grief

  • Uncluttering a Life

    By Jacqueline Dooley

    Last month my neighbor (I’ll call him “Dave”) lost his house. A deputy showed up at the house and stood on the curb while two men moved Dave’s belongings onto his front lawn. Dave had been in foreclosure for over a year. I only learned about it in May when a man knocked on my door to see if Dave was still living in the house.

    “Yes, of course,” I’d told the man. “I just spoke with him on, um…”

    I’d paused, trying to recall the last time I’d spoken to Dave. Had it been two weeks? Three? Had it been longer? I looked at Dave’s overgrown yard, at the abandoned car in the carport (it had been there for years), at the sagging awning cluttered with leaves and had felt like the world’s worst neighbor.

    We weren’t good friends–Dave and I–but we were friendly. I knew the code to his house. I’d fed his cat when he’d been away. He had a key to my house and had likewise fed my animals when I’d been away. Our daughters had been best friends when they were younger. Now, Dave’s daughter was eighteen. My daughter would’ve been seventeen, if she hadn’t died from cancer last March.

    I tried texting Dave, but the number didn’t work. I got his new number from a mutual friend, so I was able let him know about the man. I urged him to come back and take what he could because at some point—likely very soon—the bank would send people to reclaim the house, locking him out. A few weeks later, that’s exactly what happened.

    “The sheriff is here,” I texted Dave. “They’re putting your things on the lawn. You have twenty-four hours to come get what you want before they haul it away.”

    “I have what I want,” he’d responded.

    “I’m glad,” I texted, a lump in my throat.

    After my initial text, Dave had come home one last time with some friends. They’d filled cars and pickups with whatever they could carry. It hadn’t been much.

    The remainder of Dave’s things sat on the lawn for over a week—a fully decorated Christmas tree, oversized stuffed animals, his kitchen table (the chairs encircling it like an altar), two dozen black garbage bags stuffed with clothes, books and toys, a wicker side table (broken and covered with dust).

    After a few days, neighbors began dropping by—curious at first, then greedy. They picked through the pile and dumped out the bags. They walked away with armloads of his memories.

    The cleanup crew eventually came—a few guys with trucks—and spent an afternoon clearing out the yard. They were supposed to have it done in a day, but it turned out that the stuff on the lawn was only a tiny fraction of what was piled up inside Dave’s home. One of the workers saw me retrieving my mail and, eyes haunted, he said, “Do you have kids?”

    “Yes,” I said. “Why?”

    “Don’t leave this kind of mess for them to clean up when you die.”

    It was a terrible thing to say to a bereaved parent, but I only nodded.

    Of course, he hadn’t known that my daughter died a little over a year ago and that I’d agonized about what to do with her meager possessions—what to keep, what to throw away, and what to give away. I’d bought her most of her things—her clothes, her furniture, the candles and tumbled stones she’d loved. And, while these things reminded me of her, going through each item—with love and sadness–taught me a surprising lesson.

    We are not our things.

    I tried to remember this as I watched the workers fill the fourth, fifth and sixth truckloads with beer cans, framed photos, the scarlet curtains that decorated Dave’s windows for over a decade, an old piano, the refrigerator full of rotting food (duct-taped shut), mattresses, empty liquor bottles, and bags of junk excavated from the attic and basement.

    There was so much of it, so many things left untouched for years. I wondered if it was for the best that other people were tasked with disposing of it. When the men left, nothing remained, not even the old car that had been parked in the same spot since the day it wouldn’t start seven or eight years ago. They’d mowed the battered lawn and put padlocks on the doors. The house was empty and ready for a new beginning.

    I wondered what it had been like for Dave being surrounded by so much clutter—the remnants of a family that no longer existed. But what did I know? He’d barely lived in the house over the past year. It had become a weight around his neck filled with meaningless things.

    It’s tempting to romanticize someone else’s story—the failed dreams of a broken marriage, childhood toys discarded in a heap, loneliness and loss. But we can’t really understand anyone else’s life—not even when everything they own is piled up on their front lawn.

