Our friend’s name was Trey. He was tall, and friendly and kind. He and my husband grew up together, kindred spirits in a world that doesn’t really exist anymore. Theirs was a small Southern town, where it was easy to be known, and relationships still tend to last through generations. Grieving the death of a friend is never easy, and the sudden loss of Trey seems especially unfair. He and my husband had just reunited, you see, after several years apart. They had picked right back up where they left off, sharing a closeness that arched across the years.
That’s how it is with some friends.
Sometimes, in life, you are able to connect with another human being in a way that will survive the changes regularly thrown your way. Despite school, or marriage, or jobs–jobs either gained or lost–sometimes we make connections deep enough to survive a sort of benign neglect.
Then years later, we can pick up a phone, or meet somewhere for coffee, and time magically melts away. Simply the voice, or the laugh or the touch of the other person strikes a chord in our soul, and we are back in the world we once shared with them.
So it was with Trey and my husband, Fred.
I’m not exactly sure how they reconnected. Somehow they found each other through the dust of lived years, and with mutual respect, honored the battle scars of life earned during their time apart. Regularly, they talked and visited over the last year or so.
And then…one difficult day last week…it was over.
Trey had suddenly died.
Without warning, justice or fanfare–he died.
It’s not fair, how suddenly we are silenced by death.
It’s such a difficult dance we navigate throughout our lives, isn’t it? We know that death awaits, but that’s all. We don’t know the date, or the manner or anything specific about our endings–especially not what happens after death. So throughout life, we surround ourselves with things to hide the mysteries. Whether faith, tradition, excess or denial–each of us picks up a shield against the inevitable.
Deep down, though–we each know that we’re going to lose the fight, don’t we?
We get closer to this flame of loss the older we get.
Life is marked by events–have you noticed? It starts with our physical changes, little things like potty training and the Tooth Fairy. Then our events are marked by things involving other people, as we are socialized. We celebrate occasions like our first slumber party, or graduations and prom dates.
Then, the round of parties begin.
Graduation parties, engagement parties, bridal showers, baby showers, open houses, weddings–there comes a time in our lives when we are bombarded by invitations acknowledging the turns in our journeys. As the people we love celebrate the milestones of life, we can feel overwhelmed, especially if we’re running at a different speed. (Being a bridesmaid is great, but not more than three times or so. Then it just becomes awkward). Then things quiet down for a little bit, but the second round comes at us quickly, with the christenings, brises and birthday parties of our friends’ children.
Occasionally, during this season of our lives, we’re startled by a sudden death. Random things like car accidents, suicides–things that clearly go against the expected life plans for those we love. We struggle to make sense of these events, and support the people suffering through them, but mostly we decide to distract ourselves with the busyness of living. It’s easier to hide the thoughts of mortality with to-do lists and chatter.
Then one day, we quietly round a corner, and realize that our journey has somehow reversed.
We recognize our social life has started to become quieter, and our physical well-being has started to decline.
We’re on the other side of life’s arch.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? It probably is. The truth is that life is both unfair and uncertain, and all along the way we have to make choices. Every day we live, we have endless decisions about our time, our resources and the people we love.
But in yet another attempt to hide the significance of our daily minutiae, we choose to be distracted by the world’s noise. We choose to look the other way, instead of recognizing the value of our time on the planet, and how we spend each moment.
That’s one of our biggest mistakes.
A couple of days after Trey died, my husband asked on his Facebook page, “What if the last thing you posted was really the last thing you posted? Would you be okay with that?”
I’m not sure I can think of a better question to ask of you.
Would your last post be a rant about bad service somewhere? Or a complaint about politics? Would the last thing you shared from your heart be critical, or loving? Would you be fighting for the underdog, or just fighting in general?
Those who have suffered a sudden loss understand what I mean.
Sadly, there are many of us who understand the profound gut-kick of a loved one’s sudden death. To be honest, during the writing of this very piece, a friend of mine from high school lost her husband. I’m still debating about publishing this, out of respect to my friend Amy.
I can’t help but quietly wonder–would it show Amy more respect by including her husband David in this piece? Or would it be better to remain silent, and not highlight the profound suffering she is going through?
I have been planning this piece ever since we lost Trey, so would it be fair to his memory, and the suffering of my husband, to withhold it?
I don’t know, yet.
The arch in my life has turned, you see. I’m on the other side.
I don’t expect many more invitations to baby showers, unless I’m there with the grandmothers.
My mail will no longer be filled with invitations to the engagement parties of my peers, or requests to be someone’s bridesmaid.
The wheel of my life is turning, so I’ll now be attending more funerals, instead of weddings. My husband and I will quietly share memories of people who mattered to us, instead of talking about the new babies of our peers. We will, more often than we used to, be startled by the deaths of the people we love.
My overwhelming urge during this new part of my life is to hug close people like my friend Amy, because despite my fluidity with words–I don’t have anything to say that will make things better for her.
I want to gather–physically gather–the people I love, and look them deeply in the eyes.
“Do you know how magnificent you are?” I want to say. “Do you have any idea how much you bring to the world, and the difference you have made to me?”
Yet the bills come due. The wearying responsibilities and expectations of life continue to crowd into my day, and cut into the time I have to spend with those I cherish.
Somehow, I must learn to juggle this new social calendar of sorrow. I must continue to promote in all forms available to me the messages of kindness, patience and respect. I must learn how to welcome this new phase of my life, because I see how it can be richer, and intensely more genuine, as I get rid of the things so I can make room for the people.
So today…while grieving the deaths of now two friends…I will be gentle.
I will save the cookie cutter, trite phrases that many share in times such as this, simply because we don’t know what else to say.
Instead, I will offer compassion. Not only to my friend Amy, but to those who loved her husband, David.
I’ll share tenderness. Not just with my grieving husband, who so genuinely misses his friend Trey, but with the others who knew and loved that kind man.
I’ll offer encouragement, to all of us, who are either in this phase of life, or know it is awaiting us in the hazy distance.
Because life is tough, Friends.
So in all things–be kind.
No matter what–be kind.
It’s really our only defense in this world of uncertainty.
**Chanler Jeffers has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent and was a single parent for many years. She has survived cancer, and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.