Thursday, February 9, 2012

Friends beyond a lifetime

The NaBloPoMo prompt for today struck me as trite.  It is:  Talk about this quote: "Fate chooses your relations, you choose your friends."

Fate does not choose my relations.  Relations means "who I relate to" or "who I am in relationship with," right?  Family, friend, "relation..."  The lines are very blurry for me.  That was obvious from my short post about my sisters, I'm sure.

I know this is something that was very hard on my mother's family.  Mom was jerked so suddenly and violently from all of our lives, and it might have felt like a slap in the face for us to choose to live with "not family."  (The way it really went down was that Tamara was forced to make that choice, and I would have gone along with any choice she made...just to have the smallest sliver of normalcy.  Of before.)

I imagine they each - my aunts, my grandparents - had their own personal reasons and perspectives that created a sense of impropriety in my referring to friends (Art, Sarah, and Kiirstin) with family titles.  For me, at least (I cannot speak for Tamara), giving them familial titles removed the necessity of going into detail.  Every time I referred to them as friends, it raised additional questions and it felt like it cheapened my relationship with them.  These are people who took me into their home, grieving and broken, and treated me as their daughter.  They bought me my first car.  Sarah helped me sort through my mother's things in October. 

They never replaced my mother.  No one could, of course.  But certainly they are my family.  And, since "Art and Sarah" or "The Daniels" doesn't mean much to those who don't know my story, I call them "my parents" to a perfect stranger and "my Texas Parents" to those who know me a little better, or who I think I can explain the background to.

What would my mother think?
I have been asked this many times.  I honestly don't know for sure what Mom would think.  Last I knew her, I was still a child.  It is difficult for me to see her thoughts, feelings, and opinions through a grown-up lens.  But I think my mother would have approved of this whole arrangement.  The endurance of her friendships - lasting well beyond her death - says so much about her as a friend, and the value she placed on those relationships.

A dear friend of Mom’s had Tam and me come out and stay with her (halfway across the country) after Mom died.  I don’t remember when it was, or how we got there.  It’s a very odd and hazy set of memories for me.

I remember going to a jewelry store and the friend told us to pick out whatever we wanted – whatever made us think of Mom.  I fell in love with a bracelet.  It had rose gold and yellow gold, little flowers.  It reminded me of some of the mixed-metal jewelry of Mom’s….and I just liked it.  Tam whispered to me that it was way too nice.  It was too expensive.  Don’t be rude.
What is the proper etiquette when people want to do things for you to make you feel better, and you appreciate the gesture and really do hope they can make you feel better…but there’s no filling the void…

I was always the rude, inconsiderate, bull-in-a-china-closet sister.  I got the bracelet.  I still keep it in my jewelry box, and every time I see it I think of this friend of Mom’s who I am still sometimes in touch with.  I think of her, and I think how amazing – what a wonderful friend – my mother must have been for someone to keep in touch with her daughters for decades after her death.

This particular friend knew my mother from graduate school on, and there is another group of friends from high school that still get together to celebrate milestone birthdays.  They pooled some money and bought Tam and I each a necklace for what would have been Mom’s 50th birthday.  I got it when I graduated from high school.  I’m still in touch with a few of them.

I hope for my children to have these kinds of friendships.  I hope I am the sort of friend my mother so obviously was.

Clearing out my desk months ago, I came across a letter from that grad school friend.  It is dated just five days after Mom’s death.

In Union, New Jersey there is a memorial service being held at the same time I am holding mine.

My dearest and sweetest friend has been placed in the hands of God and I miss her.  She was full of life.  Her laugh is inside my head and I can see her black and silver hair as it forms a curly wreath around her head.

A numbness has come over me.  I go deep into the woods and sit on an old, hollowed out stump.  The rain is softly coming down and I watch as it bounces off the leaves that surround my feet.
Closing my eyes and placing pressure on my lids brings a white light to my vision path and I pray her life, eternal, is filled with light and peace and contentment.

This friend of 24 years loved her children with a passion that knew no end.  She gave them life with the birth but she gave them so much more.

She left a legacy of determination and positive thinking.  She surrounded them and all she loved with a fierce loyalty and deep integrity that few people ever know.

Years passed that we only talked on the phone or wrote to each other but we always ended with, “I love you” and our friendship was one that knew no bounds.  I was there for her and she for me, if in spirit only, but it was like we had an extra sense about each other.

Our last conversation some months ago had evolved around that I was planning a trip to El Paso and make it a stop on my way to visit Troy in California.  She expressed Tamara’s interest in Northwestern and Troy’s phone number was given to her so the contact could be made.

She loved Troy.  She cared for him whenever I would need a break and she gave me my only baby shower for him in Tucson.  Her happiness for me was unending and she loved to cuddle him as much as I did.

Sharing memories is what builds a foundation for a long, lasting and loving relationship, and we had plenty of those.

Memories of trying to study for a final exam but Nita was more interested in watching the birth of kittens than studying so that is what we did.

Laughing in a graduate class because the professor was making no sense and we both knew it.  Smiling in the sunlight as we walked across campus and talked about her dreams and ideas and what her goals were.

Keeping in touch over the years as we gave birth, married, divorced, experienced pain and sadness — but always sharing and being there.

That is what I already miss.  The fact that I can no longer cry, laugh, or talk with her.

Death is something we rarely discussed because we both felt it was in the far future, but if we had I know she would have said something like this,

“Grieve for me, watch over my babes, be there for them and then let me go and live life.  See me in the mountains, on the ski slopes, in the quiet of the woods and in the rush of the water over the rocks.  But, don’t hang onto the sorrow, as I want life to be lived, not just passed by.  I love you.”

And Nita, I love you.

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