    I knew Dave had been in a new relationship for the last several years. He had a new job and a new place to live. He’d taken what he needed. Just like his empty house, he was ready for a new beginning.

    Dave’s things told me more about myself than about him. They reminded me of my own grief, how it tends to immobilize me, making even the simplest tasks seem impossible.

    Sometimes there are days when I can only sit, weep, and remember my sweet girl. But when those days turn into weeks, everything in my life becomes stagnant. My daughter wouldn’t have wanted that.

    It’s easy to picture my house never changing, filled with the debris from my past, easy to let my stuff back me into a cluttered corner forever, easy to imagine rotting alongside the things that once gave me joy.

    After the workers took the final truckload of Dave’s belongings away, I walked through every room in my house and tried to imagine strangers putting my things into black garbage bags and tossing the furniture out the windows. I picture the neighbors picking through it, finding treasure amidst my old pain. But maybe that’s not so bad. Do I really need all this stuff?

    My daughter grew up in this house. She died in this house. If I threw everything out, the walls would remind me of her. If every room was suddenly empty, the space around me would be filled with her. If I move to the other side of the world with only the clothes on my back, I’d take her memory with me. What else is there, really?

    I started my own process of uncluttering from an imagined center of open space.

    It’s slow and cathartic—going through each room and uncollecting its contents, letting them fall from my life until I’m all that remains. When I’m done, the house will be much emptier, but it will hold many more open spaces. There will be room for my grief to expand when it needs to and room to display the things that truly matter—artwork, photos, and little else.

    Someday I’ll leave even these things behind and I like to imagine that whoever hauls it away will wonder how I managed to get by with so little.

     

    Jacqueline Dooley is a writer and self-employed digital marketing consultant located in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley. Her essays on parenting a child with cancer and parental grief have appeared in The Washington Post, Modern Loss, Longreads.com, Pulse Voices, The Wisdom Daily, HuffPost.com and others. Ms. Dooley blogs about parental grief at http://www.thehalfwaypath.com and has published three fantasy novels – all of them feature a child with cancer. 

     

     

  • I Am So Glad My Friends Don’t Understand Me

    By Magnolia Ripkin

    You know when you really connect with somebody? The moment that happens with a friend or a romantic interest when you simply click? That is when you identify them as one of your tribe. They join your crew of people who get you, who understand what drives your thoughts and reactions. Isn’t that the greatest thing?

    Over time, that instant connection grows into something more. A deeper knowledge with shared stories and life events. Shit happens, and for the most part your people and you know each other better for having gone through it.

    I had that with some pretty special people for a long time. The people who knew me from the “before” and very much understood how I moved through the world, how I would react to situations, what made me mad, happy, sad, all of it. I still have those people, mostly, but now they don’t really get me anymore, now that I am in the “after.” I am so glad they don’t.

    When you are living with cancer, the inside of your emotional structure goes through a deep and violent transformation.

    Much like other types of trauma. You look and sound like you, but you aren’t you anymore.

    I am currently in that new place, and I know I have changed on a fundamental level. It probably doesn’t show so much on the outside because I still look like I care about most of the happier and superficial minutia I always have. But in the deep down, I care much less about some things, and so much more about others. Some of the pressing issues I care about now never even crossed my field of thinking before my diagnosis, I took them for granted.

    For instance, I used to care about having nice shoes Now I wonder how this could possibly have been a priority and it boggles my mind. I also cared what people thought of me. I worried that I might be too much. That concern has also been punted out of the metaphorical trapdoor.

    Now I care about a new list of items. Not dying is the number one priority. It is followed closely by dreams for my children, including being at their life events live and in person, and not as a photo in their wallets. I care about every minute with my husband, deeply. I care about helping and loving the people in my life more than I ever have.

