Once upon a time, I had a great friend, Tisha.
I started to describe our friendship and all of the amazing things we did together – how we supported each other, talked about anything, and never had things come up between us…but it was becoming too lengthy.
We traveled, went to symphonies and rock concerts, walked probably 1000 miles together…I decorated her house after the birth of each of her kids – in a “toilet paper” style. Yes, I TP’d her house with crepe paper in celebration of her birthing accomplishments!!
I wanted her neighbors to know.
In around September 2009, I found out she had leukemia. I don’t think I fully understood that someone I knew in person, someone as vibrant and young (33ish) with 3 very young kids could become that ill. It was really stupid of me to feel that way because in my career, I had had to type letters to patients summarizing the bad news to these young women – to prepare their families and children for their deaths because they were not going to survive the cancer.
I had to create a bubble of denial so that I could stay optimistic for my friend – probably more for myself – Life is a journey of SELF sprinkled with connections with others.
One day about a year later, I was driving home from work, and a storm was brewing. The strangest storm I had ever seen…and there was a great disturbance in the Force.
The visibility became dangerously scarce. It was 4pm or so, daylight in the summer months of Arizona, and the sky was dark with fog-like clouds everywhere. The traffic was either at a dead stop for a few minutes, or a slow crawl at 5 to 10mph because we couldn’t see… and then it started hailing – giant softball sized chunks of ice falling from the sky. It was something out of a movie.
Then it stopped, and in just the section of road where I was, the bizarre supernatural clouds broke to reveal a rainbow. Thankfully, I had my camera, so I took a picture.
Eventually, I made it home safe and sound.
The next day, I met my friend Claudia at the gym to work out. Another friend was there who asked if I had heard about Tisha.
I said, “Well, I’ve been keeping in touch with her, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to.”
He said, “She died yesterday.”
I collapsed on the gym floor, sobbing out loud. It was real and unreal at the same time. I was shaking and didn’t really understand. She couldn’t have died. I didn’t get to see her. I didn’t think that would actually happen.
All of my real-life logicality KNEW that anything is possible – each day is not promised to us or guaranteed – Yet, my innerself didn’t grasp her illness or the very real reality that she would and could die.
And when she did, it made no sense. It’s silly that it didn’t make sense, but it was incomprehensible that this vibrant little ball of energy and amazing mom with 3 young children would die.
Claudia, whom I did not know well, insisted on attending Tisha’s services with me. She didn’t want me to go alone. I am still grateful for that. Thank you, Claudia!
When we arrived at the funeral home, I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to get back in the car and drive away. Claudia said that we could just go in and leave when I was ready- there was no timeframe. I am still grateful for that. Thank you, Claudia.
When we walked through the front door, there were Tisha’s children, her little clones, mini-me’s, and I tried in vain to remain calm. I don’t remember if I did or not. I just remember their innocence and lack of understanding at what was really happening.
They were just BE-ing, just being kids, running around a bit, sort of fighting, but not overwhelmed with grief or sadness. They were just BE-ing.
Claudia and I sat toward the back of the room. There were other people arriving, some I didn’t want to see or be in contact with, and I liked the vantage point in the back. I didn’t know how long I would last.
I took a moment to walk up to the front to speak to Tisha’s husband. I knelt before him – It didn’t look like he had the strength to stand.
He sobbed and shook his head, in the same disbelief that I had, but with more desperation at how he would continue living without her. The pain and grief were palpable.
This man loved his wife so much.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You knew her…you know..” He became overwhelmed at these words and put his face in his hands and shook his head and cried harder.
What does a person say to provide comfort? What do we do?
I’m not sure I said anything except, “I know,” and I put my hand on his shoulder and caressed his back the way a mommy does with a crying child.
I stood, and he looked up at me. He nodded and said “Thank you.” I nodded in return and walked back to Claudia.
There was a slide show projected on a screen or wall in the front – beautiful and fun pictures. I started telling stories about Tisha to Claudia, a woman who never met her or even saw what she looked like until this day.
As I started telling the stories, a lightness washed over me – It was like a cool breeze, and the heaviness had disappeared. As the stories were spilling from my mouth, I started laughing, and it felt like Tisha was sitting with me, and we were laughing together. The stories made Claudia laugh too. The three of us were bonding in funny sweet memories.
…and it sounds strange to say here and now but I actually enjoyed that moment of memories.
And then, before the service actually started, I felt peace. I wasn’t crying. And I felt like I had said “see ya” in the way that Tisha and I would have.
I’m sobbing now as I type this. The relevance of this story will be obvious to a few. I have some friends grieving over the loss of a treasured man, someone very close to them.
…and I just want to reach out say that I understand, even if it is a non-understanding way because I didn’t know your friend, but I know you well enough to know that he was amazing.
And when I say that he will come back and comfort you, I mean that.
It is 3-½ years after Tisha’s death, and I still cry. I miss her a lot. Her husband kept her Facebook page so that we could all see her babies grow. I am so grateful for that.
I hope that I shared my story with enough intimacy – my soul is ripped in half at the loss of my friend, even years later, and at hearing about the loss of a friend of a friend, because I’ve been there. I can’t say that it gets easier – that’s not accurate. As time goes, there is more peace, and the love does not fade. We are all in this together.
Much love and peace.