My friend Michelle came into my life in November of 2005. Around that time, grieving my husband had become my full-time jobâ€”I did everything else part-time. Two months after Phil’s death my life was settling into a pattern of managing widowhood, and single parenthood, one challenge at a time. My friends and family still kept an eye on me, but at the end of every day my most reliable companion was grief. Until early November when I got a call from my sister, Debi, asking for my help. My brother-in-law’s cousin had lost her husband to cancer the week before, and Debi wondered if I would write her a note. She thought I might know, better than anyone else, what to say to her.
The interesting thing was I didn’t feel like I knew anything about being a widowâ€”except that it was thrust upon me, and it wasn’t optional. Sitting at my desk thinking of what to write, I finally settled on the truthâ€”I was so sorry she lost her husband and the months ahead wouldn’t be easy, but I was available to talk anytime she wanted. That short message began a relationship that has changed my life.
Within weeks, the two of us felt an unmistakable kinship created by our loss experiences. We discussed all the things that we hated about widowhoodâ€”sometimes in pretty colorful language. It didn’t take long to figure out that speaking to each other could be done in half sentencesâ€”the other friend could always fill in the blanks. Some days we needed to cry, other days we needed to laugh, but with each passing day we discovered that we needed each other. Many mornings I woke up, with swollen eyes from an evening of wailing, and ran to my computer to see if I had mail. Her words became my lifeline, or perhaps more accurately, my hope line.
Miraculously, we took turns having break downs; we also took turns carrying the imaginary candle of hope. Each of us believed in the possibility of healing, but neither of us was sure how to go about it. Many days we weren’t sure we even wanted to try. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were helping each other heal with our every interaction. Our spirits were slowly rebuilt with each tearful conversation, with the quiet acknowledgement of each other’s pain, with the certainty of a pat on the back for a forward step taken, and with the intuitive phone calls that came when the voice on the answering machine didn’t sound quite right.
Michelle was the only person who understood that I wanted to die, but that I would never kill myself. I could tell her that I missed being a wife, but I had no desire to have another husband. One day she would agree with me that neither of us would ever re-marry, and the next day we could jointly agree to the exact opposite course of action. The most telling part of our mutual understanding was that we verbally agreed that given the chance, we would immediately trade our wonderful friendship in for the opportunity to have our husbands backâ€”without hesitation and without any hard feelings! The illogical, roller coaster of grief was much easier to ride with a partner who was willing to either clutch my arm during the frightening drops or encourage me to throw my hands in the airâ€”depending on the day. Somehow Michelle always knew what kind of day it was.
Reflecting on the phrase, “When the Lord closes a door he always opens a window,” I realize that my friendship with Michelle is a window that opened for me after the death of my husband slammed shut a door, with unnerving finality. Through the window of our friendship I am able to see the good that still exists in my life and in the world. The frame of our friendship window was forged by the fire of grief and reinforced by the power of shared experience. Our window is draped in mutual love and unwavering support. Unless you have lived the loss experience you might not notice that our friendship window has a unique style of glassâ€”it allows us to view the world as it could be if we dare to believe in the power of hope. The deafening crack of the door that death closed for me reverberates in my heart and in my daily experience, but when the noise threatens to alter my life viewâ€”I just look out the window.