The following is a guest blog post, written by Rache. I asked her to possibly write while she was on winter break from nursing school and today she sent me this. I asked my villagers to each feel free to share their experience in Mabel's life, death, their own journey with grief, or anything that they feel led to write. In doing so, I hope they will help me remember things fresh, grasp their experience through their perspective and even catapult me into sharing some of my own emotions that are tucked neatly away for the time.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm 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.”
My dear friend,
Do you remember the moment that we sat together on your brown love seat and you asked me the question? You know the one. “Do you think she can hear?” And as blunt as your new bob hair cut I said “No I don’t” It was at that point onward that you and I and every other red lipped girlfriend of ours linked arms and played the biggest, longest, most excruciating game of red rover of our lives. Life sent divorce, and doubt, milestones missed and birthdays dreaded right on over. Without warning it launched a myriad of doctor’s appointments and disappointments. Our bodies lurched and rocked as we absorbed the shock of life’s blows. Along the way we lost some participants in that game, no doubt. There were those who just couldn’t hang and decided to flag down the ref and wave the white flag. It was in those moments that we re-grasped hands, tightened up the laces on our cleats, spit in our hands, dug our heels in hard, re-situated ourselves and told the ref to blow the damn whistle, break time’s over. We had a championship to get back to.
Diagnosis. Terminal. Hospice. Palliative. Choices. Decisions. 4 years old.
So many things led us there-to those moments, in that house, on that floor, with our baby. Undoubtedly looking like the sorriest bunch of red rover players there ever were.
Days leading up to Mabel’s death I stopped Ashley in the kitchen of Ramee’s house during one of our cookouts and said, "Ash do you think I’ll be ok to go?" Her head turned to the side and she reminded me of the uncertainty in it all. Matt and I had planned a get away for ourselves and we were packing bags to head to our favorite place-Southern Illinois.
Only a few days into our trip and we found ourselves in the camping aisle in Walmart originally looking for a cooler, but then making plans to abandon our favorite place and haul home, quickly. But not before Matt would lose his wallet and have to go back into WalMart to find it. I remember quickly packing up our cabin. I frantically did weird things and walked in circles. I looked at laundry on the floor from the day prior and thought “how did we do that.. how did we wear those clothes while all of this was going on?” Bottles of wine that would have been used to reflect and celebrate love were left unopened and suddenly made me feel sick to my stomach. Everything felt twilight-zone to me and I wanted out of there. Instantly everything around me felt foreign.
We made our way to the Burger King parking lot where I screamed at Matt about how unfair it was that we would go in here and attempt to eat. Once inside, the radio (of course) was playing Christian music that, in the moment, felt contradictory to everything I felt inside. I cried then ate. Cried then stopped eating. Looked out the window. Wiped tears frantically. Looked at Matt. Asked him more than once,"how we do this?" Watched him look at me with the saddest blue eyes and down-turned mouth. Once on the road we heard more songs that required quick flips of the radio. I had to stop at my school and turn in some paper. Again, this felt completely bizarre to me. I remember doing that. I remember telling Becky I thought she would make it in time.
I also remember telling Becky I felt like the worst friend there ever was and she told me how weird it was to be doing laundry in Washington. There were front yard blankets and white wooden rockers. There were compression socks and water bottles. There were cell phones turned off and breaths being held in anxiety. There was an early morning sunrise and there was a really hard adjustment period that I went through going back home to my family.
There was isolation that I felt by the people who encountered me, yet never asked me directly. There were cemetery breakdowns and there were Aunts that literally and figuratively carried my 5 year old daughter through every moment that she wailed out for her best friend. There were inconsolable shaking blue eyes. There were cuddled up redheads everywhere. There was a strong silent man who danced briefly with me in the hall to “Rain Down in Africa.” There was also a Mexican ad that changed how we would view Pandora as we knew it-I am an avid believer that sometimes God throws in some funny to keep it real-even in your darkest hour.
You see, no one writes the handbook on how to be a friend to a grieving friend. A grieving friend who is newly in love and trying to raise 2 small children who are counting on her. For hope, for answers, for breakfast, for strength, for assurance of Heaven, for clean clothes, for a punching bag, for a soft place to question everything. There is no index in the back where you can quickly flip to “morphine” “hospice” “friend is crying then laughing” “what to say when you can’t say ‘I know’” “what to say when you find friend on floor in bathroom barely breathing” “coroner” “how to keep nosey people at bay” “how to pick funeral flowers” “how to tell siblings their sister is going to heaven” “how to politely tell people, 'please don’t bring casseroles.'”
