Friday, December 21, 2012

Great is Relative

Two days ago marked the fourth anniversary of the death of my friend Jean. I am constantly shocked by the impact of her death on me. Maybe it was because she and I were so tightly connected for our teenage years. Maybe because we'd just had lunch together, and had plans for another right after the holidays. Maybe because her life was cut so short. Likely, it's because a brutal murder is something you never see coming.

On the anniversary of her death, I woke determined to make the day good. Not to wallow or be depressed or think about he murder, but think about her life, about taking advantage of the time and relationships I have right now. I ignored the chores calling me and spent the day baking cookies and singing with the radio turned up, making crafts with my kids and teaching my youngest new piano songs. I made it to the end of the day feeling pretty good.

But while the 19th is the anniversary of her death, she didn't die on a Wednesday. She died on a Friday, on the last day of school before the winter break. Her son came home from college and fell asleep on the couch as she set off to the school to take pictures of the choir kids at their holiday concert. It was, in every way, a day before Christmas break.

And today, as I woke the kids, armed them with gifts for their teachers and told my youngest I'd see her at school for her holiday sing-a-long, I tried not to focus on the fact that this was exactly how Jean's day began four years ago.

I turned on music. I made dog treats for my neighbor, packed a few special gifts for special friends, patted my dog on the head and said, out loud in the empty kitchen, "Today is going to be a great day."

And no sooner were the words out of my mouth than I remembered those were the last words Jean spoke to her husband before he left for work, and I wanted to call the words back. To not have a great day. To not feel like the day was full of possibility in the way Jean did, with all the horrid irony it contained.

I texted my son to let him know he'd have to let himself in if the sing-a-long ran late, and remembered that Jean left the house that morning with her son home alone, asleep on the couch. He was the first killed. I wondered if I should stay home, as if my being home or him being home alone would influence what our own day would hold.

Today, it turned out, was the harder day of this week.

Christmas Day is not wrapped up in mourning for me, but the day before Christmas break is... the sweeping of cheer and anticipation and joy and relief pulled by a vague sense that it's all a fragile hope easily popped, that the worst of the worst can happen right when joy is at its height.

We are not meant to live in fear, but God knows sometimes we get stuck there.

Tomorrow, though, it will be Saturday, and this day of "last day before break" will be over and for me, the imminent fear of evil will fade to something more akin to a small ache. Today I am thankful for a dear friend who listened to me tell the story, who didn't tell me I was crazy for clutching my mouth the minute I said it was going to be a great day, who allowed me to feel like maybe it could be great, could be full of joy, free from something crushing that.

For that, I think I'll turn the music up a little more, and sing, even if only to my dog.


  1. I'm so sorry this happened to your friend. No doubt that is a pain that will never go away. That is really nice you were able to talk with a friend about it.

    I have been crushingly depressed since last Friday and what happened in CT. I feel so bad for those kids and teachers and their families, and I feel scared for my family. For a long time now, I've held on to an optimism about the human race, that the majority of us were not only good, but want peace. After this I'm not so sure. I've had to quit Facebook for my own sanity.

    I feel silly because it's not like this happened to anybody I love, like what happened to your friend, and I'm sure your pain is worse than mine, but man, it is rough.


    1. Paul - first of all, I'm convinced that there doesn't need to be connection between grief and closeness of relationships. We can all be deeply affected by loss, by the way in which it happens, by how real it feels in our own lives. Your grieving over Connecticut is just as real as mine. There were plenty of people Jean was closer to in the past few years than me, but I was profoundly affected, and that is real to me.

      Facebook - and anything online - makes me think less of humanity. Online is ugly. I don't know why people feel like they can be so aggressively mean and rude, as though there aren't people with feelings on the receiving end. During the elections I had to block a ton of people - people on both sides of the aisle - people who I consider friends, who I know to be decent and good people in real life - because the things they were saying and links they were showing and pictures and comments made me think less of them, made me angry constantly. So I choose to know those people only in real life and let the online connection go. It's helped me immensely.

      But sometimes, I just have to get offline.

      And I've been off TV since last Friday. That's helped, too. I catch up on news in the morning in print, and leave the constant drone of voices and speculations out of my life.

      There are a lot of good people out there. A lot more than bad. There have been evil, heartless, or mentally ill people through all of history. The greatest mass school attack in the US happened in 1927, without guns. The reason this stuff makes such huge news is because it's rare. I try to remember that. We as a nation are shocked by this because it doesn't happen every day. There will be waves where it seems to happen more, and then slow again. That is how it's always been.

      So be the good in your own life - empower your children to be good in their lives. And when you need to, hibernate a little with the people you love to recoup. And talk to people who understand. There's nothing more healing than knowing others care enough to listen.

      Praying you find your way out of this depression soon.

    2. Violence of any kind leaves my spirit feeling so sad. All I can say is that we did, as parents, empower our son to be a good and compassionate man. I feel like that is my best contribution to society, to humanity.

      Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy 2013!

    3. I think you're right, Roxanne. We can only control what we can control - and this is making our corner of the world a little better. We can hope if there are enough people being light, it will overtake the dark.

      Happy 2013 to you, too!

  2. Heidi, I'm so sorry. I too lost a dear friend around four years ago. Not in such a violent way, but I know how the memories will rise up in unexpected waves. Saying a prayer for peace for you right now. And I cling to the verse you placed the top of this post. An awesome promise.

    1. Losses are hard, no matter how they come. How blessed we are to have the promises we can lean on!