Michelle and I have been doing this widow thing side by side for almost four years. When we met we were both newly widowed, and shell shocked. Each of us watched our dreams for the future unceremoniously demolished as one minute passed into the next. Thrown into a whirlwind of grief we discovered each other in the eye of the storm.
For the first year after Phil died my e-mail inbox was my lifeline. Whenever grief, or life, became more than I could handle...I would furiously type out a note (often through tears and at 3:00AM) to the only person I knew would not try to fix me. If I said I wanted to die, she said me too. If I said I will never marry again, she said me either. If I said life sucks, she said death sucks too. When I cried, she listened. Often at the end of my long sobbing rants she would say, I wish Phil wasn't dead. To which I could say, me too. When I talked to Michelle I never felt the need to pretend that I was okay. We built a friendship based on the reciprocity of understanding.
With four years of experience under my belt you'd think I would have the comforting friend thing down by now. I should be able to say just the right thing when a wave of grief crashes over my friend. Since I can hear the anguish in her voice when she discovers that another amazing person has been diagnosed with cancer, shouldn't I know how to reassure her that not everyone dies? As the dates of the calendar rush towards the anniversary of Daniel's death, I am the one who is uniquely qualified to walk the death march by her side. I know the dates of anniversaries and birthdays. I know that Daniel loved to cook, and stirred the sauce in a certain direction. I know that Grayson is becoming more and more like his daddy every day. I know that Daniel would be so proud of how Michelle has managed her life since he has been gone. Yet knowing all these things does not make me any less helpless.
Grief breeds helplessness. There is no fix for this kind of pain. The perfect words won't change the fact that my friend is a single parent. Knowing what dates or times of year will make her yearn for the man she loves won't make the missing of him less intense. Wishing that Daniel were here to tell her she really is stunning at 40 won't make up for the fact that he isn't. And even though my heart has also been torn out of my chest and replaced upside down, I am still helpless when the tears of sorrow and loss pour down her cheeks.
And so I listen. And I listen again. And I don't try to fix anything. I just walk beside her and remind her that hope is a choice. When I get tired, she reminds me.
And despite the tragedies that brought us together, we celebrate our triumphs (like fixing dishwashers and leaking pipes), we laugh and cry at the same time (okay sometimes we snort), we intentionally look into the future (even when all we see is black space), and we have made a pact to live courageously (we call this jumping off of curbs). Like many of you Michelle's birthday is a stepping stone along the road to the anniversary of her husband's death. And so we acknowledge the bitterness of Daniel's loss as we embrace the sweetness life still has to offer in the year ahead.
Happy Birthday my friend. You are an unbelievable gift to me, and to the many others who are privileged to know and love you. Wishing you overflowing happiness, extravagant love, and fields full of butterflies.