Little by little...

Little by little...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Losses and Living Again

Who would have thought forever would be severed by…
The sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time…
If I Die Young by The Band Perry

I was newly wed and newly graduated from college when I got the call. My best friend had suffered a brain aneurysm. She was alive, barely, and the doctors were trying to reduce the swelling on her skull.

She was in a hospital three hours away and we hurriedly made plans to get there. The details of that first week have blurred. The swelling went down, but the left side of her body was partially paralyzed. There was no damage to her cognitive functions, but while repairing the aneurysm, the doctors discovered brain cancer.

Fast-forward one year. Angie was home. She was re-learning how to walk with a leg and an arm that wouldn’t co-operate. She affectionately named her left arm, Edith, and her left leg, Linus. That way she could flip you off and claim she had nothing to do with it. It also gave her a way to yell at her body when it wouldn’t do what she wanted.

That was typical of Angie. She found ways to cope with the crap of life. Her family was more dysfunctional than normal so I guess she learned early. For example, among other things, her mom was a hoarder. When she came home from college for visits, she would load up trash bags under the guise that her sorority could use a few things. Then she would find the nearest dumpster and unload. It gave her some sense of control in a hopeless situation.

Skip ahead another year. The doctors said the cancer was terminal – an even more hopeless situation. What did Angie do? She endured chemo and radiation and signed up for experimental treatments. And oh yeah, she also enrolled in Baldwin Wallace’s graduate program for International Business.

She had no idea how much time she had left. (Reminder: none of us do.) So she studied French. She traveled to China (by herself!) and Greece. She kept learning and questioning and meeting people and impacting the world. She spent more time on the things that brought her joy and less time on the things that didn’t.

Jump ahead a few more years. I find out I’m pregnant! The first thing I want to do is call Angie. Then I remember that I can’t. It’s only been a month since she’s been gone and the comfort of habit overshadows reality. If we have a girl, we toy with the idea of naming her, “Angela.” She did not like her name so she would’ve hated that - it’s a good thing we have a boy. 

Angie inspired and influenced everyone she met. And not because she had a bubbly, Miss Sunshine disposition. She was authentic AND kind which is a special combination. It’s easy to be either, but it’s hard to be both. People were drawn to her honest observations about life and, mostly, about themselves. She could “read people,” as she put it.

When she got sick, I quit my first full-time job. I decided life was too short to be miserable. And I had no excuses. Even though she had to slow down at times, she never stopped striving for the life she wanted. How many of us are not even sick and yet we’ve already stopped living?

Then my son was born ten months after she was gone. Like a lot of people, I slipped into the ocean of being a new parent. What I wanted didn’t matter anymore (of course, I found out later that it did).  I stopped reading books, meeting friends for lunch, and polishing my resume.  I sank even deeper after my second son was born.

Without planning to, I put my personal & professional growth on hold. I stopped living an intentional life. She would have been so mad at me! Most importantly, she would have sat me down and pointed out that I could be a great mom while still developing my unique skills and talents. In fact, she would have told me that I could be a better mom by following my passions.

But without her truth, I lost my way. I settled. I stopped believing in myself, stopped seeing myself through her eyes. I am not blaming her for decisions that were absolutely mine. I just think it underlines the importance of friendship in keeping us afloat, not exclusively, but especially for women.

It took time for me to reach out again, to expose my vulnerabilities and accept my need for others. And I am blessed with some wonderful friends, both old and new, who speak their truth into my life. I still miss Angie terribly - grief is such a stubborn emotion. We all have loss and hurt that hang around and try to distract us from the present. But we can also know beauty and joy and endless opportunity if we open ourselves up to it.

So I acknowledge the pains in life – they develop us in so many ways. And then I savor the smell of my boys’ hair after they’ve played outside. I message a friend to tell her that I love her. I push myself to run farther as I train for my first 5K. I let a dark chocolate truffle linger on my tongue before I finish it. And then I update my resume.

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