I read a lot of books these days friends, but not one single nursing textbook has come close.
I read a lot of books these days friends, but not one single nursing textbook has come close.
I have always considered myself a pretty good, devoted friend. I feel like I give good advice, good laughs, and encouragement along the way. However, I can without a shadow of a doubt say that I have never felt as helpless and useless as a friend than in the day’s leading up to, during, and even still now, everyday after Mabel’s death. Humans want to fix. Nurses want to heal. Friends want to mend. Women want to understand one another. Life’s greatest heartache stole my ability to fix, heal, mend, or understand. I don’t know how to explain the sickening roll of my literal insides at the weight of my friend’s shaking, limp, helpless body dry heaving tears from itself. Hovering over a tiny casket. Walking down a hill alone past a dark long vehicle. Sitting graveside in front of your soon to be husband wearing a shirt with a yellow button on it. You do not forget those times and you do not ever want to relive them. Remember that red rover game? These are the moments that make up the highlight reel and you will not want to watch it, let alone watch it in slow agonizing motion.
Grieving alongside a grieving friend is one thing. Grieving alongside a grieving mother is a different kind of hard, especially when that mother is surrounded by all of your tiny children who are playing and going to school and wearing bows and….. living.
There is guilt, absolutely. For what? I’m not entirely sure but it’s there. There is a place in my mouth from time to time where the right words should come out because I am her best friend but they don’t and silence fills a place that I hope is ok. There are drives home that I replay conversations and question if I should have maybe not said that. I scroll through text messages and think of alternative ways to say “God this is horrifying.” There is a quiet sadness that goes on inside, one that I feel like if I let out, would only make things feel heavier and worse. There is a sigh of relief when you see your grieving friend, really see THEM living and laughing and smiling. There is a sorrow that you may think has passed and is not felt heavily by those around you-it has not. There are times when I know my world is going on rapidly around you, so much so that I feel like I am making you sick and I’m sorry. I want to stop it but can’t. There is a selfishness that feels grateful when that friend hasn’t really changed all that much despite such profound loss.
The helplessness has been the worst for me, personally. My mind scrambles to what can I buy? What can I bring? What can I do? What thoughtful idea can I think up next? Who could I call? What connections do I have? And at the end of the day I have to remind myself that none of those things, no, nothing I conjure up could possibly change the end outcome of it all. My best friend lost her baby girl and I watched it unfold. That is the harsh reality.
There is nothing to mend, fix, change or heal. My exhaustion is in vain because no one, not even Ramee, has asked me to do one single thing about any of it. God has stopped me in my tracks and commanded me to just be. Be there. Be consistent. Be a listener. Be a set of eyes to look into. Be a text message away. Be a memory sharer. Be a car in the driveway. Be in a link in life’s red rover chain. I cannot DO anything. But I can be-I can do that.
In true God-like fashion I think that He calls us to throw up our hands and surrender our warped idea of control over this beast called grief. There is no wrangling it or rationalizing it. It has been best described to me as a minefield. We have no control over what lurks beneath our delicately placed footsteps. We gently place heel to toe and hope we make it out alive. None of this was ever ours to begin with though.. not these friendships, not the love, not the cooler in aisle 12 of Walmart in Carbondale, and certainly not her.
I am learning that the best thing I can do is to grab a quick drink, pull my laces so tight that my fingers callous and bleed, re-adjust my ponytail and get back in this game of red rover alongside my sisters, all grieving in their own ways. We’ve got some injured, some afraid to even be on the field, some charging the front lines, some giving first aid, some are even defending the innocent teammate in the penalty box. We are BEing. And it is hard. My God is it hard. But Rame, I am not leaving until you do. I won’t throw in my towel and I will buy as many freaking pairs of cleats as it takes to finish strong with you. WE won’t.
I loved the quote I posted at the top because of the word ‘powerless.’ I think I speak for our team of red rover-ers here when I say we have felt powerless and then some. We have been faced with the very real reality of the absolute lack of control we have over eradicating your hurt. We are helpless and we know it. We know you know it. But my God we love you. We love her. And we sure do love a good game of red rover from time to time ;)
Your friend who’s learning how to just BE and not DO