    All of this keen focus on trying to live life comes with an evil and relentless accomplice. Cancer people worry on a subterranean level all….the…time. It is like a deep thudding that you feel in your heart, but hear in your head. It makes us almost seem to be elsewhere. I can tell you that it is because we actually are someplace else. We are having a deep tongue kiss with our terror, and it is possible we have forgotten that you are in the room.

    I know my friends notice that I am no longer who I was.

    And because they are decent people, they don’t mention it. There are times when I can see they don’t get me, but having cancer privilege they ignore it. I enjoy a bubble of tolerance around me. Nobody cares if I am too tired to show up, and I cancel at the last minute. They know that the fatigue hits like a dump truck. I love them for that.

    But the times when I am suddenly cantankerous for seemingly no reason, they don’t see it coming, or understand. When I am ill-tempered, they can’t see a cause, but usually stay on and talk me through it. They can’t possibly comprehend what mechanisms are misfiring in my brain, but still they soldier on.

    Sometimes I look at my nearest and dearest and am so glad they carry on being happy with new shoes like it matters. I love that they are still my people, and that they have no idea what it feels like to be me. The now-me, not the me that was me before.

    I don’t wish my inner monologue on anyone. It can be a pretty dark place sometimes, and I want them to stay in the sun.

     

    Magnolia Ripkin is sort of like your mouthy Aunt who drinks too much and tells you how to run your life, except funny… well mostly funny… like a cold glass of water in the face. She writes a flagrantly offensive blog at Magnolia Ripkin Advice Blog answering pressing questions about business, personal development, parenting, heck even the bedroom isn’t safe. She is the Editor in Chief at BluntMoms. Other places to find her: Huffington Post,  The Mighty and Modern Loss, The Mid, and Scary Mommy. You can also check her out in two amazing compendiums of bloggers who are published in “I Just Want To Be Alone.”  And most recently, Martinis and Motherhood, Tales of Wonder, Woe and WTF Join her shenanigans on Facebook: Magnolia Advice Blog

  • Parting Words: Reading My Mother’s Eulogy

    This week’s essay — “Reading My Mother’s Eulogy” — really resonated with me. Dana Schwartz has written an achingly beautiful essay.

    Unfortunately, as a veteran of writing eulogies for my own family I understand the complicated mix of emotions and pressure one feels when trying to honor a person you love, without falling to pieces in front of a crowd. This essay is so descriptive and well written that I wish I could read the eulogy Dana wrote for her mom. I am certain she succeeded in honoring her mother’s legacy with love, humor, and respect. I suggest you grab some tissues before you read this lovely piece.
    —Allie

    HerStories Voices

    Parting Words: Reading My Mother’s Eulogy

    By Dana Schwartz

    My mother died before dawn on summer solstice, the longest day of the year. I like to think of it as her parting gift, allowing us extra time to plan her funeral, which according to Jewish tradition, should occur the following day.

    There were calls to make, photographs to select, food to order, and a eulogy to write.

    Plus, I needed to buy a dress.
    That’s the thing about death. It does not stop for anything, especially the mundane.

    It’s surreal going shopping hours after your mom dies, because it’s almost exactly like going shopping any other time – you struggle to squeeze into unflattering silhouettes, you almost flash customers when you fall into the curtain, but all the while there is this track looping in your mind, my mom is dead, my mom is dead.

    After trying on a few dresses the saleswoman picked out for me, including one I’m pretty sure was cocktail attire, I settled on a gauzy black dress with tiny white polka dots, three quarter sleeves, and buttons up the front. The perfect summer funeral dress, if there is such a thing.

    We waited while the tailor took it in since I had shrunk a size. During the week leading up to my mother’s death, my husband downed donuts and grazed on cookie trays, but my stomach closed up like a fist.

    By dusk I had a dress, shoes, and a pair of oversized sunglasses to hide my red-rimmed eyes. While the rest of my family went out to eat (again, the mundane) I stayed behind to write the eulogy.

    It was always a given that it would be me. After all, I am the writer in the family.

