It’s been months since I’ve published a new journal entry. In the interim, I’ve been developing talks and meditations for my weekly mindfulness meditation classes and writing for my mailing list. However, this week, I’ve had the urge to share with a broader audience who and what is most predominant in my heart: my cousin Paul and the rest of my Canadian family.
In the spring of 2016, I traveled to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia for the first time to visit relatives. After a long day of traveling, I was quite tired when I finally arrived at my great-aunt and -uncle’s home, but their son, Paul, was right there to meet me. He was so excited. It was the first time a cousin visited, and it was a big deal for him. A year younger than me, Paul was my dad’s first cousin and therefore my first cousin once removed. (My grandfather was the eldest of a dozen kids, and Paul’s dad was the youngest.) Looking at him was like seeing my grandfather again.
I instantly thought of Paul as a cousin soulmate. He whisked me away to experience sunsets and moonrises during my visit, and when it was time to leave, I didn’t want to. I felt like I had found my tribe.
Two years later, I visited again. Paul and his wife, Janet, picked me up from Vancouver airport, for which I was immensely grateful. (There’s a lot involved in traveling to the Sunshine Coast, especially with photography gear in tow.) We stopped at Granville Island, had lunch overlooking Vancouver harbor, and drove through Stanley Park before making our way to the ferry and his parents’ home in Sechelt. Paul also brought me back to the airport when I left, again stopping and staying overnight in Van.
In between meeting him that first time and saying goodbye at the airport the last time, we spent time together on his father-in-law’s yacht (which was a real treat for me) and smaller prawn boat. He was really in his element on the water. There were dinners together with more family. A trip to the farmers’ market. Cards and texts and phone calls.
I honestly can say that nobody else on this planet made me feel the way Paul did. I felt welcomed, protected, truly cared for, and understood. Spending time with him and family in British Columbia was transformative. It changed my life. I had dreams of somehow, someday getting a visa and spending more time close to my family tribe in British Columbia.
Paul talked often about going to Cape Cod together, where he had fond memories of visiting an uncle (also my dad’s uncle) who had been an artist and an overall fascinating person. He wanted to take me to Hornby Island. We came close to traveling to England together for a family reunion, but it was so last-minute that it didn’t come together. He wanted so much to experience an “American Thanksgiving” and promised he would make the next visit, for that purpose. But then of course Covid came along.
This year, I wished for the U.S.-Canadian border to reopen so the idea of visiting the Sunshine Coast could come back into the realm of possibility. However, there were complications and factors beyond border status that made it unfeasible. So I traveled there often in my heart, where there are no borders aside from the ones we, ourselves, maintain.
Last Friday evening, Paul passed away after suffering a massive heart attack two and a half weeks prior. His obituary is truly touching, complete with poems written by family members.
My heart is heavy with that old visitor, grief, that comes in waves. What I have learned from previous losses is that the heart is an ocean spacious enough to hold all the waves that move through it, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Although I’m accustomed to relating to Paul from a distance, his parents, daughters, sisters, and other family members are not, and my heart goes out to them.
In moments of remembering, I practice breathing in memories of Paul and his beautiful qualities – really filling up with that energy – and breathing out compassion for everyone else grieving his absence. After a few breaths, I extend this out-breath wish (also called metta) to everyone grieving a loss. There are so very many, and we never grieve alone.
This is a different kind of heart wave: the kind that unites us in our common humanity. The deepest losses I’ve experienced have taught me that the heart can become the telephone through which we can communicate even with those who have passed through the veil we call death. May we honor those we’ve lost by embodying what we loved about them, however we can, even if it’s simply recalling their goodness and by doing so, shining a little brighter and allowing their essence to continue rippling in the world. That is the prayer in my heart at the moment.
© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.