Archive for the 'Loss of a best friend' Category

What Would Stacey Think?

amywink May 16th, 2018

The Sunday after my birthday, I told the story of my faith journey with the Creating Spirit to my Sunday school class at First. I was nervous but some people knew I could do it and I felt their support as I talked. It was the first time I’d narrated my experience this way, but I had thought about it for a long time. I closed my talk by saying that I had come to church in March the year after Stacey’s and my mother’s deaths to grieve and I spent a lot of time crying in the balcony until by September I started laughing again.

Though I am still in such deep grief some days, I am laughing so much more than I ever expected to be, just 2 years into this new life, and every time I laugh, I know Stacey is with me. She worked so hard to make me laugh sometimes, and she usually succeeded because she was very funny. And we had laughed a lot together in our last months, when we knew the end was coming. Even when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we fell back on our sense of humor after our initial shock. She had spent a lot of time worrying about having an old age like her mother, who had several major health issues and had been on the brink of death many times, and also, ironically, outliving her money because her grandmother had lived to be 92. When Stacey was diagnosed, it was clear she wasn’t going to make 92, or even 52, so she could start spending the carefully gathered hoard of money she had meant to use to get to her old age. As we talked about the 3-year-deadline she’d been given, she said, “I guess I’m not going to have to worry about being old either.” I replied “yeah, I guess you should have been more specific when you said you didn’t want to be old like your mother.” And we laughed. All the times we laughed are what I hold dear now, and what I remember most fondly. I can make myself laugh by thinking of those moments, even the ones when we joked about death, because what else is there to do?

When it became clear that the experimental drug (the one that worked for Jimmy Carter) was not working (Why not Stacey, Lord?) and she felt she had been betrayed by her doctor who had not really informed her of rules of the study she’d agreed to enter, she sat in her own darkness but I could not leave her there, just like she never left me. I texted her “your mind is a dangerous neighborhood right now, and you know how I feel about leaving people alone in bad neighborhoods” and we sat together, via our phones, in that dangerous neighborhood until I said the right thing and she laughed. Then she thanked me for making her laugh and we walked out of that bad neighborhood together. I am grateful I was able to do that. Thank you, God, for a sense of humor.

Recently, BFF Caroline asked what I thought Stacey would think about my return to the Methodist church, (and becoming so religious) and I have thought about that for a long time. My answer at that moment was she would be ecstatic about my writing, having walked with me through my long darkness as well as some of my most creative times. But I imagine she’d have been taken aback by the startling depth of my faith, something we never talked about specifically–preferring the “spiritual” not “religious” discussion. She had been similarly surprised when I mentioned a desire for chickens, a hereditary craving that I wrote about for our City Ancestor/Country Ancestor project, and just like she had been floored when I decided to buy a horse, something she never knew because she’d come into my life in the middle, when I had almost put that dream away for good.

But early in our friendship, I had mentioned that I didn’t think I was very good at being Christian (given public perceptions of what is deemed Christian, re: Baptist, and I was a free-range, unchurched person-of-faith), to which she, my Jewish-turned-atheist friend who had read the entire Bible on her own, had replied, “Oh, no, I think you are exactly what a Christian is supposed to be. You do all the right things, you just don’t talk about them.” Once, much later, after a moment in which I ranted against some public idiocy I can’t recall and wrote a rather fiery response in an email about how we are saved by grace, she had carefully asked “so, what is your religion?” (after 20 years, she asked!) and I replied “ecumenical Zen-influenced Christian” and she said “well, I thought so.” I should have just said Methodist.

So, what would Stacey think? I don’t think she’d be surprised for long, having known I had a deep but private faith– though an equally deep lack of faith in myself– and I know she’d be very happy that I am so deeply happy and creative again. And I have made myself laugh by thinking about her arrival in Heaven, because I know that after her surprise wore off, she’d have marched right up to Jesus and threatened to break his arm if he didn’t help me after all I had done for her and everyone else in my life. I imagine He said “It will be all right. Don’t worry. I have my best people working on it.” And He would laugh.

Missing

amywink April 27th, 2018

Missing
for Stacey 1964-2016

At any moment,
or perhaps just not any
but the moment of
happiness or need,
I stumble into the emptiness
where you were,
and falling I am swallowed
by that deep chasm
of our friendship.

What I missing now,
those moments I’d have turned
to you to celebrate
some teaching glory,
or the moment you
carried me through
some aggravation
on your sharp wit,
or when you stood fierce,
unmoving, against my adversaries,
daring those you would so happily,
so eagerly vanquish,
or when you stood
always ready to help me risk
a leap into the unknown.