    Writing a eulogy is big pressure. There’s an unforgiving deadline and a powerful need to get it “right.” Before my family left for dinner, my cousin Ari came to check on me. I thought that was brave of him, or stupid, since I had just sent my father and husband away with glowering looks.

    I was struggling, having written and deleted hundreds of words. It wasn’t writer’s block, more like writer’s tsunami. I had too much to say. How could I possibly pin down my vibrant and loving mother in a few pages? How could I explain that while she may have died from multiple sclerosis, her illness did not define her?

    Undeterred by my stormy mood, my cousin sat down on the couch and told me stories about my mom, his aunt. He reminded me about her spark.

    Her spark. That was it. We had seen it just that week, looking through old photographs, the same twinkle in her eye when she was five and fifty-five. The impish look that came over her when she was about to say something inappropriate.

    The spark that lit up her smile and bubbled out in her laughter. A laugh so robust it could, on occasion, take her breath away. I used to call it her wheeze – she’d laugh so hard she’d gasp and that would make her laugh harder. Sitting in her reclining chair, propped up with pillows, covered with a blanket, unable to move. She moved us all.

    It was exactly what I needed, the centerpiece of my eulogy. Light to balance the dark. I finished it by nightfall.

    The next day was the funeral. I cried in the shower early that morning, wondering how I would read it without breaking down.

    If you cry, you cry, my husband said, practical as ever, but I didn’t want to cry. I wanted people to pay attention to my words, not my tears.

    The rest of the morning went by in a blur and before I knew it, I was up there smoothing down the front of my dress with shaking fingers. The room was filled with family and friends all waiting for me. I took off my glasses, glad for once to be near-sighted, and began to read.

    My voice creaked through the first few sentences, my throat thick, but the words came out unhindered. Though their faces were blurry, I knew every single person in the room was staring at me.

    I froze, struck by the weight of this moment. My mother was dead and I was reading her eulogy, words pulled straight from my heart, never to be spoken aloud again.

    Taking a deep breath, I continued. I’m not a born performer, but something came over me. Instinctively I knew not to rush. I paused to find familiar faces in the crowd. I wanted each person to feel the weight of every, single, word.

    My fear melted away as I read her eulogy with equal parts ferocity and love. I gave a shout out to the hospice nurses in the back row, as if I were on a much bigger stage accepting an award or giving one. I felt like I owned the room in a way I never felt before, or since, until I birthed my children.

    Then all of a sudden, maybe two thirds of the way through, I realized it was going to end – and I didn’t want it to.

    But I couldn’t stop the momentum. When it was over there was no applause. It wasn’t that kind of performance. I slipped on my glasses, grabbed my papers, and found my seat.

    People approached me afterward, complimenting my eulogy, hugging me, and crying. We talked logistics about who would be going to the mausoleum and what time everyone should arrive at my father’s house for lunch.

    My eyes were dry. The tears were there, waves of them, and soon they would come for me, but in that moment I let myself coast on the fumes of my recent triumph.

    Then it was time to go. The words I had practiced and almost memorized were beginning to fade as I stepped out into the glaring sunlight, into a world without my mother.

     

    Dana Schwartz head shot glasses (2)Dana Schwartz lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Her short stories have been published in literary journals and she was a member of the Lehigh Valley 2015 Listen To Your Mother show. Her essays have appeared in The HerStories Project on female friendship and Mothering Through the Darkness (November 2015). She is a regular contributor to The Gift of Writing and blogs about the creative process and motherhood on Writing at the Table. She is currently working on a novel.

    Blog: http://www.writingatthetable.com
    Follow Dana on Facebook and Twitter

     

     

     

  • Lifting the Heart

    We have a beautiful and heartbreaking guest post today from Kerry of Winding Road. Kerry shares her story of friendship and the power of forgiveness.

    The first friend I met in college has taught me the true meaning of forgiveness. She taught me this from a time and space far away though she lives in my heart and mind. She died eight years ago this coming May.

