When you lose someone who has been a part of the fabric of your world, it’s hard to find out how to integrate that loss into your life.
Most of all, into your heart.
You want them back. You want the pain to stop. You want to be able to breathe again without the tightness in your chest. Without the reminder at every turn that you are now facing an empty space.
How do you accept that the version of them – that is familiar to the fabric of who you are and the space you occupy in the world together – is no longer possible? You want to be able to find the moments of comfort and familiarity that they provide – because without them there is a void.
A vacuum within which you are unable to breathe. And if breath is life, how will life look now without that space being filled?
There’s a word in our world that we don’t often consider in greater context.
That word is communion.
You may have only thought of communion as something that happens in a religious service. You may have seen it as separate from you; part of a ceremony you don’t fully understand.
But communion in it’s truest form isn’t about ceremony. It’s about a sharing of ideas, of thoughts, of hearts, of depth of being.
When you sit with someone and share life with them around a drink, it’s communion. When you have them at your table and simply be together, it’s communion.
When you disagree, when you hurt each other and when you find a way to do life after the fact, you are living in communion.
The communion of living and dreaming together is perhaps one of the holiest parts of our humanity because it recognizes that we are an integral part of each others’ lives. Of each other’s futures.
Of our shared legacy.
Benjamin Cole Brown (or simply, “Cole” as he was known to many of us) shared another side of communion in my life as well. It was the communion of knowing we can continue to put faith into action. To not just think about doing something, but doing it and bringing others along in the process.
When you see another life that’s different from yours and yet you say with your words and actions, “I see you. I am in this with you”, that’s also communion.
Sharing dreams and vision with someone else changes you. It helps you pull back an invisible curtain that reveals what is actually possible. It helps you to believe that yes, there is so much for us to do in this world.
Because so much is possible if we are willing to put our faith in the power of hope and love.
But when that communion can no longer happen, we see an empty chair: at our tables, in our homes and in our hearts.
Cole spent countless moments in my life, sharing in it. He shared in the dreaming stages and the fulfillment of those dreams. In the deepest, darkest moments of pain and loss and the redemption from those times we recognized that this was part of doing life together with a common goal. We raised our glasses over countless meals around the world and over the dining tables in our homes. He was there when my daughter first stepped into my arms and he was there when my heart was broken, confused and at a loss for words in the tumultuous turns in life that we were going through together.
We shared those moments. We were both imperfect and painfully human and that very reason is why this hurts so much more.
I lost my only biological brother many years earlier. His death was what sparked the dream of Live Different in my heart. Cole was one of the brothers of my heart who has lived that dream out with me and thousands of others.
I have watched him grow and transform over the years because a life that is lived with love does that. It continues to evolve and grow. This is one of the miracles of the power of love.
And now, in the communion table of my heart, there is an empty chair that I am staring at. An empty chair that I ache to have filled again, even if simply for the chance to say to him one more time, “I love you.”
Like many people who will read this, Cole shared hope and love with me through what we have shared together over the years. That hope and love is what brought the biggest bond in our lives – and probably in many of the people who are broken around the world because of our communal loss. When you share hope and love around the possibilities of what we can create together, you know that there will always be space to find more within who we are as well.
Living your life in light of the power of hope and love reminds you that the universe and creation we are all a part of isn’t inherently cruel, it’s just very impossible for us to understand in this lifetime. We can’t have the answers to the pain and unanswered questions and sometimes those questions seem to taunt and torment our minds.
However, like him and the life he lived with passion and intensity in his own quiet way, we make it a little more beautiful through the power of love.
There is something more than what we do that defines us. Something more than what Cole left on the earth in the physical sense. His legacy isn’t simply about the structures he helped to build, the projects he undertook or even the stories he was able to tell with his art.
It’s about the love that was held within those very things – and about the love that will continue on long after each of us breathe our last.
Thirty six years is not long enough for a life that has been well lived. It will never feel like long enough. We show up in this world and we are fragile and our time here is unknown.
We live our lives always knowing this, yet we never feel able to accept it as part of the terms of the contract. It’s no small wonder that in times of loss we feel unanchored and like things are out of control. The range of emotions, questions and constricted hearts of pain remind us that we didn’t want this to be part of the world of living and loving.
When you have lived life in such a deep and meaningful way with others, at the very depth of who you are, you know you are leaving yourself vulnerable to loss at some point. But when you have loved deeply, you can see why the pain of loss is so intense. Communion of lives and hearts makes up the fabric of who we are and gives us anchors and meaning.
Cole, in your own quiet and consistent way, you inspired the passion to believe that any act of love is worth doing.
I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any timeless wisdom that will cure this crushing loss or that will help to fill that empty chair at the table of my own life and so many others.
I only have a heart that is deeply and truly grateful to know that I have shared in the fabric of a life that has known what it means to love so deeply… and to put actions to that love.
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.
~ Thomas Merton