It had been years since I’d spoken to Larry when an email popped up about his new position. As quickly as it arrived in my in-box, I picked up the telephone to ask him about his new job. It was an exciting position that allowed Larry to return to his journalism roots and run a news editorial operation. We dished about our early careers in writing and Larry even asked me contribute on a freelance basis to his new news outlet.
When he asked what I had been up to lately, I told him about my Anne on Fire blog. It was then that our conversation took a different and wholly unexpected turn. He had never known about my accident. Telling him about my experience jogged something in him and his story unfolded.
Larry was 15 when he came home from school and heard a knock on the door of his Iowa home. A friend told him his younger sister had been hit by a car. By the time he ran the half-mile and found her, she was fading in and out of consciousness. Larry asked someone to call and ambulance. As they sped to the hospital, Larry’s sister moaned in pain, her pelvis and internal organs shattered. As doctors worked to save her life, Larry called his parents and told them what had happened — as his sister walked home from school, a run-away kid they knew had stolen his parents car and hit her at about 50 miles an hour. Larry’s sister died 48 hours later, never regaining consciousness.
Larry sunk into a period of grief that seemed to never end. “It was totally unfair. My sister was only 13. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my life and it left an incredibly deep scar that I had no way to deal with. I was too young to know how to grieve,” Larry told me. “I became obsessed with getting revenge against the guy who killed my sister.” The bitterness that rose up in Larry create a hair-trigger temper as he grew older. “I could go into a complete rage at the snap of a finger,” he said. It seemed only natural that the unresolved anger also lead Larry to drink. “When you drink a lot, you don’t care and the pain goes away.”
Even by his mid-30s, the grief remained unbearable. “I was in a lot of pain and it would surface as anger. I would hang on to every frustrating thing that happened at work and in my fury, I would plot to get back at the person. This backfired on me a lot and I got to the point where my life was not working and I had to do something,” he said.
In addition to being involved with a religious woman at the time who helped guide him to a new sense of faith, Larry found the courage to see a counselor. “I started to get the feeling that my sister sensed my anger over what happened to her. I felt that she didn’t want to be the cause of all the pain in my life. This is very difficult to articulate but I started sending prayers to her and I got the distinct feeling that she received my messages and would send back her own messages to me in the form of coincidences and serendipity.”
Even though Larry had gone through anger management programs before, this counselor seemed to have a profound effect on him. Under the counselor’s direction, Larry gathered up everything he had about his sister — photos, newspaper articles, letters — and re-lived the whole horrible experience by writing down all the details he could. “The counselor told me that I had to grieve the experience so I could release it, that when things happen to you as a child, you have no filter and the experience goes right to your emotional core. The impact lives on when you are an adult until you can sort it out and understand it,” Larry said.
“There is no question in my mind that my sister guided me to this counselor.”
I’ve known Larry for 15 or more years, always in a professional business capacity. As he told his story, I couldn’t believe what I was learning and how we were connecting on a personal soul-to-soul level. The details of Larry’s story were very different from mine but I could not deny the similarities in spiritual guidance. I too felt guided to explore my own childhood experience, though I’ve always believe my guides have been my deceased parents. “What they cannot tell us in life, they bring to us in death,” kept running through my mind.
“You know one of the most important things I’ve learned?” Larry asked me. “You have to be open and aware. Spirit speaks in whispers and quiet messages. Now, I’m always looking for the small things to guide me,” he said. “You know, I’m kind of guy’s guy and this has all taken a lot of work on my part and more than a little faith. Whatever you call it — god, spirit, a higher power — it’s out there.”
Larry survived the worst experience of his life and that resonated with me. “Larry, when you look at it all in retrospect, would you ever say that your experience was a gift?” I asked, mostly because that is the way I’ve come to think of my own accident.
“I’ve never thought of it that way before but it’s true. The key part of my story is that I survived. It’s made me more confident. When I am in a situation where I’m over my head, I can handle it. I’d much rather have my sister here with me, but if that isn’t possible, I’m open to the gifts she keeps sending me,” he said.
The more I talk to people, the more certain I am that we all share the same experience. The details are different and our solutions may vary. More often than not, it seems as if the guides to a better, richer experience are there for us when we open the door.
- Helpful Encounters with Death (psychologytoday.com)
- Learning to Dive (jengroves.wordpress.com)
- Look Back in Anger: Larry Kramer is right that anger is necessary in the face of inequality, but anger can’t be the only thing that guides our lives (pinkbananaworld.com)