Note: Stizzle and Lizzle are the names my friend and I gave ourselves when someone accidentally mistook us for dancers he had seen somewhere. These are our make-believe stage names. (And no, we were never any kind of dancers. Watch me at a Zumba class and you’ll understand.)
Last night you told me you didn’t want to live anymore. You have said it before, but this time I could feel the sheer desperation seeping out of your every pore and it scared me. I could not bear the thought of losing you so I asked if you wanted to come spend the night and you answered yes, but you didn’t think you could get here. So I got in the car and came to you. You sobbed in my arms as I entered your new home, and I held you like a child, your head buried in my shoulder and my arms wrapped tightly around your small, frail frame.
It was Christmas Eve. What happened? How did we get here? Shouldn’t it be one of the happiest times of the year? Shouldn’t we look like we did in those Christmas cards from years past when we had our four respective children and our handsome husbands draped around us like a cashmere blanket all warm and secure?
Instead you sat on the steps and I plopped on the floor, too tired to find real furniture where normal people would sit. This is triage, I thought; this is where those of us who know suffering come to our broken friends to acknowledge the trauma and help them stay alive. That’s all I could do for you: sit, cry, listen, pray. I’ve been through severe emotional distress, Stiz – as you well know – and this is what broken, f****d up people do for each other. Even on Christmas Eve. Especially on Christmas Eve.
This is how we survive when our husbands have left and the kids are spending the holidays with him this year. This is how we get through the pain of friends who vanished without an explanation because our lives have become too messy for them to handle. This is what we do when our families live too far away or don’t realize the utter pain we live in, and leave us alone to stagger through our shame and grief.
We show up. Sometimes we try to make sense of our lives with words. Sometimes we simply sit with the silence. So that’s what we did. And after a couple hours, I saw how your eyes grew heavy and I knew it would be safe to leave you as you fell sleep. So I stroked your head for a few minutes and let you snuggle into your bed.
And now, on Christmas Day, you have a few hours of precious time with your kids but it doesn’t feel like enough. I’m convinced it probably never will. But I want to tell you something, Stiz. A miracle happened this morning as my boys gathered around the breakfast table.
For as long as I can remember, we have gone around the table on Christmas morning and gifted each person with words of appreciation and love. Each person has a turn “being it” as the rest of us share what we’ve seen in that person’s life that year. Mostly, with boys, it can be fairly surfacey. They say things like, “I like how you love soccer so much.” Or, “You’re really good with Legos.” But this year something magical happened.
Each of them dove deep into the well of appreciation for their brothers. They talked about each other’s loyalty to their friends, their determination in reaching their goals, and their dedication to each of their crafts as they called them, whether it’s soccer, photography, woodworking or cycling. They mentioned each other’s humility and selflessness. Their humor. Their kindness. Their integrity. One by one, they gave generously with words of pride and admiration for their brothers.
And when it came time for me to be in the “hot-seat”, do you know what they said, Stiz? They said they noticed my strength. My strength! When my boyfriend of five years and I broke up, I didn’t fall completely apart, they said, although it certainly felt like it. In fact, I felt like I was going through a second divorce and that I was neglecting them when I couldn’t get out of bed or when I ordered carry-out for the third night in a row. But what they saw was that I rose one day – if only for a moment – to fix dinner or drive one to soccer or show up at a cycling race. They saw me caring for them in the midst of a messy house and puffy eyes. They saw that I didn’t hide from pain but that I chose to face it and ride the waves of grief.
One of them told me he has learned from me because I’ve talked openly about how I’ve been trying to fill my life with relationships instead of being okay with myself and that he can see that he does that, too. One mentioned that he appreciates the example I show him in how to love people, like the kids who come in my office at work, or like going to your house last night when you needed a friend. The balance of being a working mom, cooking dinner, talking about real life and cheering them on in their endeavors, despite my emotional pain, did not go unnoticed. Their observations blew me away and humbled me.
I’m confident this will be your narrative one day, too, within the scope of your unique family. When your kids are older, and the dust has settled, they will see how you have risen again in strength. How you have done the best you could do in the deep, deep pain you are living through. One day they will no longer be children, and they will start to see you through the eyes of an adult and truly appreciate that you love them more than they ever knew possible. It won’t happen quickly but I believe that one day, when you have ridden out this vast landscape of sorrow, your children will notice your strength and dignity.
There are more of us, Stiz. More women who live with the effects of trauma and loss and one day you too will sit with one of them on Christmas Eve, and you will be able to tell her that little by little, it does get better. As long as we start making healthy choices and allowing ourselves to feel the pain, it will get better.
While you are waiting for these future miracles, I’ll continue to sit in the mess with you as you and so many others have done with me, and together we will not just stay alive we will find a way to truly live and love again.
I love you!