"The feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to discover that when I need her one more time, she is no longer there."
Those are the poignant words of a forty-something-year-old man trying to explain what it felt like three weeks after his wife had died. The founder of the Grief Recovery Institute, John W. James, happened to overhear the two men while sitting on the patio of a restaurant in Los Angeles. The words were not intended for him, but they were so affecting, that John wrote them down on a napkin and put the napkin in his pocket.
Later that day, John pulled the napkin out of his pocket, and again realized the profundity of the phrase. As the founder of an organization dedicated to helping people deal with the often crippling pain caused by the death of a loved one, John knew that this piece of emotional poetry carried with it the potential to help people understand that they are not alone even with their feelings of loneliness. A strange idea perhaps, but truthful none-the-less.
John wanted to talk to the fellow who had said those words, if for no other reason than to find out who he was and give him credit, because John already knew that he would be repeating them very often. John went back to the restaurant the next several mornings, hoping against hope that he might spot the fellow, but he never saw him again. Since then, in public appearances all over the world, John tells the story of that morning at that restaurant and repeats those very words. As he says them, tears sprout on many of the faces in the audience, as the meaning of the phrase hits home, one heart at a time.
John tells the story with this ending, "I am waiting for the day, when in a hall somewhere, a man stands up and says, ‘that was me, at the such and such restaurant.’ And I will go down and open my arms and offer him a hug and a giant gratitude for the gift of his truth." And from that day forth, we will be able to give proper credit to the man who said those words. We even have repeated that story in our books, still hoping to find the man. Of the millions of words written over recorded time to describe the feeling of grief, that sentence is one of the most accurate and universal. And it does not matter if the idea of "always been there" is fifty years or five years or even less.
It is the feeling, not the fact that is at issue. Therefore it is as relevant for a mommy and daddy whose unborn child died as the result of a miscarriage, as it is for the remaining spouse, after a 54-year marriage. It is also relevant to other losses, in particular, divorce, which carries with it similar feelings at the ending of all things familiar. Poetry doesn't repair hearts, but it can be a powerful stimulus to encourage people to take the actions that heal. One day we hope to find the fellow who said those words, so we can thank him for having helped the untold thousands of hearts of people who have heard his words, though he may not know it. Maybe you can help - ask around, spread the word. You never know. He’s out there somewhere. In the meantime, we will continue to help those whose hearts are broken by the absence of someone "who was always there."