    Forgiveness is one of the most liberating acts of love. I learn this regularly from small indiscretions made upon me or someone I love. However, it is the deep-rooted anger that can weigh us down in ways that we don’t always realize. Letting go of that anger and learning to forgive frees the soul to love in a greater capacity including a more encompassing love for ourselves.

    I walked into yoga class and a woman walked in behind me. I know of her but am not friends with her. In fact, she conjures up strong feelings of anger, remorse, regret and sadness yet I don’t think we have ever held a conversation.

    During my first week in college, I met a girl who lived across the hallway from me in my dormitory. She had an infectious laugh and smile that immediately drew me to her. We met and chatted while standing outside on the stairway of our dorm smoking cigarettes. We instantly became friends sharing similar music tastes and ideas about the world that we knew as of eighteen years old. Shortly after our freshman year began, we formed a small but tight group of friends and we all spent most of our waking moments together. She and I took psychology and philosophy classes together, ate lunch together, smoked cigarettes and studied together. She quickly became my best friend. She had the most beautiful singing voice that could bring tears to your eyes and a laugh that would make you smile from ear to ear not even knowing the joke.

    The summer of our junior year of college, we rented an apartment together. We were different in many ways…she was extremely social and an exceedingly successful procrastinator while I was more reserved and one to study far in advance and then party later. Either way, we complimented each other nicely living together and our friendship remained strong. We had our ups and downs over the years but remained close. After college, I moved to South Carolina just “to get away” after a college boyfriend breakup. I then met my husband, moved to Washington, D.C., then to Atlanta, Chicago and finally back to Florida. She and I remained friends through phone calls, emails and visits when I came home for holidays because she had remained in our college town. It was shortly after college that the Patchouli wore off for me but intensified for her. I loved who she was even though we were growing apart and no matter what, each time we spoke we picked up where we left off.

    One week before moving from Chicago back home to Florida where my husband and I would be living a five-minute drive from my friend, I received a phone call from another friend, J. She said, “Kerry, has anyone told you? K is dead.” My mind reeled; I heard the words yet they sounded foreign, I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. In fact, I think I laughed because I thought she must be joking, it simply wasn’t possible. After silence for what felt an eternity, I said, “No, what are you talking about, I just spoke to her, I am about to move back near her again, you must be mistaken” She slowly told me the story of how K had driven a couple of hours away to take her dog to get surgery and on the way was going to a concert before picking the dog back up and driving home. While tailgating before the concert, she and another friend were partying when K said, “my head feels scrambly” then she fell and was gone…. in an instant.

    The next day I continued trying to process the information I had heard. I cried non-stop and lived in a haze. I felt her presence with me during this time as if she were comforting me. I believe the spirits of loved ones visit us and I know she visited me. I walked my dogs around the block in a delirium. It was May and spring leaves were in bloom. There was a cool breeze that rushed past me and I looked up to see some of the new blossoms fall gently in slow motion. I felt her presence then and on the walk home. I remember smiling walking back because I felt her arm around me, letting me know everything would be okay.

    Three days before my scheduled move, I flew to her home town for the funeral. I met a dear friend at the airport and we drove to the viewing before the funeral the following day. I felt nothing from that point until two weeks later. I did not cry at the funeral, I felt completely emotionally constipated. I felt anger at her hippie friends that I did not know at all. They were “new” friends, not part of our solid group from college. I resented them. I overheard one or two say shameful words about her family who I doubt they ever spent time with. One started an argument over K’s items left behind; it was a ridiculous battle during a penetratingly painful time. Her family had been hospitable and loving to me during our college years when we would visit them. They became family to me over the years and I felt connected to them. I felt a small bit of the oceans of pain they held for their daughter and sister. Weeks later back home, a memorial was held for K. It was at this time that I allowed the grief to flow again from my heart and tears to spill since the first moments I heard the news.

