Pioneer

Author’s Note:  I wrote the following post in May, 2015. I decided not to share it because it seemed discouraging somehow   It’s OK now.  What we dreaded has happened.  And we’re broken-hearted…but that’s not all.      

KAM November 2015

——

I’m about to lose a friend.

Not today. Not tomorrow. But too soon.

And when she leaves us, there will be a big, giant hole for a lot of people. A vacuum.

I hesitate to write about it though, because that makes it pretty real. I think the reason I feel calm about her illness at this particular moment is that talking to her feels really normal. While she has profoundly changed, she hasn’t changed at all. I look at her with her kerchief covering  her baldish head, and I know she’s suffering. She’s thin, but I watched her get there, and she was thin to begin with. So her physical appearance is what you might expect when you arrive unannounced on a Sunday morning for a cup of coffee. Good friends can look like that for each other and it looks good. Relaxed. Even centered.

And she is. Centered, I mean. Thrown right into her center. Everything becomes crystal clear. Miraculous and terrible all at the same time. Tender and sweet. Gnarly and bitter. At turns. Right in the center. The junk falls away and we are left with what really matters. And we hang on tight to it.

For me, it’s the normalcy I am hanging on to. The calm exchanges, the rolling of eyes, the bursting out of laughter, the shaking of heads….and the “ah ha” of a new idea or a new way of looking at something. There are moments later when I think about our time together and I realize drama wouldn’t really fit. This soft continuation fits.

It’s honest, to be sure. We talk about what’s coming. We know it and we hate it, and we’re not avoiding it. We’re just not letting it take over all of our moments. I’m soaking them up and realizing I’ll need to remember it all well. Like a conversation on the way to the airport before a long journey. You have goodbyes to say, but it seems fine to talk about the traffic or the weather….we’re together for a few more minutes and what we want is calm closeness. Not drama and tears and panic.

I admit it’s been distracting when she’s had to be attached to the oxygen. “The leash.” And when she’s taken it off for a break, I notice when she reaches to put it back on. I know then she has weakened in that moment and it’s been invisible to me. She’s hanging on, right there before my eyes and I suddenly feel like my oxygen is running out, too.

I’m not the main player in this real-life drama. Her husband and kids and dad and sisters are. She’s not mine. She’s theirs. I know she loves me. She knows I love her. This cruel turn has intensified the feelings of love among all our friends. Life threatening illnesses will do that.

There’s a small gang of us. We’ve all been banged up or scared or tired or sad over the years. But the network of “us” always picks it up. We’re each strong for the others. The collective strength – which is considerable – pulls us through. We’re not casual friends. This is the real deal. Our love and care for one another comes from genuine respect. Sincere admiration. We’re different from each other. More different that some might think. Maybe that’s part of what makes each one a precious stone in the collection. There is unwavering faith in one another. Hope for one another.

We laugh a ton. Way more than we cry. We cry a little, too, though. I venture to guess we cry for one another even more when we’re apart. We pair off and cry sometimes, too. Then we come back strong and mighty and able to laugh.

All of us are married. All of us have kids. Our families get it. They see us go to the well for a drink of this friendship (and usually a beer or a glass of wine) and they get it. I think our spouses appreciate the help. We’re each a handful, I think, and it takes a village to be married to us. Not that we’re bad spouses….just that we’re passionate and capable and dealing with full plates and bursting hearts all the time. Our kids see what an integral part of life friendships must be and how we don’t choose between family and friends. They are wholly interwoven and each strengthens the other.

So we are facing a rearrangement. A crushing change. We hate it and we’re not accustomed to being unable to battle a bad thing. We’ve learned how to handle a lot of things together. Shaky marital moments. Teenagers. The loss of a parent. Board rooms. Betrayals. Exhaustion. Now this. It’s humbling and terrible. We’re angry and sad. We know we’re mortal and we’ll all face our end in turn. It’s not that. It’s just that it’s too soon. And no one should be first.

So what’s this going to be like? Well I know “us”, and if there’s a best way to face it, we’ll shoot for that. I know there will be a great gift exchange. To her and to each other. Not the kind with packages and neat bows.   Gifts like courage and strength. Tears and laughter. Calmly. Gently. Lovingly. Led by our friend who is full of what it takes. She will remind us we have it, too. We will take our cues from her. She is the pioneer, going where we’ll go. She will be honest and natural. Trustworthy and serene. There will be smiles of gratitude all around.

Gratitude. That’s my choice. I choose to be grateful and to let that push away my dread. I know this friendship is a great gift. I don’t want it to end, but it will be more than enough. More than most people ever experience. And the effects of it are everlasting.

I am grateful.

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