Saying goodbye; not forever, but for now

Yesterday held an afternoon filled with laughter, tears, remembering, hugging, dancing, celebrating. A small group of friends gathered to share what we loved best about our dear friend and we said goodbye. While we all felt sadness, there was such a sense of comfort and love floating around that room. So many stories were told and memories were jogged while we shook our heads in bittersweet recognition with wet eyes and smiles on our faces.

Instead of a guest book, we had a scrapbooking table to offer meaningful space for sharing memories.

I wanted to share the words I wrote about Lisa and what she meant to me so those who couldn't make it can get a small sense of what yesterday was, and to share with those who didn't know her a tiny bit of her spirit. 

Friends, I stand before you as a person whose world feels shattered at the loss of our shining light, Lisa. I am devastated to face the reality that she is gone, yet there is a part of me that whenever I think of her, wants to laugh and truly celebrate the woman that she was to me and so many others. The past two weeks I have been in awe of how many people Lisa impacted, yet I'm not at all surprised that so many were touched by her in small and grand ways. It never took long for anyone in Lisa's presence to recognize that she was someone special--a genuine soul who really saw people, a woman who handed herself with incredible confidence and grace.

It's funny though, I think "grace" is probably one of the last words Lisa would have used to describe herself. I believe she was quite possibly the only person I have ever known who would spill coffee all down the front of her shirt, and then giggle while she wiped it up. That is a profound lesson she taught me: it's so important to be able to laugh at yourself. And man, we did. So often we would wind up in hysterics with tears running down our faces because of something awkward one of us did. By the time we got ahold of ourselves, we wouldn't even remember what it was that got us started in the first place. That's another amazing thing about being in Lisa's presence. I'm pretty sure we can all agree that she never ever laughed alone. Her giggle that shifted into a contagious cackle had a way of turning up even the most pronounced grimace. Really, it was almost frustrating--there was no way you could stay irritated or angry when Lisa made up her mind to crack up.

Wildly contagious laughter was only one of Lisa's incredible gifts. With her deep and profound insight, she truly found her calling working with women as a therapist. Which brings me to lesson #2: sometimes silence is the best way to ask a question. Even in the simplest of situations, Lisa had a way of just looking at you with such a sense of inquiry. It could be something as bland as why you ordered something different from the usual at Starbucks. "Pumpkin spice latte. Huh... (stares...) OK." "WHAT?" (stares... smiles...) "Nothing. It's just not what you usually drink." And then before you know it, you're spilling your guts about your latest heartache you didn't even know you had... Right there in the middle of Starbucks, before her favorite girl crush barista has even finished steaming the milk.

Ah yes... A girl crush. Lisa introduced me to this concept in the most unlikely of circumstances. Don't worry, it isn't what it sounds like. One winter, I contracted the flu and was sicker than I had ever been in my adult life. I was living in a very old apartment and the only source of heat was from a grate in the floor in the front room. I was sleeping with a knit cap on my head to stay warm and was too weak to come up with a reasonable solution to the problem. Lisa came over to check on me and when she saw what was going on she said, "Sara, you're going to die in here!" She packed me up and drove me to her apartment, just after an emergency run to the grocery to buy soup and other items essential for flu recovery. The rest of the week, I lived on her couch as her patient. When she left for class one morning she told me to watch The L Word on demand. "It will change your life," she said. Umm... yes. She and I both developed this crazy girl crush on one sexy character, and we often joked about how if Shane ever walked into a room, we would get into a scrappy fight to see who could get to her first. But I don't know... Seeing as my friend single handedly just nursed me back to health, I probably would have had to give her that one. Lesson #3: you can be straight and still have girl crushes--really, it's ok.

The acceptance of girl crushes is actually a complete side note of that story. The actual point worth noting is that Lisa would drop anything and everything to help out a friend. She could have brought me soup, driven back to her apartment and gone about her day. That would have been a sweet gesture and that's what most friends would do. Not our Lisa. She possessed a rare selfless generosity that anyone in her presence experienced. Whether it was offering a cigarette, picking up the bar tab with no strings attached, or giving up a greatly anticipated quiet evening alone to listen to your love life struggles, Lisa gave whatever she could to anyone she cared about.

