I’m going to plop this in here, in the timeline, although I am writing it seven months later. It’s important.
Beyond a wonderful, caring, loving (and sometimes hysterically funny) family and extended family, I am fortunate to have some incredible friends in my life – more like sisters. This has surprised me, this gift. I think of myself as an introvert, and one who is not particularly skilled in the art of friendship; I am more reactor than initiator. I’ve been shy to be fully known, sure that my Inner Weirdo would eventually get found out and then – see ya later. But then you throw in a tragedy like this, and you find out how strong those ties actually are (or aren’t – but I experienced very little abandonment).
Everyone took on roles according to their natures, and some were all of these: nurturers and huggers, organizers and doers, middle-of-the-night-texters and encouragers, sarcasm and dark humor sharers, and – just as importantly – protectors and bulldogs.
My Beth O. is an “all of those.” She’s the one who, even while literally reeling in grief for the boy she loved like her own, stepped in as our family’s point person and creatively draped our back porch in garlands of love.
My Beth P. is also all the former but was especially determined to be the latter: she wanted to be with me immediately, the second she knew (which was within minutes…she’d been texting me during the arrival at the trauma center). She, like her pastor daughter, the Katie of Mark’s service, has known Mark almost all his life. She runs the family ministry program at church. And she was determined to keep me from being overwhelmed by people’s good intentions. If I’d mentioned it, she would have slept in our bed, right between Steve and I (she would have apologized to him, but not moved). At the memorial service, we joked about an adult-sized “Baby Bjorn” so that she could just strap me to her chest and keep me close and safe. Even as her own heart was broken. Even as her own mom inched toward heaven’s door. Given that I tend to be over-polite and all too willing to say yes when I really should say no, she was a God-send.
Kathy R. is joyful, purposeful, determined – she took over a lot of the organization. Nancy K. is endlessly positive (“adorable” is her most frequent adjective, followed by “beautiful”) and makes incredible food. Joan should be running the world (and we’d all be better for it). McNair, who made zillions of framed photographs of Mark appear in time for the funeral, is like a warm bath of molasses. Georgi and Jim figured out ways to splice two videos together, and improve the sound in another (so far outside our skill-sets on a good day). My sorority sisters from our days at JMU – Carol, Liz, Trina, Amy, Emily, Marilyn, Jill, Tracie – were…oh my gosh..beyond incredible. An absolute life-raft of love, prayers and concern. Christy, Stefanie, Kathy H….the list goes on and on.
If you’re reading this and you’ve experienced death (perhaps your grief is new and sharp), please know this: there are rainbows in this storm. There are silver linings in this cloud. Becoming more aware of how much you are loved, and how much you love your tribe, is like sitting in the dust weeping, only to look up and watch the most fragrant, velvety white flower delicately spinning…as it wafts down slowly, slowly, to drop softly into your empty hands.