Tag Archives: friendship

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Sometimes in life, we receive gifts. Spontaneous, wonderful, generous gifts.

Today it was my turn. A beautiful quilt from Stephanie arrived in the mail. She is a woman who has inspired me with her words from the first moment I stumbled on to her blog. Her insights gained after losing her husband to pancreatic cancer speak directly to my heart. Not only did she boost my blog traffic after mentioning my post when she was featured on Freshly Pressed, she went another step further and created something beautiful for me.  I opened the package and felt a rush of ohmygoshIdon’tdeservethisbeautifulthing, but there it was, bringing sweetness and light, fresh from a cardboard box addressed with my name. No way to deny the gift, return to sender, push it back into the givers arms with an “oh, no, you SHOULDN’T have.”

I am learning to accept the blessings in life with humble gratitude.  Whether I deserve this quilt matters not; due to a surprising connection with a generous and thoughtful woman, its mine now.  I’ll learn to take the good in life with open arms and heart and a hearty THANKS.

Thank you, Stephanie. Thank you to all the others who have shared their light, their blessings, their talents with me.  Thank you, dear reader.

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sorrows weave a web of joy

I spend my days caring for people who are living with loss. Sometimes its the loss of an identity as a healthy person.  Sometimes its the loss of a long life expectancy.  Sometimes its the loss of a breast.  The loss of estrogen. The loss of energy, vitality. The loss of long, sexy hair that trails to the small of a back. The loss of trust, the loss of a belief that everything will be okay.

I don’t know what it feels like to have breast cancer, and I didn’t know how it feels to be a mother to a dying child when I worked in pediatric bone marrow transplant, and I didn’t know how it feels to be a homeless, chemically dependent and mentally ill AIDS patient when I was a med-surg nurse in a county hospital. But life has a funny way making us let go, and let go, and let go some more, and after all this letting go we turn to other humans, who murmur yes, I understand what its like to see the most precious dreams fly away, I have felt the texture of the walls and the weight of the thick black air of a world of darkness, and I have come out on the other side. I have always enjoyed my patients, but I’m a different kind of nurse now.  Its subtle, probably not noticeable. But there is a slight shift in the air, a longer gaze in which I say without words I can better understand you. 

Sadly, loss breaks a few of us and there are casualties along the way, but more often than not, it simply destroys that which no longer fits. We need the heartbreak in order to open up more fully. And with this miracle of the human spirit we can then weave together the threads of our sorrows with those of others. We bond. We make a web of connection, and it captures the joy and blessings of this bizarre, difficult, beautiful world.  The details of our individual suffering is always unique, but in the collective experience of loss, we turn to each other with a soft and courageous stare and say I may not know, but I understand. 

say yes

I have a friend who survived a serious illness when she was 19.  The kind of illness that kills more often than it is cured. The odds may not have been in her favor, but she fought her way through. Through some combination of fate, medical technology and will to survive, she made it.

She is now in her 30’s, and her life is so full it nearly bursts at the seams. She is an oncology nurse.  She is a dancer.  She makes music with her cello and her drums.  She travels.  She teaches. She recently finished her masters degree. Her life is exciting and dynamic, and she is a far cry from the depressed, sick teenager confined to a hospital bed that she once was.

Her story could have ended 15 years ago in upstate New York, but instead she was given a second chance.  What she has done with that second chance was say yes.  Yes yes yes!  She follows her dreams.  She adventures.  She could be angry about what she lost (her fertility, her sense of immortality, etc.) but she turned her life into a creature of greater meaning and purpose.  I don’t know if it was a conscious choice or a subconscious desire to make her life into something wonderful, but that’s what she did. This is one beautiful and inspiring individual.

She and I are a bit alike in that we have many interests and get excited about a rainbow of things on this earth.  But unlike her, I limit myself.  I say no out of fear, or out of habit.  So I’m very grateful to know her, and to have her teach me to say yes a little more often.  Just this week, she encouraged me to say yes to going to a concert on a worknight.  Even though I was tired the next day at work.  Even though the tickets were a little expensive.  It was so worth it.

If I’ve learned anything in adulthood, its that you have many choices, and you can’t take every path.  Even my friend must say no sometimes.  But she helps me see the places that I can say yes, to help me rethink what I believe is impractical or impossible.

There is a dark side to everything.  Taking every opportunity will only leave you depleted and exhausted.  Sometimes saying no is the best choice. But on the other hand, sometimes you just have to say yes.

 

image courtesy of http://tucsoncitizen.com

my friend’s birthday

Kirsten Savitri Bergh. 1979-1996

This would have been my dear friend’s 33rd birthday. But she never lived to see 18.

Her name was Kirsten. We met in 9th grade math class.  We started smiling at each other before either of us were brave enough to speak a word, and from the first hello we were friends. She was tall, lanky, wore her long brown hair in two swirled buns at the side of her head, and dressed a little bit like Janis Joplin in flowing, mismatched layers from the thrift store.  She had a deep, throaty voice that somehow would rise above the din of a high school class.

