Today as I ponder about gratitude, I find myself thankful for the growth we experience and the lessons we learn from sorrow/mourning. That may sound odd, but I was talking to a friend today who said she felt like she was experiencing an evolution in her life (one that was a bit painful), and I have another friend who is working her way through the loss of her Father, which I feel fairly safe saying is the worst loss of her life to date. I was thinking and wishing that I could do more to help them, and was thinking about how hard loss and death are to deal with. That is what got me thinking.
Craig and I moved to Palmerton in 2000. The first year we lived here, I travelled the country training and Craig travelled to Allentown to work long hours every day while we planned our 2001 wedding. Then, right after 9/11 we found out we were pregnant, and I almost immediately was put on bed rest. We still knew no one locally other than our neighbors. At that point in my life, I had experienced a lot of loss and rejection, so I was OK with that, because I was afraid of making friends anyway.
Then, Francine happened. She lived a couple houses down from me, and our boys were born a couple days apart. She and her extremely confident happy self immediately took me in (love the analogy) and we became extremely close. A little later, I started spending a lot of time with my neighbor’s daughter Nikki, who had moved home to fight a cancer that had returned. I grew to love both women greatly. Both of them helped support me through all my fear and struggles after I was diagnosed with heart failure and given a very bleak life span estimation. They both celebrated with me when it became obvious I was going to prove the doctors wrong.
Then, only a couple months after the doctors confirmed I would live after all, a drunk driver hit Francine’s car head on and God called her home unexpectedly. This woman who was so full of life and was my rock, who wouldn’t let me give up and believe the doctors death sentence, who was more happy and alive than anyone I had ever met, was dead. I couldn’t believe it. Why would God let me live but take her? Then, about a month later, Nikki died too, and although it was a bit more expected, it hit me hard.
I couldn’t take any more loss. I stopped putting myself out there. I kept most of my friendships at a very shallow level. I would find myself wanting to connect more deeply, but my insecurities and fears held me back. Plus, I never wanted to hurt like that again.
Until a few years ago, when I realized that all I was doing was going through the motions. I wasn’t living if I didn’t allow myself to truly connect with people.
I promised myself that I would start actively trying to foster new friendships, and prayed that God would help me meet the right people. Since then, I continue to be blessed left and right with EXACTLY the right people. I feel like I belong somewhere, like I’m part of a community, for the first time in my life. I still miss Francine and Nikki, but I can now look back and remember the good memories most. Mostly, I look back and am comforted in the knowledge that even the hardest of times usually results in us being a stronger, happier, healthier version of ourselves if we just let ourselves feel the feelings, work through them the best we can, and learn whatever lessons we can.
I still wish I could do more to help my friends who are struggling right now, but I am thankful that they will come through on the other side…hopefully stronger, happier, and healthier versions of themselves. I look forward to when they too will be able to look back and see the good, and merely respect the sorrow that remains. And, I’m thankful to have the opportunity to support them in any way I can until they get there.