Grief is a ninja. Did you know this? I think you probably did, after your dad died. I think behind your teary smiles, then, eventually, your bigger smiles, your trip-taking, dinner-party planning, that the grief ninja was hovering, kicking you in the knees now and then. We knew you were sad, we saw how you threw yourself into life, even bigger than before. Saw the love and solid ground you gave to your mom. We loved you before your dad died, and we loved you even more after—our strong, fighting friend.
Then, last week, you died. I got four years with you. Of the nearly 300 friends on your Facebook page, there are connections that span decades. Ten, twenty, fifty years of you in so many photos, in memories, and all describing you in the exact same way: constant, steady, laughing, teasing, traveling, trying, humble, real. I got four years that I wished were forty. But in that time, I fell into the orbit of your sun. You would laugh at that line, then bump my arm with yours during cocktail hour. You would say in that wry, self-deprecating way “You’re sweet but I’m no sun, lady.” Then you would tell a silly story about something you did that you deemed unworthy—probably wrinkling your nose at a smelly guy on the bus, or lamenting your lazy Saturday afternoon.
But it’s true, C. Last week you left us and we are all now floating in a dark place, bumping into one another, with no clear path. Last night, what is left of our little group, stood together outside your house, which we had just cleaned and secured for your mom. We stood in the cold, your driveway lights glowing, and made a rough plan for Friday, needing to stay together, find some kind of normal. And I ticked each us off on my fingers, saying “Oh, let’s remember to tell Tom, and Don.” I hesitated. Who was I forgetting? Someone is missing from our list. Who else needs a text message? The grief ninja glides by. It’s you that’s missing. That slip of time—in an instant I forgot you aren’t here, that you aren’t going to be there for a beer. Gut punch.
I lost another good friend earlier this year. She didn’t die. She decided I wasn’t allowed “on her bus” any longer. Remember how I talked to you about that, C? How much it bewildered and hurt me? How I was so angry at myself for screwing things up with one of my oldest friends, for hating who I was, not giving her what she needed and blaming the loss on myself. You were there, gentle but tall and strong. We sipped wine and you let me be vulnerable, you told me it was more than ok to be me. You shared your own stories of friendships that glimmer, then fade, that hurt, and heal. And bit by bit I started to realize that I get to ask for friendship, to be angry if I’m mistreated. And that letting go of history doesn’t deny the good times, it just makes more room to fully embrace the present.
You drew me into this gang of friends, C. The first evening we met, there was no hesitation. You just liked me, pulled me in, this slightly introverted but willing adventurer. Oh, you know I resisted, at times. Flaking out on big group events. Me and my walls, my worries, insecurities. I wear Converse and you have five pairs of gorgeous black knee-high boots. You could pull off yoga pants and a Seahawks tee, unwashed, ponytail hair, and still sit so comfortably in the middle of a football-frenzied bar. I loved your Sunday night dinners, Oscar Award Ceremony cocktail parties with the ballots and pencils you left on the coffee table. None of us really knew anything about all the nominees, but you didn’t care. You would give a perfect film synopsis, throw in some Hollywood gossip, and serve more good cheese and cocktails. Graceful, easy, fun. You.
But I loved best those hurried, after-work happy hours. You dashing from the bus to your car to meet me. Both of us mussed and tired-eyed from long work days. Our last one was two weeks before you died. We laughed about cilantro in my new braces, you told me you were trying not to worry about the surgery. I wish I had listened harder, in that loud Mexican restaurant bar. I wish I had leaned in and heard you better. Because what we have always known about you, C, is that you put on a brave face for us, for yourself. But this was all supposed to be okay—this surgery. We believed we would see you in a few days, laugh at your hospital bed-head, and joke about smuggling wine into your recovery room.
When we left our last happy hour together, it was days before Halloween. We hugged goodnight and were about to walk to our cars when I remembered something. Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a small Jack-Be-Little pumpkin, the cutest little one I had collected on a Spokane farm, with a curly stem tendril still in tact. “This is for you,” I said, and we laughed that I had been toting a gourd around in my small Kate Spade. You cradled it in your hands, hugged me hard and said you loved it. My meager offering, it seemed, but I still felt so happy to surprise you with such a goofy thing.
Those days last week, sitting in the hospital, breathing all my life into that space, sending it to you in some kind of prayer: one day, I will write about all that. About how the rain was gray and vicious when your emergency brain surgery began. About the rainbow. About your friends holding each other in that cold waiting room—how damn strong and warm we all were together. How we all became friends in that instant. But today, I just needed to write about the light that you were, and will continue to be. About what your friendship means. That it is family. It never gives up or folds. It accepts and is honest, raw, hard and soft. It’s a sun. Thank you for that.
I will look for you every day, sweet friend.