A couple of months ago I got a strange Facebook message from a woman I didn’t know. She was a friend of a friend and she was reaching out to tell me my friend was participating in a retreat and asked if I would write her a letter telling her why she is special and what her friendship means to me. Of course I said. Of course I will write the letter! My friend lives in another state. I envisioned her getting my letter and the letters from her other friends here and knew it would be really important to her. I was honored to do it. And then. And then I didn’t do it. I kept saying I’m going to sit down and do that. Oh yeah! I really got to do that! I HAVE TO REMEMBER TO WRITE THAT LETTER. And finally another friend reminds me that the deadline was at hand and at that point I was flying across the country to be with my sick father and the letter didn’t get written. I felt just terrible and thought I would mail her a letter just as soon as life settled down for me. Then I decided I would write a letter and bring it with me in June when my son and I are going to visit.
And then today happened. My friend lost her father today. It was unexpected and my friend is left traumatized. She called me and the pain was palpable. And I related to it so much. It took me back to the immediate time after Nelson was found dead. That dark dark place that seemed, at the time, to be my whole world and my whole future. Knowing my friend was now feeling that makes me feel broken for her. With sudden loss comes questions and second guessing and lists of what if’s. You can overwhelm yourself with those things. They aren’t real and they steal your energy. I know she will spend time with those thoughts and it makes me cry because I can’t be beside her to whisper to her that it’s not you. It’s not you. It’s not you.
I have been struggling to remember what people said to me at that time that helped me. Initially I couldn’t remember because that time was almost happening to another person. The person I was ‘before’. But then I started to remember the people who reached out to say ‘how are you?’ and were not asking the obvious question. They weren’t asking some global how are you question. They were asking how I was at the moment they were asking me because this grief is so fluid. They wanted to know how I was in the small moments not in the big picture because the big picture part was obvious. It was the rollercoaster they were giving me a safe place to describe or even to just shake my head and say nothing. They were letting me know they were there for the long haul so they had the time to deep dive with me into the moments of despair or the feelings of confusion and guilt. When someone says ‘how are you?’ and they really want to know the immediate answer it is a gift. Other people would say I am here. I’m thinking about you. In fact, my dear friend was a constant source of comfort to me because she reached out to me so frequently just to say I love you. You don’t need to respond. I am just thinking of you. I hurt with you. Sometimes my pain was so intense I would turtle away and it was the gentle reminders of loved ones that they were still there and were not going away that held me in place. Brave people told me things would get better. I didn’t always believe them and sometimes I resented them for saying it but eventually I needed to be told that because it gave me something to hang on to. In the midst of the tragedy the thing I could not find was hope. Humans need the capacity to hope. And the word better isn’t what you think. It isn’t a world where flowers bloom and unicorns roam the street it is a world where you can sleep, where you have an appetite, where you can laugh without immediately feeling guilty, it is a softening of the edges of your grief. It seems impossible that it will happen but then it does. Slowly and over a great deal of time but it does. I am different and I still carry the wound of Nelson’s death but I am also getting better. I have hope.
I am already making mistakes in the things I say to my friend. I can sense it and she is a strong enough person to tell me what is useful to her and when what i am saying is not. But I also hope she feels the intense love I am sending her and that my thoughts are consumed for her and her family. And I will try to say the right things and I will pray that love will cover me when I say the wrong things.
And I’m really wishing I had written her that letter. I really want her to know why I think she is special because it is those very qualities that will see her through her dark days. She is loving. Deeply loving. She is the daughter we all wish we had. She showers her parents with love and they are still deeply integrated into her daily life and the lives of her family. Her father felt her love. He loved her. I hope she never falters in this knowledge.
She is a powerful mother. She makes Herculean efforts to ensure that her daughters are living their best lives. She is *that* Mom who goes full throttle to raise healthy, happy girls. She makes memories for them. She meets them where they are. She understands what makes them each unique. And she loves them with the fierceness of mother love. When they hurt she hurts. She is a safe place for those girls and they will be a support to each other during this time.
She is a lousy weather friend. When things get tough she gets in there and stands with you. When other people walk out she walks in. She doesn’t give up on the people who matter. She is honest and direct but also very vulnerable when it comes to her heart. She is going to hurt for a long time. Grief is a measure of love. My friend loves big. And she matters.
I hope she feels the many hearts that are joining with her tonight and will remain with her in the days weeks and months ahead. She is not alone. She has been a safe place for me to land so many times. The friend she most deserves right now, if I am to be honest, is one just like herself. I will never stop trying to be just that.