Last Thursday, all of my closest friends flew in from around the country for our annual trip to see each other. Since 2012, when Drew died, we have been making it a point to come from far and wide to spend a weekend together celebrating his life and our friendships. We call it Drewfest, and this year was our sixth year. It was the first year having this celebration in Ohio, which was a big deal for both Mike and I.
I can hardly find the words to express how much this group of people means to me. I honestly believe they have made one of the biggest differences in how well I have coped with and healed these past 6 years. They are one of my strongest connections to Drew, because they were there for so much of the happy memories and good times - sharing alongside he and I. I know without a doubt they miss him the same way I do. And I know they remember all the good times as much as me. When we are together, we all feel closer to him.
They also remember the hard times, because they were there for that too. In the weeks and months after Drew died, these were the friends that showed up for me in countless ways and helped to carry me through. They were my rock. They may never really know just how much of a difference their presence has made.
Six years later, they’ve never left. Even though our lives continue on. As I found new love, they welcomed it. As some of us left Texas for Ohio, California, and Florida, we started video calling each other to stay close. So much living has happened since that difficult day in June of 2012. Good and hard times both. And still these friendships have remained. Even though sometimes we may not catch up for months at a time, I know they are there. I know because we have been through an unthinkable fire together and that fire has strengthened our friendship. It is the one greatest gift that Drew continues to give us…
I’m so grateful for these friendships that have lasted. So grateful that I invested deeply in building these friendships before he died, so that when it happened, a solid foundation of friendship had already been laid for each of us. I’m grateful that Mike and Shelby are now a part of our crew and are loved fiercely by them all too.
Bringing our annual trip up to Ohio this year was initially a decision made for budget reasons. We didn’t have the money to make it down to Texas this year, and asked if everyone might want to come up to Ohio. Happily everyone jumped on board. It ended up also being something so much more meaningful though. It was, for me, a merging of my old life and my new life. I couldn’t help but feel a contentment to have some of the most important parts of my old life here, in the house that Mike and Megan lived in for so many years… which has now become the center of our new life together. It was like having all these pieces of my heart that are normally scattered across the country all right here next to me.
It’s been especially hard feeling so separate from all of the people and things that feel like home for me since moving to Ohio. And though I’ve gotten more settled here, I think it was good to have some pieces of my old life here - even if for a few days. To have built some memories with these people in my new life and further integrate these chapters of my journey has felt healing.
I know that it has been good for Mike too. He has not had the fortune of such lasting friendships after Megan died… and I know certainly that it has been a struggle and a pain for him to have felt abandoned by those friendships. I know that has happened to so many people in times of grief as well. No one really teaches any of us how to be there for those we love - so often people default to avoidance and leave the grieving isolated. I have been lucky. It is why I have held on so tightly to these few people who have not walked away during my darkest hour. It is why I have made certain to bring Mike and Shelby into this circle of support too. And why I try always to be there for anyone grieving so they not ever have to feel isolated or alone in their pain.
The greatest gift we can ever give in our lifetimes I think is to stand beside those in pain. To be willing to sit inside of the pain with them… to open ourselves up to feeling their hurt, so that they do not have to hurt alone. It isn’t an easy choice to make. It’s far easier to choose to pretend or avoid. But it’s far more healing for everyone to choose to hurt together. It’s one of the greatest lessons Drew’s death, and my friendships, have taught me these past 6 years. To always try and be fearlessly present for others during the unthinkable fires of life, is such a meaningful way to live.