About a year after my son was born I attended a women’s retreat in the Colorado Mountains. There were hundreds of women there, something that made me both nervous and excited. I was excited to be away from home doing something for myself while surrounded by other women who were there to learn and grow. I was nervous because I was there by myself and didn’t know what to expect. What made me the most nervous was when I had to go trolling for a table to sit at during meal times (think flashback to junior high). Most of the women at the retreat were in attendance with someone they knew, and my aloneness wasn’t terribly apparent to me until I sat down at a random table and found myself sitting among a group of women who already knew each other. I felt like the ultimate interloper.
By the second day I was feeling more comfortable and decided to engage the women at the breakfast table. I found myself in a polite conversation with a nice woman just a few years older than me. I told her about my two kids and about my home in Oregon. She told me about the small Colorado town she calls home and about the simple life she shares with her husband of several years. She also told me how a year earlier they lost their two-year-old son when an untethered bookshelf fell on him. She said it so calmly and matter of fact that it took me several beats to process what she had just said. As the gravity and proximity of her loss sunk in I immediately started to cry. I couldn’t image the tremendous pain she must be in. My own son was close to that age and losing a child is hands-down my greatest fear. Through my tears I told her how sorry I was for her loss and asked her how she was doing. As her eyes filled with tears she looked me straight in the eye and said in an emotional whisper, “No one has ever asked me that or cried with me the way you are now. The people around me won’t talk about it and they act annoyed because I’m not moving on.” Her turmoil and confessed isolation only caused us to cry more, and as we sat in that crowded cafeteria together, crying for her son, I felt an irrevocable connection to her, not just as a mother, but as another human soul who was in tremendous pain. I held her hands and comforted her with the few words I had, but mostly we sat together and felt the loss together. She thanked me and I thanked her – both of us grateful for the others presence.
To this day I think of that woman and wonder how she is doing. We didn’t feel the need that day to exchange names or email addresses or any personal information. Our only transaction was of love and empathy, connection and understanding. I’m so grateful I sat at that table and turned to her for interaction, and I’m so glad she had the courage to share something so personal with a stranger. That moment greatly impacted my life and taught me that I am always, not matter what, connected to the people around me and it’s so important to pay attention on all levels. Because we never know where we might be needed.