About five years ago, I did a reading for an unmarried couple who had been a couple for a long time, living together in a harmonious, monogamous, committed relationship. Both in their 40’s, Suzanne was diagnosed with a type of leukemia just a few years into their relationship, and so their lives revolved around her cancer treatments and the emotional roller coaster of the leukemia moving in and out of remission. She and Michael faced her diagnosis and prognosis realistically, but focused their life on enjoying their time together.
And then one day, Michael was diagnosed with liver cancer and died a few weeks later.
Suzanne heard about me through a mutual friend, and called to schedule a reading. She was in shock from the suddenness of Michael’s passing, grief-stricken at the profoundness of the loss, and tormented by the feeling that there was a wrongness about it. She wasn’t sure what she hoped to get from the reading, but thought it was “worth a shot.”
Suzanne was a lovely woman, creative and quiet, and the significance of Michael in her life was quickly apparent. The reading was intense, as they were a couple who talked about everything, and the things that felt unfinished and unresolved for her were deep.
I am always a little apprehensive about my role in these situations, because there I am, a complete stranger, acting as a medium and go-between in an intimate, final conversation between two people who love each other and know each other better than anyone else. The first time I did this, it felt like an invasion of privacy, and I was very uncomfortable. But I discovered that there is a curious and wonderful thing that happens when I do a reading for two people who know each other intimately: I am left largely in the dark. There are things said that I don’t understand, references made that don’t make sense to me, and a bewildering array of things that the spirit of the deceased person shows me, that I convey to the living person, but do not understand myself. And so, even with me in the middle of it, a reading remains pretty private for the two individuals. Strange, but true.
And so it was with the reading for Suzanne and Michael. Much of the reading didn’t make sense to me, but Suzanne understood every reference, every metaphor, every twisted answer Michael gave. I honestly don’t remember much about the reading except for two things, as these things were important for me to learn. One concerned marriage, and the other, gears.
Michael expressed regret at not marrying Suzanne. He acknowledged that they talked about marrying, and were in complete agreement to not do it. They had a hundred reasons for this, from the legitimate (health insurance complications because of her cancer) to the ridiculous (what last name will we use?). But in the end, he saw their reasons as excuses and thought they could have figured all that out. He regretted not doing so, and she confessed that she did, too. In death, he could see two things: one, that she had niggling doubts about whether or not he really did want to marry her, which he absolutely did; and two, that he wanted her to be able to tell people, “My husband died,” instead of “My boyfriend died.” Because the truth was that she lost a husband, not a boyfriend.
I, myself, have been married for a long time, but I did not believe that every pair-bonded couple needed to be so, in order to live as and be recognized as fully committed to one another. What Michael showed me challenged my thinking. I saw through his eyes how marriage bestows not only legal entitlements, but also title and rank. In the case of Michael and Suzanne, marriage would have made her Wife and then Widow, and would have given her the rank of #1 Above All Others (important to their situation: above Michael’s mother). As it was, their decision to not marry left Suzanne with no permanent place in his family, and him no place in hers. These things he regretted.
Michael then showed me their relationship as a set of gears. I thought this meant “well-oiled machine,” but he quickly corrected me by showing me several of the gears unevenly ka-chunking as they turned, and other gears grating against one another because of the burrs on them. He said that he and Suzanne were brought together in this lifetime for the way their gears fit together, and the friction they each exerted on the other. Their relationship was challenging, and meant to be so. They were a very loving and compatible couple, but they pushed each other to deal with things in their pasts and challenged each other to do better, be better, and try harder.
As Michael put it, “Some people are put in your life to grind your rough parts off.”
I have thought about this statement many times in the years since my meeting of Michael’s spirit. A lot of the annoying people in the world and in my life are just and only that: annoying. But others are abrasive and in my life to challenge me to do better and try harder. It is hard sometimes to see the difference. But, thanks to Michael, I now look for two things: intention and love. If the person’s intent is to annoy me, then they are merely annoying and I need not pay them any more heed than I would a mosquito. BUT….if the person’s intent is to help me and I can see that they have my best interests at heart and are acting out of love and genuine concern, then I need to look again. Because we all have rough parts that need grinding.