Our friendship was birthed from the belly of addiction.
Not our own addictions, of course. We were only in 6th and 7th grades when we met, after all.
But a bond was formed immediately over the heartache we shared from the people we loved and the addictions that consumed them, and in turn, consumed us.
I don't necessarily know how or why it happened. One day, in Jr. High School, I just think I approached her or maybe the other way around. And somehow I poured my heart out to her about my mom's brother who was an alcoholic; the one my mom took care of, worried about and checked on incessantly. He couldn't drive anymore. He had lost his license and at some point it had become the sole responsibility of my Nanny and my mom to get him to work. I'm not sure if he was still working at the time I met Ash but I know that by this point, things with my Uncle Bo were severe. My Nanny wore permanent worry on her face and I was with her every day. I loved her so much and I remember the burden I felt for the pain she must have carried.
Her only son, dying of addiction right before her eyes.
My mom worked the night shift at a hospital thirty minutes away. She would get off of work at 11 pm and as she came through town she would stop to check on him every night. She took him food and made sure he was home, always just hoping he hadn't walked to the gas station to buy more booze. Many nights he had, and when she would find him, stumbling the streets, it was her responsibility to get him back home again, safely.
She had two little girls to get home to, but he had become he baby, too. Her much older brother; and oh, her broken heart.
At 12 years old I most certainly already felt the weight and responsibility that his addiction had placed on our family. It was inevitable. He was loved and so it took everyone being aware of the problem to try and form a solution. Time and time and time again.
There was rehab and there were nursing homes. There was therapy after therapy and bouts of long sobriety. There was intervention and medication and so, so many doctors, and then-always, always....there was relapse.
Devastation. Disappointment. Suffering.
As I told her the story of my Uncle, my mom's only brother, Ashley began to tell me the story of her very own. He was just a few years older than we were and already Ashley's brother was drowning in the disease that was addiction. Her parents were fiercely trying to help him and I remember her sadness as he had recently been taken to a facility across the country in a serious effort to get their child, and her brother the best kind of help, always with the hope that he would return sober and that his life would be changed forever. He was young and he was handsome. He was also consumed by a force that was very much out of his control.
Her brother wasn't the only one who faced addiction in her family. In fact she was just as much aware of the term and the actual ramifications that this disease placed on an entire family. Because of this really deep issue that plagued our young lives, Ash and I immediately formed a bond that was deep and strong. Our friendship was most definitely developed out of something altogether different than most. Looking back, even now- I find it hard to understand how two young girls decided to open up to one another about life's deepest and darkest secrets. But I know that out of that serious sadness, we found a friendship that went far beyond the average bond. We formed a trust and a companionship that was sealed so tightly, even from the beginning.
The story of our friendship isn't wrapped neatly with a bow of happiness. In fact, it's more tattered and torn than I think I can find words to explain. We spent many nights in our teenage years traveling to and from alateen meetings learning how to cope with the impact and the trauma that addiction was having and would continue to have on our lives. We watched the people that we love suffer. We also watched them hurt almost everyone else that we loved. We learned to love those people FOR one another and invest our time and our hearts into them. We learned to lean on one another, trust each other, and ultimately give in to the need that we had for this friendship above all else.
High school ended up being a real challenge for me and so, during my freshman year I made the switch from public school to a newly-opened Christian school in our small town. It was expensive and looking back, I realize that it was a real sacrifice for my parents.
Ashley's parents enrolled her as well and our journey continued together as we made new memories (and a little mischief) along the way. In this school we had a really great teacher who allowed us the emotional freedom we needed to cope with all the things life was throwing at us. Looking back now, it feels small in comparison to all we have endured, but it was absolutely not small. Every morning, before we began our school work for the day we were asked to go around the room with our prayer requests and we prayed together as a class. This became imperative for the tragedies that were to come. It was a foundation for our lives that I know was necessary and I'm grateful every day that our parents allowed us the opportunity to not only get an education there, but also to have the freedom of prayer and the sanctity of friendship.
We were in high school when I got the call that Ashley's brother had been in a tragic car accident. I rushed to be with her and vividly remember waiting right outside the door as her entire family was ushered into a small room and given the news that Shawn had not survived. He was 20 years old and all of our worst, most anticipated nightmares were coming true.
Not many years later, I had to call Ash early one morning to tell her that I was leaving work and was on my way to my Uncle Bo's house. Nanny was there alone. She had gone to check on him as she always had but on this morning, she found him lifeless and thought that he thought he was dead.
And he was.
Alone, in his home. His mother found him and I went to be with her. My sweet Nanny.
The two people who we loved more than anything, who brought us together because of the deep tragedy that was their addiction, had died.
Both of their lives ended as a result of the one thing that led me to her.
She moved away and I moved away. I got married and she got married. I got pregnant and she got pregnant. And we have shared life well.
Fully. Wholly. More than most.
My sweet Ash.
She became a nurse.
And not just any nurse. A good one. The best I know. And I am absolutely not just saying that. Hands down, this is her calling; what she was created to do. She loves people and she loves the art that is figuring out what plagues them. And she loves helping and healing them. She is smart, inquisitive, articulate, empathetic, giving, compassionate, and good.
She is so good.
She loves my kids tenderly, as she does everyone.
But she has always been more tender with me. She and I are connected through the soul; in a place that I'm not even sure theologically exists. But it must, because we meet there.
We have always.
Today is Ashley's birthday.
And I wanted to write this story of our friendship here for the world to see because I'm not sure I ever have. Those who knows us, well they just know. They know the things we have endured together.
They know that I never left her side, ever, but especially in the days following her brother's death. Not until I heard her let go of the deep cries that I knew she was holding so tightly inside.
