scooping him up and loving him back.
Finally, Anne Lamott writes in Help, Thanks, Wow, “Love falls to the earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises.” In the emotional aftermath of losing our boy, we are left with no choice but to move forward and to make ourselves a beautiful life. But, believe me, we are transformed. Hans has become a part of us. He is helping to plant the seeds and create the landscape that we shall know.
What is perhaps most important about Hans’ story, is that it is not just Hans’ story. It is a quintessential human story. This is what we are here for. This is what we do. We love deeply. We give this life and our loved ones everything we’ve got. Each of us has this same powerful love for our beloved and it is a beautiful thing. We are unified as human beings in our capacity for this beautiful, deep, soulful love.
I am but blessed to be a witness of, and a party to, a divine example of the depth, beauty and intensity of such love.
Love prevails and endures. Love is forever. We are not alone.
Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.