Recently I spent eight days with one of my favorite people in the world. You all know her as our Tuesday blogger, I call her tacalla. You've heard one or the other of us use that term here on the blog (tacalla is the Spanish word for two things that share the same name), as a way of explaining our shared Michel/lleness. Just imagine for a minute the hilarious looks on the faces of our fellow vacationers when we introduced ourselves. Hi, I'm Michele. And I am Michelle. Yes, we both said Michel/lle. No, we are not twins. Yes, we confuse people all the time. No, we aren't sisters...our parents did not suffer from a serious lack of creativity or a desire to adhere to an age old family tradition. After several questions to determine why we share a name the person being introduced to us inevitably asked THE question...well then how did you meet?
Now this is where things get really interesting. Because whenever we are asked this question (we've been asked by honeymooners, couples celebrating anniversaries, people celebrating all manner of birthdays, relatives, friends, friends of friends...mostly in circumstances where the word death causes stunned silences) we make a quick joint decision...do we tell them? Michelle and I have gotten really good at this over the years. When someone asks the loaded question, we quickly glance at each other. Should we? Will you tell or will I? The whole story or only one part? A quick blow or a longer version of the hows and whens? All this we communicate in one quick meeting of the eyes. Then the predetermined bearer of bad news takes a deep breath and dives in to the murky waters of men who died too young, kids without dads, women who you'd never guess were widows (widows really?!), and the uncomfortable shifting of weight from foot to foot, eyes that dip from our faces to the floor, and the silence we so often fill with the description of the gift we Michel/lles are to each other.
When we met five years ago Michelle and I didn't know how much we would need each other. When I sent her a card two months after Phil's death, and two weeks after Daniel's (at my sister's request because her husband is Michelle's cousin) I did not know that she would become my lifeline as we surfed the turbulent waves of grief side by side. In fact, I didn't even know what to say to her. All I knew then was that grief was eating me alive...I wondered at the time if you are supposed to say that to someone whose husband just died. But anything less seemed unfair. Why pretend what lay ahead for her was pretty? Or easy? Or even just terrible? I finally decided to write her a note and tell her I would be available (as a stranger to her I was pretty sure she'd never call) if ever she wanted to talk. Four months later, to my surprise, she did. And we haven't stopped talking since.
The funny thing is we spend about 90% of our time talking about life, not death. We taught each other how to pick up the pieces of our shattered futures, and begin again. As every day passed we listened, even when the words spoken hurt one as much as the other. We poured out our pain in a long stream of e-mails that we both have saved as a part of our history. But woven through the pages of agony, were always glimpses of hope. That is the gift we continually give each other. And the sunny spot we point to when our dark history overshadows our joint introductions.
Really, I can't blame unsuspecting folks for their reactions to meeting two 41 year old women, with the same name, similar features, and dead husbands. But these mind bending statistics are not the most amazing part of our story. The really cool piece is the fact that one relationship is the basis for a movement that has touched hundreds of thousands of grieving people around the world. Hope is a gift that keeps on giving. Michelle and I first gave this gift to each other unwittingly, and that light has been passed from hand to hand ever since.
So reach out, even when all you see is darkness. Find a friend (we can help you...www.sslf.org). Follow the light, however dim. Know that pain shared really is lessened, and joy (there are still joys spinkled throughout the lifestunting pain) shared doubled. For Michelle and I that joy just happens to share the same name.