“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
It’s been 50 years since I was in the 3rd grade. We celebrated our 40th high school reunion last October. I believe God began planting seeds of friendship over all these years for just a time like this.
Four of us, Donna, Ann and Louann and I just returned from a wonderful trip to St. Petersburg Florida. Three of my lifelong friends from elementary school through high school planned this trip as a gift to me, a get away from the reality of my life these last few months...maybe even years.
We haven’t really kept in constant touch over the years. Each of us has lived in different cities. We married, had careers, children. We would see one another every ten years when a reunion would roll around. We would get together and amazingly, as good friends always are able to do, we would pick up right where we left off. We could laugh about old times, share heart aches, the pains that life had brought us and always comment on how blessed we were to have each other as friends for life.
Last summer and fall as our 40th Reunion began taking shape we all began communication again. We would call, email, text about how excited we were to see one another, we caught up with each other’s lives and made plans to meet Friday night before the big event on Saturday.
These conversations however were different from our past years had been. My three wonderful friends came to understand more of Steve’s cancer and the rocky road we had been traveling the last 4 years. It was then that I noticed that deep, abiding friendship from years past began to surface. I started to see ripples that formed, as when a rock is tossed in a lake start slowly at first and then begin to widen and grow as they embraced their love and concern for Steve and me. Telephone calls became more frequent. Care and support grew strong and deep and my heart opened to these three amazing life long friends.
The Reunion came and went. Fortunately I was able to attend as Steve was in a place where I could leave him for short intervals. Oh we had fun reminiscing! Then too quickly it was time to leave, to go back to our homes, our lives, our husbands. I felt an emptiness as I drove home that day, a feeling that these friends who had been a part of my past, my childhood, my easy going teenage years were now to be lost for another ten years.
But as Shakespeare said these “friends understood where I was” and they did not abandon me. They called and wrote often after our October Reunion, God’s seeds were sprouting. The love and support was there throughout some of the toughest times I hope I will ever have to go through and they remained constant.
The evening before Steve’s Memorial Service we had friends and family gather at our home. I will never forget looking up and seeing the familiar faces of Donna and Ann standing there with tears and visible pain written all over their faces.
There is something unexplainable about the death of someone you love with all your heart. When that separation occurs you feel like the entire world should stop because your world has stopped. Time stands still and all that matters, all your focus is on your incredible loss, that void, that hurt. So when others who care and love you draw near to you, when they take the time to come and stand along side you and want to share your pain and are willing to allow their world to stand as still as yours has--well, that is love, that is friendship at its finest. This is a gift that will never leave your heart.
Louann was heartsick that she was unable to attend. Her calls and outpouring of love were present throughout. I believe it was because of her inability to come to Steve’s service that the idea of the trip began to take root.
It was a matter of days or maybe a week before this wonderful get away way was put into motion. Donna arranged all the plans, Louann provided 1st class plane tickets...all I had to do was show up...what a gift!
Donna and I drove into Houston early to meet up with the others. We had some time to kill and decided to drive through our old neighborhood. We drove by our childhood homes, our elementary school, junior high school. We stopped and walked through our neighborhood swimming pool. We talked and talked about the memories that surfaced as we drove.
An odd melancholy settled over me, I felt like I was rewinding a movie of my life in slow motion. I felt an ache for my parents, who are now both deceased, remembering them as I did when I was a little girl. I felt a gnawing of tenderness from the innocence of my youth and days that were so simple and uncomplicated. I’m now 58 years old. I have been through a divorce. I’m a widow. I have two grown children and grandchildren. Where did the time go? How did those endless days of my youth seem as if they had happened to someone so unlike the person watching this movie of my life unfold?
Finishing our tour of the past, we drove to meet Louann and Ann. I shook the cloak of melancholia off and brought myself back to the present. I found myself smiling because I realized it was all those years in between my childhood and my what? now middle-age that had molded and shaped me into the person I am today. Have I had some rough times in life, of course, haven’t we all? But the blessings, oh the blessings...my children, grandchildren, 18 of the most wonderful years of life with Steve and my friends. My friends, both those of my past and of my present “have accepted who I have become and still are allowing me to grow.” I never want to go back and relive any age, but instead, find joy in whatever my future holds.
Our trip to St. Pete’s was tremendous! We stayed at a beautiful refurbished hotel, The Renaissance Vinoy. We ate at fun and exotic restaurants. We spent a morning under a cabana by the pool, there was never a moment of silence as we had way too many years to tackle. We sat for hours in big comfy rockers on the wide veranda overlooking the bay, drinking wine, laughing and crying. This is where we again found that deeper level of kinship that women are so good at achieving, when friendships are so very remarkable.
I will admit, it was difficult to say good-bye. This was the first time I had taken a trip and come home to an empty house. Steve was no longer here to welcome me, to ask me all his funny questions about how much trouble we’d gotten ourselves into. I found the house, my home echoed with emptiness. This is something that will take time to overcome. This is my new normal. This is my life now, but it’s a great life and one worth living every moment to the fullest.
Thank you Donna, Ann and Lou for blessing my life with your friendships.
As A.A. Milne wrote “We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet. Even longer,' Pooh answered.”