    About six months later, I became pregnant with my daughter. We had tried to get pregnant for a couple of months and while it was exciting and joyful, I fell into a depression during the first trimester. I cried a lot and slept. I decided to see a therapist because I knew there was more to my depression than pregnancy hormones. The theme of my time in therapy was how to properly handle my grief and anger; anger at the girl who had been with K when she died, anger that she allowed such a tragedy to occur, anger at her for not protecting K, and anger for disparaging K’s family during a traumatic time. My anger burned at this girl that I did not know. But it also burned at K for dying.

    ForgivenessYears have passed and I no longer am angry at K. As selfish as I was for that feeling, I learned to accept that tragedy happens. I miss her daily. I regret that I hadn’t moved back one week earlier so that I could have seen her living one last time. I wish she had met my children. Yet, through these years, I had not let go of the anger I felt for the girl who was with her, until last week.

    I was angry when I saw her and the emotions of seven years ago came rushing back. I decided at the beginning of class to declare forgiveness as my intention. Declaring an intention at the beginning of class is new to me but a powerful tool to make the most of the experience. During class, I took deep healing breaths and at first ignored her being there with me until I began taking deeper breaths and embraced that we were sharing a space. I lifted and opened my heart. I closed my eyes visualizing forgiveness. I acknowledged that it was not her fault that K was dead, that she made mistakes, had said hurtful words, and had also suffered. Standing on a block in tree pose, I slowly raised my arms, opening my branches and with eyes closed visualized my heart literally opening and anger pouring out as if it were a pressure cooker that had burst. Tears filled my eyes and a vast amount of love filled its space.

    heart lifitng

    I miss my friend and always will. I see her often in people’s facial expressions, smells, songs, voices and laughter. I see her in my friends now; in the beautiful friendships I have. She lives in the days of my youth; a time of freedom and exploration. She resides in my memory, my dreams and in my heart and she reminds me to forgive, to be open, and to be free. True friendships really do last forever.

     

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  • Childhood Friendships and the Turning of the Tide

    Last week my daughter found out her best friend was moving away. My husband and I stood at the bus stop waiting for her to come home from school, and as the neighborhood children spilled off the bus, one of them announced, “We’re moving to Wyoming in two weeks!” It was the older sister of Izzy’s best friend, and I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I held tightly to my daughter’s hand as we walked home, and she whispered, “I almost cried today at school.” “Did Sarah tell you on the bus ride to school?” I asked gently.”Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”

    I spent the rest of the evening fighting tears, sometimes unsuccessfully, as I imagined how this move would change our lives. Sarah and her siblings lived just a few doors down on our cul-de-sac, and they were a staple in our daily lives. When we moved to the neighborhood two years ago, I felt somewhat trepidatious about the idea of the children bouncing back in forth to each other’s homes. On our old block, there were no other children, and we had no experience with the casual coming and going of nearby friends. It was just so “1980s,” in that it evoked memories of the freedom I experienced as a child; to be honest, I didn’t think it would ever be possible for my own children to enjoy similar friendships marked by the freedom that comes from close-by playmates.

    Earlier this summer, Izzy and Sarah solidified their blossoming friendship by playing together nearly every day. When my daughter returned home from a day at camp, she would dash into the house, grab a snack, and then call, “I’m going to Sarah’s house!” I had long ago overcome my discomfort with this independence, and I often barely looked up from whatever I was doing to acknowledge she was leaving.

    Similarly, Sarah and her sister were often at our doorstep first thing on a weekend morning, and the kids often spent hours playing together- sometimes the better part of an entire day. They would flit back and forth between the two homes; sometimes we fed them lunch, and sometimes Izzy ate at Sarah’s house. They shared the milestone of the first sleepover together, and quickly became “best friends.”

    The requisite sleepover pillow fight
    The requisite sleepover pillow fight

    I was devastated by Izzy’s reaction to the news; she sobbed inconsolably, lamenting, “I thought we had found the perfect house! I thought this was finally the perfect neighborhood.” All I could do was hold her tight and cry along with her, trying to soothe her without dismissing her very real, raw feelings. There were several other families on our street, but their children were just far enough apart in age from my daughter to make regular playtime not appealing.

