In the last few years I’ve lost two friends—one to death and one by choice. Hers, not mine. The circumstances are different, but the grief is the same. I fell out of touch with the first friend. We stopped working together. I moved. Life got in the way. I made a few attempts over the years to reach out. It worked for a while . . . until it didn’t. Once upon a time we were close. I always thought we’d get back there; time and distance be damned.
A few months back I learned he’d died more than a year and a half ago. It’s a strange and terrible thing to grieve a friendship that hasn’t existed for a very long time. But that’s the bitch about grief. There’s no playbook. There’re no rules. It’s just this presence that reminds me on the daily that I waited too long.
Then there’s the story of my friend who slipped from my life like water in a cracked tub. An unreturned phone call. No response to a text. An ignored invitation. By the time I realized she was gone, it was suffocating. A room I couldn’t escape. A broken bridge. Three and a half years after the last time I saw her, I couldn’t reconcile her absence so I called her. We both cried. I may have yelled at her for leaving me. I asked why, what I did to make her leave.
She had no answer other than it just wasn’t right anymore. We were different people. This, by the way, after more than half a lifetime of friendship. I was dumbfounded. I could list thirty things we have in common. I heard what she was saying, but I couldn’t make it make sense.
I must have done something. Offended her somehow. I ran through the last time we were together. We were celebrating. Had I not been gracious? Had another party guest insulted her? No. If it’d been a concrete incident—a flippant remark, cross words, she would have said so.
This wasn’t that. This was fundamental. Somewhere along the line there’d been a seismic shift in us. In her. And maybe in me. I’ll never know.
These two people who had a permanent place in my life are gone now. One I didn’t get to say goodbye to. The other wouldn’t let me. I feel their absences. The first friend came to me in a time when I felt unmoored. The second I thought would be in my life forever. I never told her this, but I always believed our kids would go to prom together. We were at each other’s weddings. I imagined we’d be old ladies sitting on my terrace watching the world go by, sated from a lifetime spent together.
These are not my first losses. Believe me, loss and I are well acquainted. My brother’s been gone almost two-thirds of my life. His death was sudden and stunning. It’s not something I’ll ever get over, I just move around it. But the last thing I ever said to Robbie was, “I love you.” If a relationship has to end, there are no better parting words. I also lost my dad, but it was thirteen months and four days after he’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I moved to Florida the day after I found out he was sick and seamlessly stepped into his life. We spent a year together that never would have happened had a bunch of cells in his brain not mutated. We formed incredible bonds with his medical team. We told each other everything. I held his hand as he died. I whispered that I would always love him. I felt his soul leave the room, but it stayed with me. I had no regrets. We left nothing unsaid.
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t always been this Zen about Robbie and my dad. It took me a long time to find the gifts shadowed in their deaths.
With these two friends, there is no good. It doesn’t make sense. I can’t find comfort. I should have picked up the phone and called my first friend. I had years and years to do it. I should have figured out what made my second friend leave me. I tried. But I still don’t know. I can only hope that one day she will come back to me.
I am struggling. Do I have the right to grieve a friend I hadn’t talked to in a decade and a half? Does it make sense to miss someone who’s still alive? Kierkegaard said, “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” That’s not pain. That’s torture. Cutting off a limb. Blinding myself. I don’t want there to be any more futures I won’t know. Unsaid words are poison. I’ve let other friendships lag and haven’t taken chances that could bring great joy. But those bridges aren’t broken. There’s still time. It’s up to me to find my way back.
Music inspires me as much as anything. All my books are named after songs. A Chili Peppers song is the reason I wrote my second book. A David Gray song helped me create the perfect ending to my first novel. My kids’ horses are named after songs. When I’m staring down the barrel of a blank page, I put on a playlist and words appear like musical notes. Music endlessly inspires me to write, create characters, scenes, arcs and conclusions.
This past summer I heard a song that haunted me like a displaced spirit. Its melody is lovely; the words beautiful. And there’s one line that knocks me down every time I hear it. Especially now. It has so profoundly affected me that I let it direct me. I’m not waiting any longer. If there are people I want to reconnect with, that’s on me. Only I can do what makes me happy. I have to stop waiting for someone else to orchestrate the things I want to happen. I need a constant reminder to never again let goals go unmet, words be unspoken.
The song from last summer has already changed me, emotionally and literally. The lyrics inspired me to stop waiting. Stop waiting for the right moment. Stop waiting to take a chance. How can a song literally change me, you ask? Well, I got the lyrics tattooed on my forearm. Thanks to Nathaniel Rateliff, I have a constant reminder that “Every moment that you wait now is a moment slipped away.”
May this be the end of me allowing moments to escape. The time is now. It’s up to me. I refuse to look back and remember something that should have happened but didn’t.
Don’t let your moments slip away.
Stunning. At my age, I’ve begun losing people right, left, and center, for all the reasons. Your post is a great reminder to pay better attention to everything and not take anything for granted. Thanks, Susan!