What I am missing now
is how you knew me,
how you understood
what troubled me,
how you accepted
who I was without question,
and even in those rare moments
when you discovered some included flaw
suspended in the amber of my self,
how you held that relic
up to the light in wonder
and discovery of a glowing treasure
that you would turn as priceless gift instead.

“You are amazing. You are great. You are cool.”

amywink July 29th, 2017

This weekend marks one year since I lost my best friend, Stacey. We, as a culture, are not very good at acknowledging grief, recognizing it as part of a complex human experience, but we are better at recognizing the grief that is shared through familial relationships. There is precious little written about the lost of a long-time and deep friendship. Searching the blog posts on What’s Your Grief leads to one article: When Your Best Friend Dies. At least it’s a very good article.

When your best friend dies, many people don’t notice. When your best friend dies, you have to tell them if you want them to know–and when you tell them, they might forget you’re grieving. When your best friend dies, people don’t perceive that you might be the right age to have lost someone close. When your best friend dies, some people don’t even understand the concept of best friendships.

It is a kind of solitary, singular loss.

But grief is not a competition but a frame through which we, changed, now see the world, like Emily Dickinson wrote “I measure every Grief I meet With narrow, probing, eyes – I wonder if It weighs like Mine – Or has an Easier size.”

I am very lucky, both to have known Stacey, and also to have more than a single best friend (which as an adult, is not longer the hierarchical term we use in childhood, the Number 1 friend, but a description of the kind of friend a person is, the best kind). Those friends closed ranks and carried me through the worst of the loss, some old friends stepped up to the plate, some new friends stepped forward. But when Stacey died, a chasm opened and into it fell our shared memories, our collective experience, the tangential connections I had to her husband, her family, her friends. Suddenly, the bridge to her whole life vanished. At the same time, a few of those connections became stronger as we also became closer to share our grief, her husband, her best friend from college. What had been tangential has become central, like healing around a collective wound, a web across the chasm we were left with. But the chasm is still there and every time I think “Stacey would have loved this” or “Stacey would have said….” or “I’d have asked Stacey about this” or a thousand other small thoughts that drift through my days, there is only a deep and reverberating echo for an answer.

Stacey was born into a religious tradition in which the only afterlife was in the continual remembering of the person. While she happily left most of that religion behind, she did believe, and I believe, that the active remembering of a person, her life, her relationships, her stories, keeps that person among the living. I remember her. I am writing her into the fabric of my life, and in contemporary parlance, weaving her into the Web so she will never be forgotten. She didn’t want to be discussed on social media but she can’t stop me from making her presence known and her memory valuable. (Sorry, Stacey, I’m breaking your rules, but I think you knew I would because, well, you knew I was a writer.)

I wrote the following piece for her memorial service, though I did not attend (which I explain in The Difficulty of Blue, if you’re curious). And I still think of this as my favorite memory of our friendship, an allegorical story about the meaning of best friendship.

******

I met Stacey in graduate school at Texas A&M. We had circled each other but our gravities had
not yet achieved the closeness required to pull us together permanently until one day she asked
a fateful question “How are you?” And I answered truthfully “I am having the worst day of my
life.”

It’s a good thing Stacey didn’t scare easily. In fact, Stacey didn’t scare. And I was so lucky
she accepted my truthful response and chose not to run but instead to bring herself closer and
offer her friendship even though it would have been easy to walk away.

But Stacey was a First Responder at heart and she walked directly into my disaster and worked to pull me through.

And eventually, I did the same for her.

Because that’s what friends do.

Despite her chronic delusion that she was “just a normal person” she was most extraordinary, a
person who became a best friend to me through the some of the most difficult years of my life
but also my writing partner, who helped me be as creative, helped me flesh out ideas in
conversation and correspondence, helped me articulate the insights we searched for together.
She helped polish my work for publication and the many conference papers I wrote as I tried to
make an academic career. Our twenty year daily email correspondence– “our sharing thoughts
in writing”–was an amazing work of art between the two of us, a living conversation.

Our best work together, a presentation of our family history title City Ancestor/Country Ancestor” traced
the amazing stories we both had of our families. Blending her prose with my poetry, illustrated
with family photographs from both our family archives, we presented together at a Popular
Culture Association conference in San Antonio.

It was a fantastic performance piece. We were a hit and we were so pleased and proud of our own brilliance. Late, late, late in our hotel room, neither of us asleep but soaring alone on our triumph until one of us spoke:

” I can’t sleep.”

“Neither can I”

And we flipped on the lights to celebrate

“That was so great! ”

“We were so great!

“We were amazing!”

“We were so cool”

And we were great. We were amazing. We were cool.

I will miss writing with her every day. And I will miss her every day but like I told her in the last
weeks of her life, she will always be with me. I’ll always be hearing her say “You are great, You are amazing,
You are cool.”