She was a poet.  She played viola.  She loved the Beatles, Tracey Chapman, and the Mammas and the Pappas.   She loved animals, and like me she became a vegetarian at 10 but unlike me she stuck with it.  She spoke her truth even if it made others feel uncomfortable.  She would come at you in a flurry of skinny arms and legs and wrap you in the biggest hug you’d ever experienced, pressing her warm cheek into yours.

She was special.

My favorite memories of her were from our time at her family’s cabin, outside of Bemidji, MN.  Minnesotans usually visit cabins during the summer, but for some reason I only went with her during the wintertime. We gathered water through a small hole in the frozen lake, gathered pieces of birch bark on which to write poems and letters.  We marched through the silent, snowy woods on snowshoes, singing songs and laughing.

I walked beside her after her father died when she was only 16. Her family mourned with a three-day vigil in their home. Their anthroposophic beliefs taught that the soul left the body slowly, over a three-day period. He was not embalmed. His wife, Kirsten’s mother, with the help of her dearest friends washed the body and kept him in a wooden coffin on dry ice, which smoked slightly in the summer humidity.

I came to the vigil gripping a container of tabbouleh to share with other mourners. I held my friend’s hand as she saw her father for the first time since his death. He looked as if he was taking a very relaxing nap.  We burned incense and listened to music. I didn’t know then what it was like to lose a parent, but it seemed profoundly wrong that this brilliant, sunny individual should plunge into a world of pain.  But she was a survivor. She became even more creative and productive after his death, filling her journals with poems and pictures that helped her process her loss. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was modeling for me how to grieve. In only a year and some months, I too would learn what it was like to lose someone I loved.

She died at 17, on a two lane road in upstate New York.  The car she was driving hit a patch of ice, and slid in front of a semi trailer.  She died instantly, along with her best friend since childhood.  Her lovely mother was gravely injured in the crash, but her body recovered after many weeks in the hospital.

When she died, I was at a Thanksgiving family gathering in Virginia. The night of the accident I dreamed that she and her mother got into a small car and drove away.  I fell to my knees, devastated I never had the chance to say goodbye.  It was 1996, before everyone was connected by the Internet, so I didn’t find out that she had passed away for a few days.

Her death gutted me. At an age of adolescent invincibility, I learned how life can be snatched from you in a terrible instant. I felt estranged from those that I loved and struggled to find meaning in the unimaginable, unexplainable.  Like Kirsten, I filled notebooks with poems.  It helped.

There are moments when life changes fundamentally, and that cold day in November, 1996 inexorably altered me. I grew greatly from her friendship while she was alive, but it was her death that altered the course of my life.  In only a few short years, while I was still a teenager I had a part-time job holding the hands of women who were losing their pregnancies.  From that point on, my work has been the service of those who are experiencing, or have experienced loss. And I needed to know loss in order to serve others experiencing loss.  Losing my beloved friend was the first step in meeting my destiny.

I wish Kirsten was still alive.  The world would be a better place for it.  Yet on this birthday, I am both grateful for the gifts of her life and the gifts of her death.

Breakfast Club

On Sunday mornings, I miss Breakfast Club.  This gathering of my mother, stepfather, and their best friends occurred at a greasy-spoon breakfast joint every Sunday morning. While Mom loved going out for breakfast her entire life, the regularity of this ritual started around the time I was finishing up high school.   While the core group consisted of the three middle-aged couples, I often attended, as did my best friend, our significant others, and any other random smattering of friends who happened to be around on a Sunday morning and were interested in breakfast.

As options for smoking indoors were dwindling by the late 1990’s and smokers were an essential minority in our group, Breakfast Club could occur in only several locations around Minneapolis.  The type of place where tattooed waiters hustled coffee and bacon, you had to talk over the crowd, and there weren’t such things as reservations, or many tables that could seat 8+. So, we needed to meet at a time that could seem painfully early to me – 8:30. This was before my status as a morning-person was fully established. But even if I was out cavorting till the early morning hours, I still tried to drag my ass to breakfast, because it was that fun.  I’m sure I had more than one boyfriend think I was nuts for pulling myself out of bed and inviting him to come along to breakfast with family and friends at the ridiculous hour of 8:00AM.  But I often did.

It was particularly hard to get up during the wintertime.  My body felt heavy, and I longed to singer in sleep a little while longer, but the promise of great food and even better company called to me, and I pushed myself from the cocoon of my comforter.  I remember driving down icy streets, which were Sunday-quiet.  The sun was up, but shined a dim, bluish light on everything.

But I’d soon arrive at breakfast.  I would walk through the door and be assaulted with the smell of eggs and bacon, the sound of silverware clanking.  A brave heater vigorously pumped out the heat, further warmed by numerous bodies.   I chased down some coffee and felt the fatigue melt away, and happiness set in.  We would sit around a table, laugh about our week, complain about politicians or our jobs.  Mom and her girlfriends would tease me about my longing for a particular waiter, a rather-Emo man named James who would patiently flirt with me.  It provided such entertainment my parents would request that he be our server every Sunday.