    I knew there was no denying the fact that this family’s move would irrevocably impact the dynamic of our block. The likelihood of another family with girls my daughter’s age moving in was not comforting.

    It seemed grandiose, but I wondered if Sarah’s move would signal a clear turning point in our lives; what if there was never another family with built-in playmates to live on this street? What if these two years would be the only time in my children’s lives that they had friends to play with in the free, independent way I enjoyed as a child? These semi-omniscient musings seemed a bit theatrical, but I was worried that it was the truth. It felt like we would be sad about it forever.

    I moved frequently as a child, and well into adulthood I have been sensitive about my friendship history and lack of lifelong comrades. I have always been envious of my friends who remain close with the pals they grew up with. Every time I moved, I stayed in contact with a few special friends, but as the tide continued to turn, we always lost touch. Sometimes it took two separate moves before the transition was complete–my move at age 13 and then leaving for college, or even my out of state internship followed by my move to Colorado– but I always seemed to shed my friends as I outgrew my old skin. It made me feel sad, and somehow self-conscious. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I hang onto friends? I have finally managed to maintain a close bond with three of my college friends. After a few post-adolescent years while we fumbled into our adult lives, we have worked hard to stay in contact.

    Scan
    Me with my childhood best friend; we stayed close despite multiple moves.

    I wanted my daughters to have the history of closeness with the friends they grew up with. I never had neighborhood friends move away when I was a child, because I was always the one moving. I know it is a reality that many children experience, but I wanted to spare my girls that sense of loss. The hours I spent with the neighborhood children when I was in elementary school, the memories we shared of various wild adventures, shaped me in unmistakeable ways. But I am very aware of the transient nature of childhood friendships, and the fragility of these first social bonds.

    When I moved out of state just before 6th grade, I managed to find nearby friends my own age in my new neighborhood, and once again basked in the childhood high of freedom, walking back and forth between our houses in the twilight hours. Our final family move, weeks before my 13th birthday, landed us in a neighborhood filled primarily with families who had babies and toddlers. This didn’t faze me, and I instead focused my efforts on cornering the market on baby-sitting services. I was old enough to walk farther to friends’ homes, and I didn’t feel that I was missing out. But for seven sweet years, I belonged to a pack of kids who roamed the streets comfortably, never lacking for playmates and dodging the daily boredom that I worry my children may succumb to.

    It is my hope that, in spite of our neighbors moving away, we will put down roots in this community, and my girls will still find friends with whom to share their formative years. But I still find myself questioning, “Will Sarah’s leaving scar my daughter for life? Will things ever be the same?”

    Did your family move away when you were a child? Did you lose a best friend, or has your child lost a best friend to a move? How did you cope? 

    **We took a brief end-of-summer hiatus from our friendship essays; we are now accepting submissions! If you have a friendship story to share, please email a 500-1000 word essay along with a 2-3 sentence bio and photos to herstoriesfriendshiptales@gmail.com. We would love to hear your story about how a friendship impacted your life! **
  • Stronger Than Me

    BeFunky_Cartoonizer_1.jpgWe are featuring a powerful friendship essay today from Rose Townsend of Naturally Educated. Rose’s story of friendship and loss reminds us to be grateful for the time we have spent with those we have loved. Read her moving tribute to her college friend:

    I hate being sick. It makes me miserable and angry (ask my husband). I resent the time lost and dwell on tasks undone. I curse my body for betraying me. For preventing me from operating at full capacity. I don’t have time for that shit.

    Fortunately, (for everyone) it doesn’t happen often. Recently, I got sick for the first time in years. I reacted exactly as described above. While I complained and whined and cursed the nasty virus, I thought about my college roommate.

    I thought about the night I met her. I pictured her sitting in the house we shared as I unpacked. Arms wrapped around her knees, talking and listening. The conversation came easily and we were instant friends.

