|Ascension's Robe by Ysabel de la Rosa|
Anna was the first friend of mine to lose a child. Her 23-year-old son died of melanoma. During his illness and death, she faced numerous other traumas. There were complications with her son's insurance. The medical bills mounted. Her job did not pay much. The same week her son died, the bank came to take her car away. Her "personal" banker knew her situation, but cut her no slack. She had to move out of the town home where she had lived most of her adult life, had to abandon the place that held her family's "aura" and resonant memories of her children. During the time that Anna and I were in touch, she went through a host of losses, including her mother, ex-husband, a brother, a sister. One of her sisters had already lost four of her five children. Another sister and her father had died some years ago.
While her son was ill, I called her long-distance every day. This was before cell phones, Internet, or free long-distance calls. I called her every day for two years. She needed to talk as much after he died as she did before. So, every day we talked.
Time passed. Anna met a wonderful man and remarried. I spoke at the wedding. The wonderful man had a heart attack and died a year later. Anna then completed graduate school and became one of the country's finest grief recovery counselors. She was brilliant, compassionate, connected. Determined not to be stopped by grief or sorrow, she survived it all with pragmatic elegance. When there was emotional homework to do, she did it. When there was getting-on-with-life to do, she did that--with grace and a winning smile. In fact, as I see her again in my mind's eye, I would also say that she had a healing smile. When Anna smiled, her green eyes gave off sparks of light, and seeing her smile, I always felt closer to healing. I'm sure others did, too.
We did not visit often after I moved overseas. When I returned to the States, I had losses of my own to face, and the most I did to keep our communication going was to send Anna a Christmas card every year. In 2012, the card was returned. And in March of 2013, she died. I learned of her passing just yesterday.
There was a time when I would have indulged in intense self-flagellation (aka beating myself up) for not having done more to stay in touch with Anna these past few years. But I had my own set of circumstances to deal with, and staying in touch was not on the urgent agenda. Anything not urgent slipped far down the list of things to do. No one would have understood that better than Anna.
Anna and I used to talk about writing a book together. We were going to title it A Friend Through Grief. We didn't write it. We lived it. And I have tried to continue to live this concept. Since the death of Anna's son, I have shared in the process of eight other friends losing children. I never imagined I would know that many people in my own life who would lose a child. I was often grateful for what I shared with Anna, and she with me, at the time of her son's illness and death. It served me well. I believe that it made me more helpful to those other friends, and I know that it served, as Anna herself would say, as modeling behavior. It showed me how people survive the unthinkable. Her journey and her choices inspired, even admonished me to keep going at times when I thought I couldn't. My experience with her made me lose any fear I had about approaching someone who has lost a child. I know there is no right thing to say. I also know the wrong thing to do is to let that not-knowing turn into absence when a friend is most in need.
I would have liked so much to speak with my dear friend before she moved on to her next life, but I am grateful to be at a stage in life where I know that she is just a slightly longer distance away than she was when I dialed her number every day for two years. I know she knows I love her. I even think she conspired with some other "force" to make it happen that I would learn of her death on the first-year anniversary of her passing.
I have spent the past 24 hours savoring memories of our shared times. I am allowing this new knowledge of her death to bathe me in gratitude for knowing her while she lived. Yesterday I received a lovely, newsy email from a dear friend in Italy. She wants us to have a conversation, she wrote. I will call her this weekend, feeling especially grateful for this opportunity to call a number, hear the lyrical voice of a sister-friend, and be in touch.
Text, copyright Ysabel de la Rosa, 2014.