Breakfast with those you love is always enjoyable, but my mom provided the glue to this gathering.  I think it was her joyful spirit that laid the foundation for such a diverse, dynamic group.  She somehow made it all possible, for years.

Of course, nothing lasts forever.  Friends quit smoking, and much to my chagrin Breakfast Club started often meeting in more-refined, non-smoking suburban locations.  What had been once a week became once a month or so. I became a nurse and suddenly lost half of my Sunday mornings to working at Hennepin County Medical Center.  My best friend moved to DC.  I moved to Tucson. My parents and one of the core couples of breakfast club needed to step away from their friendship.  All things go.

It was wonderful to have the space of Breakfast Club for 5+ years.  It provided community and connection for all of us.  I’d like to recreate it somehow.

A more modern version of Breakfast Club. Sedona, May 2008

sacred machine

My car, Jaqueé Noir, died while I was at work this week.  We have decided to donate her to charity and are in the market for a new vehicle. As wonderful as my small sedan has treated me, we would prefer a larger vehicle to facilitate camping adventure throughout our beautiful Southwest, with sloppy dog in tow.

the girl in all her glory

My car is a ’99 Toyota Corolla.  I purchased her nearly 6 years ago from my mom’s cousin Ivan, who has a dealership in Minnesota. At the time, I was living outside of Tucson, and was extremely dependent on a Volkswagen Golf with frequent mechanical problems. I was financially strapped but found a way to finance a used car that would be reliable. My best girlfriend took me up on the offer of a whirlwind roadtrip (what a friend!), and our travels to and from the Midwest to trade in the Volkswagen for my Corolla was one of the best times in my life. She helped me name the car (christened after a stripper her philandering exboyfriend had slept with), and by the time we rolled into Arizona, with a backseat littered with fast food wrappers and Tori Amos crooning through the speakers, Jaqueé was fully mine. With a few cigarette burns in the apoustery and a couple minor scratches, the car wasn’t pristine when she came into my life, but was in excellent condition overall.

With a 30 mile work commute, we spent a lot of time together in the first years of our relationship.  She showed great tenacity driving on flooded roads during the monsoon, and carried me down dirt paths designed for 4WD vehicles to camping destinations.  From Phoenix to Flagstaff, from Naco to the North Rim, she has faithfully wherever I needed to go. I used to pray that Jaqueé would last until I completed my master’s degree.  She has done that and more.  In the last few months, she started to have more mechanical issues, but still reliably brought me, time and time again, to the side of my dying mother.

She is 13 years old and is showing her age. Parked on the streets of Tucson, she has been vandalized on several occasions– she no longer has a hubcaps or a radio. The power windows no longer reliably function. On a hot day, you can smell the Pine Sol I spilled in the trunk on the day I moved in with the man who is now my husband.

Life has changed a lot since the late night I returned home to Arizona with my new car.  I now hardly drive, as I live in town and prefer to bike for my transportation.  When I do drive to work, parking my dilapitated college-girl car next to the BMWs and Porsches of my colleagues always makes me smile.

Its difficult to let go of my past, but there are wonderful things to look forward to in the future.

joy on the dashboard

 
ADDENDUM: we bought a silver Subaru Outback today.  Cheers to new beginnings!
 

our new baby!

 
 

friendship

Third night of sleeping badly this week.  There should be a law against this!  Instead of laying there in warm silence, I’m making better use of my time at the moment.  Seems like the only benefit of insomnia is the ability to have more waking hours, but then again, more is not always better.  Especially when it makes you damn tired during the day.   

When I was able to sleep this week, I had a few nightmares.  Perhaps the most disturbing involved a friend whom I haven’t communicated with in quite some time.  Despite my frequent neglect at keeping in touch, its difficult for me to let go of relationships.  I celebrate when friendships evolve to greater closeness, deeper connection, but I have a hard time accepting when things go the other direction.  Maybe its an only-child thing.  Yes, some people are not meant to be in my life for long, but who says I have to like it?

My mom is a purebred social animal, so naturally, she always has had many friends.  People are attracted to her– she is beautiful, charming, and best of all, that radiance tends to rub off.  Just to be around her gives anyone a glow.  I’ve always had more introverted tendencies than she, but I value what I learned from her about friendship.  She guided me through relationship snags, helped me be a sympathetic and thoughtful companion, modeled supportive and loving behavior.  I have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but today, I too have many friends.  These relationships have provided the soil for lifechanging experiences, soul-searching conundrums.  And happiness. 

My reward for seeing tons of patients this week on way less sleep than I normally require is of the very best kind.  My best friend since Jr. High and her husband, who has been my friend for nearly as long as she, are coming to visit.  My life would have been very different without this particular individual in it; we have one of those relationships that grew so closely for so many years, you couldn’t untangle the branches even if you wanted to.  I’m not sure what our weekend will turn out like, but I’m sure we will have deep belly laughs while reliving embarrassing moments from high school.  I can’t wait!