    I thought about sitting across from her at dinner. We made “real” meals together. Actual chicken (shake and bake) and veggies (frozen) and noodles (from a box). Pretty classy by college standards. She would sit and say “Mmm mmm,” as we bragged about our gourmet meal to our housemates. (They were so freaking jealous.)

    I thought about playing beer pong in our basement and drinking shots of rum and grape Kool aid. And dancing. Crazy, dizzy dancing that involved loud singing and jumping and smiling until our faces hurt.

    I thought about lazy weekends. I pictured her on the couch watching cheesy Lifetime movies and eating take out.

    I thought about watching the only girl fight I have ever seen. (Which may or may not have involved her kicking someone’s ass while I watched in shock and admiration)

    I thought about her dancing at my wedding. And about how happy I was to meet her fiancé and be at her wedding shower. And how amazing they both were with my kids a year later when met for a winter walk at a park.

    I thought about the phone call I got a few weeks later. The news shook me, but her voice never wavered. Breast cancer, she said. This isn’t going to kill me, she said. I just have to get through it, she said. No tears. No nonsense.

    I thought about the timeline. Done by next year at this time. Back on track with her life’s plan. One year later arrived and all was well. I admired her strength and courage and ability to remain calm and focused. She did it. I knew she would.

    I thought about the phone call a few months later. The cancer was back. In her lungs and inoperable. She talked casually about leg surgery and being unable to climb the stairs in her house. She was in her early thirties. I felt angry. I’m sure she must have too, but she never said it to me. She kept me up to date on her condition and asked what was going on in my life.

    I thought about her concern for her husband. About how she joked over lunch that if anything happened to her, he wouldn’t know how to access their bank accounts. She would give him a tutorial just in case. She talked about him often. She thought about what he needed. About how he was suffering. So completely selfless. So very in love.

    I thought about the last time I saw her. My five year old saw a money jar in her living room and forwardly asked if he could borrow some. She quickly grabbed her wallet and made his day by giving him some change. She had made so many of my days just by being there.

    I thought about one of our last conversations. The cancer was in her brain. She talked about her weekend away with her husband and time at the beach with family. She talked about how there were still more medications to try. The doctor said they would keep trying. If she knew she was close to the end, she never let on to me. Still no tears, no complaints. Just unbelievable courage.

    I thought about the voice mail I left her the day before she died. I thought about the snow on the way to her funeral. I thought about how there is no way that all she was could fit into the tiny box they wheeled up the aisle of the church that morning.

    I thought about her strength. Since the day I met her, she personified strength. I admired her for it then. I am in awe of it now. I don’t know how the hell she fought the fight she did. I was pissed at a virus that would be over in a few days. She had been fighting for her life. But she was much stronger than me.

    I would like to say that all these thoughts made me stop being a miserable sick person, that I sucked it up and showed a little of the strength I saw in her. But that would be a lie.

    20121124_131237What these thoughts did do, was make me even more thankful to have known her. Thankful that someone that kind, that honest, that fun, that strong would call me a friend. Thankful to have spent a year under the same roof–laughing, crying, singing, dancing and really living with her. Thankful that we kept in touch. Thankful to have told her she was one of my all time favorite people (she totally was). Thankful she met my children. Thankful for that last hug and that I can still remember the sound of her voice so clearly. And see her smile. And picture her dancing.

    As for getting angry at illnesses and life’s other annoyances, I’m guessing she would advise me to be strong and positive. She would probably tell me not to be so miserable. She would encourage me to embrace every moment I have here whether those moments are ideal or painful. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want me to complain or feel sorry for myself. As her passing tragically proved, we don’t have time for that shit.

    20130501_124213(0)Rose Townsend is a stay at home mom with three children and a leader of her local Down syndrome interest group.  She blogs about using her children’s interests, nature and travel to create meaningful learning experiences for the whole family at naturallyeducated.com.