Last week I was at Bible Study with my dear friends. We’ve been meeting together since Jack’s death, wrestling with faith and holding each other up in the hard times. We couldn’t meet until 9 pm, which is pretty late for a weeknight. I didn’t plan to stay too long because I wanted to tuck Margaret in bed and possibly watch The Americans with Tim after that.
At 10 o’clock, I stood up and said I had to go. It seemed like a decent stopping point between the sharing and the Bible study.
On my short drive home, I got a text from my friend Allie that said, “I’m sorry. XOXO” I texted back, “I’m fine. Love you.” And I truly thought I was. But in an attempt to be more open, something I’ve been working on, I began to wonder if there was something more. Something Allie had picked up on at our meeting that I hadn’t. So, I added a while later, “Home now. Sometimes I have to leave to protect myself from extra pain. XO.”
Woah. Where did THAT come from?
I truly had planned on leaving at 10. My friends were talking about high school sporting events, and prom, and dating, and cell phone use, but there was nothing new there. It’s what moms talk about. So why did I add that bit about ‘extra pain’ to my text?
Crap! I’m sure it made my friends feel bad, and these friends are some of the very ones who have stood by me every step of the way, embracing and including me when it would be so much easier not to.
Now, my friends would probably beat themselves up, second-guessing the whole conversation, wondering which topics should be off-limits around me, even after all this time. There would be apologies. And awkward conversations. Oh boy.
In my attempt to be transparent, I was making things much worse, and maybe even hurting those closest to me, all because in my response to Allie's concerned text, I had led her to believe that something about the conversation that night was taboo.
I realize now, that in my weird response, I was trying to protect Allie and my closest friends from something much worse: The truth.
The terrible truth is that our gathering that night didn’t hurt worse than any other night. They all hurt. To be best friends with Jennie means to remember that her sweet daughter Alexis was playing in the rain with my kids that terrible day, but mercifully was called inside 5 minutes before the accident. To be friends with Jane is to remember that she was the one who watched Jack while I was at the hospital giving birth to Margaret, and that we fumbled and found our legs as mothers together in those exhausting, innocent early years, sharing family dinners, planning egg hunts, and fretting. So many memories. And to hear about the sons in the group, whether it's their sports schedules or tentative forays into dating, is to miss Jack even more. So, I immediately knew what Allie must be alluding to when she typed, “I’m sorry. XOXO.” I guess I just didn’t want her to know, how it goes way beyond that one conversation. How much it still hurts every day-- how I am still living life on two tracks after all this time. Darn.
Being around people hurts. Yet to try to avoid pain is to avoid people and avoid living and loving, and that is not acceptable to me. Living in community is not perfect, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Friendship requires sensitivity and acknowledgment, for sure. But while shortly after Jack’s death I hoped friends would spare me the details of their children’s lives, I do not want that any longer. I want to be a true friend who knows what’s going on in my friends’ lives and their children’s lives, too. I don’t want our relationships to be one-sided. I can’t NOT know about my beloved nephew’s driver’s license, new truck, or date to the prom, even though it stings mightily to hear it.
I want to share others’ joy and pain with them, as they do for me, and if that means keeping the second track under wraps a lot of the time, then it's worth it.
And we all make mistakes. I know I do! How callous it is for me to complain about something Tim does that bugs me, when Heather’s husband starts chemo this week. Or to forget in the 27 years I’ve lived without my mom, that the pain of mother-loss looms so fresh for Allie at every holiday and family gathering. I'm glad my friends show me grace when I fail them.
I’m grateful for Allie’s text, and in a way I’m even grateful for my messy and muddled response to it. Because it reminds me that in general I am making it through my days in a way that doesn't scream “pain!” and “brokenness!” at first glance any more. In fact, I think my life sometimes manages to whisper "hope" and "joy" and "friendship." So that's something.
And the text also reminds me what a privilege it is to love each other through the messiness: mine, my dear Bible study friends' and yours.
Anna: I would never in a million years think that going through divorce is remotely comparable to losing a beloved child. But, it's the biggest loss I've experienced thus far and therefore where I go when I read something like this.
That said, I understand where you're coming from with regards to the strings that connect us, our lives, with our friends. It hurts me even eight years later to be reminded of life before and during divorce, I cannot begin to fathom how the daily reminders you experience must sting.
You inspire me so much and give such gentle reminders to be grateful.
Just wanted to let you know.
I've been blogging for eight years so I've read a lot, a lot, A LOT of blogs. For some reason, your blog has made one of the biggest impacts on my life. I'm not sure why. I never knew Jack but it feels like I did, ya know? So strange. In fact, I will sometimes randomly think of him! Me, a total stranger, thinking about another total stranger.
Today is the fifth anniversary of the day my cousin was murdered. I can still remember the phone call. When my dad told me she had been murdered. I remember it was like gravity took me down and I fell to the floor in an agony I've never known until then. This post means a lot to me on a hard day like today.
This is so beautiful, and so true. To love each other through the messiness, that's really the essence of this human experience. To hold space for our own pain and the pain of others, and to be honest about it, or not, sometimes. Thank you.
Another amazing, insightful, honest post. I love the mercy you extend to others and yourself. God Bless!
I learn so much from you, Anna. Thank you for always managing to put into words such complicated thoughts and emotions.