She finally did. But I didn't leave her still.
Those who know us know that this friendship goes beyond the meaning of that word and is probably more appropriately a divine love story.
Most know of the things we have accomplished together and the ways that we give to each other. Most who know us have watched our friendship play out and have seen how easy it has always been. A heart sister, sent straight from God.
What I'm certain that most do not know because I haven't yet been able to write it is the way that Ashley, my Ash, stepped up for me in the days before Mabel died and throughout her death, and in the days following.
For 12 weeks-every single day of 12 weeks, I texted my closest friend photos of the food that my daughter was no longer digesting. She had stopped sucking and I had resorted to feeding her through her g-tube to sustain her life. But she would writhe and scream and cry in pain and it was absolutely horrifying. I would feed her a small amount and 4 hours later, I would go to feed her again and every single bit of the formula that I had put in just hours before would drain from her belly back up into the syringe. It did not have to be 'plunged,' as we would say. It was a free flowing inclination of what was to come. And I was terrified.
Ashley and I have the kind of friendship where talking to one another is not a necessity. I can read the tone of her texts without question. I know the answer that she will give me to my own questions without even asking her. But I still ask her. And I need her so desperately.
She is smart and I literally trust no one more than I trust her...
...with my own life, and especially with Mabel's.
Mabel was not losing weight and nothing was dramatically changing until the Monday before she died. On this day, I had already decided that I could no longer feed her. Her body had shut down, it was rejecting food and the decision finally had to be made. This could not go on. At some point, ethically and morally I could not continue to allow my baby to suffer.
I hadn't told anyone how I was feeling; I was just praying and waiting.
And then she called...from work.
"Rame. I think that we need to be done feeding her today. I think it's time."
I agreed. I felt total peace. And we hung up.
And then after work she showed up.
And just like years before when I oppressed her with my own presence [because of my unquenchable love for her and the desire to make sure she was absolutely ok--]
she never left.
She never left my side.
Trying to write this next part eloquently is impossible.
Today is her birthday and I want to give her the world because that is exactly what she gave and continues to give to me every day.
When the time came and my baby was actively dying, my best and sweetest friend, without ever saying a word to me, began to administer all of her medication.
This was a task that had been solely mine for 4 years of her life.
She took daily meds. And she took rescue meds. And she took comfort meds.
And I was her mother and her caregiver and so I gave them-every morning, as needed, and again every single night.
Without fail, Mabel received the medications that would manage the symptoms of her dreadful disease because I spent all of my days making sure of it.
But when it came time for her to die, Ashley gave me the greatest gift that anyone could ever give another human...
She simply grabbed the syringe and placed the drops into her mouth and she continued to do that for 2 days straight. Every 2 hours on the dot.
She kept a schedule. She checked her breathing. She set an alarm & she woke from sleep, or she didn't sleep at all.
In doing so, she let me sleep. A full night actually. For the first time in such a very, very long time I went to my own bed. I left my dying daughter in the care of my very best friend, the person I trust most in this world, and I slept the kind of sleep that I haven't even had for a single night since.
In those moments, Ashley did more for me than I can every do for anyone in my entire lifetime.
She gave me the opportunity to just be Mabel's mom.
The Thursday before she died, she was resting so beautifully and comfortably.
My sweet friends and sister and I had made the frantic call to hospice the night before, begging them to help us with a dose and combination of medications that would make Mabel's body stop jerking. Throughout the night, the dosages that they recommended began working and by the time I woke, she was peaceful and perfect. For an entire day, every single one of us, including her siblings got to hold her in a way that we hadn't ever experienced before-without jerking and totally still.
That was the greatest gift of my life.
In terms of dying, our God showed great mercy and our girl showed great beauty. However, dying is dying and for anyone it can be so frightening. I had prepared myself but there were times of complete panic and waves of total shock throughout the 48 hours that led to Mabel meeting Jesus. Each time my eyes would meet hers and I would cry out to her,
"Ash, this cannot go on for long, right? This isn't going to keep happening, right? Ash, this is normal, right? This is ok, right, Ash?
Even now I am tearful and overwhelmed by the strength of my Ash. Looking at me, in complete despair and having to answer me with honesty and also with a unique kind of gentleness-my God, I know that was probably the hardest thing she has ever had to do.
And like I mentioned, she has had to endure many hard things.
But every single time, in true Ashley form, she did answer me honestly and with deep love.
"Yes Rame. It's normal. I've got this. You hold her. It's all ok."
And I believed her. And I let her.
When the noise of life faded (and still when it fades), she remained (and remains.)
I closed my eyes at midnight with my baby breathing laborious on my chest and Ashley beside me. At 5:23 am, that baby breathed her last. I opened my eyes immediately at the knowing and met hers almost instantly.
"That's it, Rame. That was it."
"I know," I whispered, as I held my sweet girl tighter and closed my eyes once again.
This love that we share...
There are countless stories like these between us because we have so closely intertwined our lives. She is an extension of me, and I hope that I am the same of her. I would give my life to save hers-literally, sacrifice my own life. I love her more than anything in this world and I know without a doubt that she feels the same.
She always, always says that I am the strongest and most brave woman that she knows but I beg to differ. I thank her, and I listen, and I am humbled but this girl...she has taught and continues to teach me so much.
Everyone in the world deserves an Ash.
She is pure light, full of conviction, and the most generous, compassionate, kind person I know. Her love is unending and unmatched. I hope, every day, that I can reflect that kind of love out into the world because truly, that is what we all need a little more of.
Happy Birthday Ashley Jean Marie.
I love you oh so much.
I know that you know (but I needed you to know.)
I thank God for you every day and I never want to do any of this without you.
Thank you for not letting me have to walk any of it alone.