Just a thought… The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair and confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing…not curing…that is a friend who cares. [Henri Nouwen]
This will be my last journal until after Labour Day – you see, I have a very special friend coming this weekend. Gee, that sounds like my period, but that ship (with a P!) has sailed, thankfully. No, it’s Lisa Brandt, former broadcaster, current voice artist extraordinaire, writer, blogger, soul sister, longtime confidante and forever partner in dark humour. We’ve been through hell and back a few times over the past two decades and in two days she’s getting on a plane and coming here from Ontario. Girl’s got her vax and she’s prepped to relax.
After her body clock adjusts a bit, we’re taking a Thelma and Louise top-down (the car, silly) road trip for four days across to Salt Spring and then up island. Just Lisa and Erin and a whole lot of talking, sight-seeing and breathing in the bliss of our company and the beauty of our surroundings.
There’s something almost indescribable about a friend, who has been with you through the worst parts of your life, who is irreplaceable, and nothing brought this home more to me than an article in The Atlantic online magazine.
It was a long read about a couple, the McIlvaines, who lost one of their two sons in 9/11 in the twin towers terrorist attacks, a horror that is coming up on its 20th anniversary next month. While we know never ever to compare grief, reading the father’s reaction – which was to go down every single rabbit hole there was about conspiracy theories and “truthers” surrounding 9/11 – and the mother’s, was eye-opening to me.
In fact, I can’t let go of it. I can relate to her grief in some ways – not all, of course, as my daughter’s death wasn’t a worldwide news story, a “remember where you were” moment that will be indelibly marked for decades to come, and an event that affected everything from travel precautions to wars and countless other parts of our lives. In no way do I compare my own loss to hers. We don’t compare grief and I’ll keep saying that until I’m blue in the face.
But in that Atlantic article, the things that mom Helen said which resonated with me most loudly (in fact, they’re in my book) included the dreaded “at leasts” and the well-meaning pep talks with statements like “no parent should have to bury a child.”
Their son Bobby’s soon-to-be fiancée also said something that jumped out at me: “Don’t tell me I’m going to be okay.” Because, at that moment, Jen’s life had fallen apart and she did not want to hear that, even though the words came from her own future mother-in-law who was, at the time, begging for one of her son’s journals to be returned to her. She knew Jen would still have a life; Helen, the mom, was just clinging to what she could from her son’s existence. Boy, do I get that!
I’ve told other parents who’ve reached out to me in their rawest grief that every day does get a little bit better and the weight on your chest a little lighter. But never would I say, “You’ll be okay.” The truth is that there is no finish line when your child dies. It’s a cross-country marathon and, if you’re lucky, eventually the hills get gentler and fewer.
The friends who are there at the marathon’s hydration stations to hand you water (when you wish it was wine), who will listen to you talk about stuff like this – to hammer out the progress, the possibilities, the common threads that have tied you together all of these years – those are the ones who have you counting the days, the hours and the blessings that come with seeing them again.
I wish you a friend like Lisa – and I’ll be back with you here on the 7th. In the meantime, I’ll be posting daily on Facebook.