I just got back from the cemetery after 'visiting' my son Alex who died at age 17 in 2013 after cardiac surgery. I was thinking to myself how I ACHE to the bone, and I know it won't or can't ever go away. But I continue to get up every day, make my friends laugh, raise my other kids with a smile on my face and look forward every night to snuggling at home, the only place I feel comforted. I know I will ALWAYS live my life on two tracks, forever changed, but I really do care about others who are having a hard time and I want to listen to them. There are lousy days and not-bad days, but we should do the best we can and not beat ourselves up too much for needing to leave a conversation or sending a weird text. I also know that things could always be worse, much worse, so I am sure to say Thank You every day.
This made me cry! You are so Real! xo
So many jumbled up and true emotions in this post. Friendships can get a little hard to negotiate and some days are more raw than others when listening to your friends discuss their families, but yeah, keeping the connections is do worth it.
I am so glad you have good friends like this. She knows your heart, just as you know hers.
Your thoughts and perspective on all these situations is SO valuable Anna. Thank you for always honestly sharing it with us.
I love your vulnerability - that despite the pain, you keep showing up. Thank you for choosing courage!!
Love your complete honesty, and I'll bet your friends do too. Many prayers for you.
Anna you are forever humbling me. As a single mom of four, my life is constantly fraught with minor craziness. You always remind me to embrace and love it rather than be down about it. I am so grateful to read your beautiful writing, and I am always wishing I had the power to take your pain away. But I know I can pray for you and send positive thoughts your way. God bless you and your family always. And keep communicating your feelings, because they are important no matter how someone else may feel about them. Lots of love and virtual hugs always.
I bet your friend appreciates your honesty. While you keep being a good friend, you can't help but hurt. That said one persons problems are still real even if another's seem greater, heavier. You can continue to express your grief and do your best to listen to friend's problems with their kids. I'm sure your friends understand if you sometimes struggle with the task. Just the same as the friend, who's husband has cancer, still commiserates about the mundane marital spats that you might relate to her.
So hard to remain real and safe at the same time. Maybe it can't be done?
----that's the thing about girlfriends; they just love you even when you're completely unlovable, and they accept you when you're utterly unacceptable!
As I was going thru my darkest hours, I had a few friends text or email simply saying, "I'm here. I' waiting. I love you."
So few words meant Everything.
xx Hugs from Minnesota.
The way you admit your vulnerability is so honest and beautiful. Could I bear all that pain? I wonder. I don't know. When I lost my sister, many years ago when she took her life, I felt that same sting for many years after. That burning pain that wouldn't go away even during sleep. During dreams with her I would try to stop her from doing it, begging her to stay with me. She would quietly look at me and smile but wouldn't say a word. With the years I recovered, and managed to be happy again and have hope. Have my beautiful son and be in awe of the beauty of life. Once in a while I dream of her, I beg her again to stay with me. The pain I feel is physical as if a part of my heart is being pulled away. I realized that somehow my brain managed to put that pain in a compartment that can be closed and locked, so that I could move on with my life. The pain of an immense loss is unbearable, it does not go away as much as many well intentioned friends wish. We still have to go home and be alone with our pain. With many reaching out hands, it is still a lonely journey.
But being able to be in a safe place where you can talk about it and being heard without being hushed is the contribution that we friends could best do. It is important to keep talking about it. With a different perspective in life now I look at my love ones and marvel at every moment because is so precious and fragile. Because I understand what is to have them now and the uncertainty of not the next day...
Everything, every day, every moment is connected to the moment your life changed. That's not good, not bad, it just is. I have also had an event similar, not a child, but parents. So I feel what you're saying. You think you're doing fine, and you are, but under it all is the truth, that life changed forever and will never be the same. Hugs.
I read your blog all the time but never comment. I think about you so much. You are such a beautiful honest writer and your words hold such authenticity. Your openness about your grief touches so many people so deeply. Just wanted to let you know that you are in my thoughts always. Life sure is complicated, as you explain through these texts. Our emotions and friendships are so hard to make sense of... But thank you for shedding light!
The way you express thoughts and feelings is a gift! I can relate so well to your experience but would have such a tough time articulating it—or even understanding what I've been feeling for the past three years since my daughter's death. I felt validated and acknowledged while reading your post, and that is priceless. Thank you!
Like, like, like. Life is messy; healing from the profound grief of losing a child is messy; real, spontaneous, relationships are messy...but worth it.
When Mac was home at Christmas, the visit was awkward because he brought his girlfriend with him, because they did a lot and didn't have much time for us, and because our dogs are NOT used to company--and our guests were intolerant.
The one outing we had just Mac and me was to Target for groceries.
When I was relating my visit to Target with my son to my girlfriends, my friend Helen, whose daughter died four years ago, teared up. She hasn't been to Target since Vicki died, and while I get that she would give anything to go to Target with Vic again, I can't always measure my pain (in this case mourning the loss of my son of being only mine) against hers. Because then, well then, I'd never be allowed to feel those separation pains and feel normal about them.
Last week at school, a little girl sang a Taylor Swift song called, Never Grow Up, and she did so beautifully. I had never heard the song before, but it made me think of you and Jack, and of the parents of a little girl I know who is profoundly disabled. Other moms were openly crying at its sweetness, but I cried for you and for Kenidi's parents whose children won't ever grow up...
Your friends are walking such a balance of living their lives and feeling their feels, and being careful and not so careful around you.
I think, the things with grief is we can't ever always know what is going to undo us. But my goodness you are bless with friends who are much more intuitive than I am.
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