This past Sunday, a dear friend of mine passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. She was forty-four.
When I met this woman she was a pillar of strength. In my eyes she was stronger than any other person I'd ever met and she was in no uncertain terms the stability and strength in my own life at that time. I was a teenager when I met her, living in my own personal hell, a hell she allowed me to escape. Her home and her family became my second home and family. Even after I had left the area, there was a guest room waiting for me whenever I returned.
Tonight as I was looking for a misplaced contract in a file cabinet, I found a letter this woman wrote me seven years ago. Seven years ago while I was attending a church camp. Each of the campers were given letters from their parents on the last night of the camp, for whatever reason my parents hadn't written a letter, and I received a beautiful letter from this woman that even tonight reminded me of who I am and where I am going. Seven years later, I remain awestruck by her simple observation that we may not know why all things happen and that sometimes they take longer to understand than others. Be patient, she said. Seven years later and I am just as impatient as I was the night I received this letter. The letter points out that our friends can help us stay strong or they can tear us down. Seven years later and I am still learning that lesson. Make good friends, she said.
She never told me what to do when those friends you cherish are no longer here.
Looking back at the friendship I had with this woman, it amazes me how little advice she actually gave me. She didn't offer any magic words or any earth shattering formulas for living, she merely offered her love and her kindness. There were many hours that we sat in her basement talking about everything and nothing. Many hours where all that mattered to me was to be there and all that mattered to her was to know I was safe. Seven years later, I can't put into words what that means to me. As children we are sometimes left in terribly difficult situations, sometimes situations no child should have to endure, and yet we survive some how. I survived because of this woman and I don't think I ever told her that.
From Out of Solitude:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.When my family left the area, I lost touch with this woman. I missed her kindness and her support daily. I missed those quiet moments where she never asked me if was okay, but offered that silent hand of strength in the event that I wasn't. Two years later when I found myself in an equally dark part of my life, living with mere strangers, trying to graduate from high school, this woman called me up one day just to remind me that she still cared and that this, too, was something I would survive.
Her shoes were awfully big ones to fill, but a wonderful high school history teacher filled them for a time.
She was right. I did survive. I went on to graduate high school, I've made it through the first phase of my college education, and am now applying to graduate programs. She was right about being patient, as much as it kills me sometimes, and she was right about the friends we choose. I have amazing friends that don't get reminded of that enough. And I didn't tell her enough.
Last Sunday three boys lost their mother, a man lost his wife and best friend, and I lost the woman who seven years ago signed a letter to me-- "Love always, Kathy, #2 Mom."