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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Loss, Friends, and Life Preservers

Once upon a time, I was a girl. A girl raised in rural Alabama, protected from all things sad and evil. Who grew up in a bubble of love and ideology. A girl who believed all things were possible. All people were good. And whatever you dreamed would come true if only you worked and prayed hard enough.

Once upon a time, I believed all friends would move Earth and time to be with you when you needed them. That you could close your eyes at night knowing that you would be surrounded the next day by the same ones who left you at the corner with a wink and "good night" the day before.

But life, and reality, cause a pause. Even when the timeline of our lives experience seismic shifts, those friends, our loved ones, remain calm. And in that calmness, we fail to understand that even in their silence, they love us. Loss evokes a kind of speechlessness that can seem insensitive but actually evinces an empathy beyond words. An empathy that sits and waits until it's needed. Instead of rushing and imposing itself.

Extreme loss creates a chasm that some are able to traverse alone. While others need someone walking beside them, guiding them through. In life. In family. In friendship, the key is knowing whether the person you love--the one who's going through tragedy--needs you on the bridge or on the other side waiting to embrace you and remind you of a life beyond loss.

In the two weeks since my mom died, I've experienced all levels of friendship. Levels of support. Levels of doing that either acted as a suave in their comfort or as pain in their absence. Initially, it hurt when people didn't meet the expectations I'd assumed. When you lose someone you love, you want every life preserver thrown to you. But I've come to understand that you don't need all the life preservers at once. Instead, you need them in increments. One or two at a time to help you get from the sinking ship to the shore.

Shortly after my Mom died, people surrounded our family. The overwhelming love and support carried us through the initial tough time. But then life moved on. It hurt me to leave my Dad and fly home because it seemed as though he was suddenly all alone in his grief. His new existence. I also was sadden that with a few exceptions, those closest to me had barely reached out.

Within days of being back in Pennsylvania, the life preservers appeared. One by one. Text by text. Call by call. Flower by flower. Hug by hug. I realized a new appreciation for staggered support. For saving some of the Calvary for the second, third, and fourth waves. Just when things settle back into normal and the aching hole of your loss creeps in, someone else reaches out. A simple text from Leslie, "How are you??" Or from Michelle C, "Thinking of you." Or from Kelley, "On my mind." These little things show me that people are thinking of us. Of my sweet Mama. And taking time to pause in their day to remember.

I'm grateful for this. And will remember for the future when my own friends experience deep loss, that being a friend isn't just about triage. It's about checking the wound. Helping with learning to walk again. Sitting in the peace and listening. And loving.

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