The other night, I sat with friends who have weathered dozens of life’s storms together and apart. We gathered in the aftermath of a wake. We had hugged a husband who was saying goodbye to the wife of his youth, children who had lost their loving mother, women who had lost a familiar friend, and a community rocked by a sudden loss. After we dried our tears and gathered our emotions, we drove off to a quiet space for dinner.
We sipped our wine and picked at our salads. Words can be hard to find when the weight of the moment overwhelms. Together we grieve, and separately we bear our own burdens. Each of us faces our own set of challenges, still we gather for solace and encouragement in this long friendship.
Eventually, the conversation pointed to me. I confessed my fear and my exhaustion. They offered words of encouragement and love. I know that these women love me. They have walked with me through a thousand days, maybe ten thousand. We’ve known each other for over twenty years. We have born witness to each other’s days of celebration and heartbreak for a long long time.
When my friend levels her gaze at me, she speaks right to my heart. “I was twenty-four years old when my two-year old son was diagnosed with brain cancer. Somehow, I knew what I needed to do.” “They told us to gather the grandparents, because they were not certain about the future.” “They did not know what they were asking,” she chuckled. “The chaos that ensued, was ridiculous. I was able to handle it because I had one job. I was going to take care of my baby.” She smiled at me, “but twenty-some years later, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt completely overwhelmed and lost.”
That made sense to me. I know that if this were any of my people, I would roar like a mother lion! I know how to nurture, protect, and defend. I know how to create calm and order when life gets out of hand. I have a very strong skill set around these things. There is no doubt in my mind that I would know what to do if this weren’t me.
But it is me. Just like my friend described, I feel a bit lost in this moment.
She looked at me and continued. “You have one job. You must take care of yourself. You must arrive at your surgery as healthy and whole as you possibly can.” Heads nodded in unison at this wisdom. Yes, that is exactly right. My job is to gather my resources so that I am as strong as I can possibly be when I face this surgery. Okay. I can do that.
I don’t even have words for the relief that these words have brought over the past few days. I have shared them with my husband and children. We must all come to this as strong as we possibly can. So, I am taking responsibility for my energy. I’ve cleared my calendar. I have scheduled a massage, and some time alone. We’ll be gathering for family dinner on Saturday, but I’m not cooking and they aren’t arguing. I am filling up my days with beauty.
I’m noticing. It is one of the things I know fills my cup, the simple beauty of the natural world. The buds on the trees outside my window are almost ready to burst. The green shoots are peeking out from the left over crusty snow, and there are periwinkle blue flowers growing along the path to my office. The smell of the mulch pile, the sound of the birds fighting or loving in the tree, the melodies of the music I’m playing on repeat in my car all soothe my soul and fill my cup.
I am so grateful for so many words of wisdom and love I’ve received over the past week or so. Notes, cards, text messages, and long conversations have tended my heart and soul. I am humbled and awed by the ways people have poured out concern and love. I am so grateful for so many. But for now, I will be guarding my calendar and my energy. I’m gathering strength and resources for the journey ahead. I have a job I need to do.