And she gave whatever she could to perfect strangers. As we all know, Lisa’s life work was to empower women. She worshiped Gloria Steinem. She was the very definition of feminism. Up until the point when I knew Lisa, I had a very different idea of what feminism was. Lesson #4: this is a true feminist… Someone who listens with her whole soul to the entirety of a woman’s story, not just the parts required for an intake form. Someone who can lift up men as well as women, and believes that men can be true allies. Someone who seeks to understand not just the struggle itself, but why it exists and work to eliminate its cause. Someone who accepts each woman for who she is without trying to change or smooth out her rough spots. Someone who walks beside you down a path of difficulty, not holding your hand or pushing you faster than you’re ready to go, but offering a gentle presence of support to ensure you are not alone.

All of those qualities were at the core of how Lisa functioned as an advocate. She never resisted an opportunity to give her clients everything they deserved and she never compromised her integrity in offering whatever services they needed. She fought the good fight, for them, for all of us and for herself.

During Lisa’s last year in Lexington, she and I became inseparable. For all practical purposes, we were both single, living alone, and we took full advantage of our freedom. We spent countless hours together sipping coffee or cocktails, smoking cigarettes, talking about important matters, solving the world’s problems or gossiping about the latest celebrity fluff. When I really try to stop and think back on specific memories, I am saddened to find that it’s hard to pinpoint particular anecdotes. Were we really always that drunk? Perhaps we were, but probably not. I think the essence of our friendship was that we effortlessly clicked, and the simplicity of most of our interactions lent itself to more of a feeling of closeness than a calendar of events.

After Lisa moved back to Philadelphia, the frequency of our phone calls grew farther apart, but the closeness of our hearts did not. As life unfolded and we built our families, we simply became busy. Although we only spoke every few months, we probably called one another at least every other week. The messages we left each other sounded something like this: Hey, I was just trying to catch you and wanted to hear your voice. I hope everything is going OK. Give me a call when you get the chance. No big deal, I know you’re busy--just whenever you get a minute. OK, honey. Love you. Bye. (And weren’t we all Lisa’s honey?)

I found this passage from SARK’s Fabulous Friendship Festival that really captures the essence of a conversation Lisa and I had months ago about this very subject:

“Let’s get together and catch up:” Let’s not.

Sometimes I don’t call or contact friends because of this concept of “catching up”. If I haven’t spoken with a friend for many months or even years, it just feels like too much work to “catch up”. It feels like we’ll need to communicate for countless hours just to get caught up to where we are now!

I understand that it’s just a phrase, and the intention behind it is good, but it causes me to sometimes not connect with friends if it’s been a while.

I propose that we drop this phrase and concept, and just realize that if we communicate with our friend, we’ll just naturally find out how they are, and what’s been going on with them.

I’m going to release myself from any pressure to “catch up,” and call those friends I’ve been avoiding and suggest that we just start from how we are now and go backwards from there if we want to.

Also, “catching up” implies that we have fallen behind somehow, and I don’t believe that time is that linear. It isn’t just about a progression of events along a certain timeline, but a multi-layered affair, with telepathic awarenesses thrown in.

What we or our friends have been doing in the time we didn’t communicate is less important than our being or essence, and that you can only discover through being present with a friend.

This leaves me with a 5th lesson, a final legacy from our girl that stands to resonate in my heart forever: never ever take time on this earth with your friends for granted. Oh, how I have. I never once assumed that a time would come when Lisa would not be there. I always thought we would have the luxury of each other’s friendship. Even though our contact was not as often as we would have liked, I knew that miles away I had a kindred spirit whose love and support never wavered. I take comfort in knowing that I still do, it’s just that instead of driving around “the city of brotherly love,” she is sailing above us all in heaven.

I know we all feel a deep sadness in knowing that we can no longer pick up the phone or plan a trip to connect with Lisa. We can’t have a tangible experience where we can hold her or hear her voice. But the beauty that laces the sweet bitterness of death is that we no longer have to do those things to feel Lisa’s presence. She has moved on, but she most certainly isn’t gone. As is evident here today, she truly is alive in us all, in the memories we share and in the stillness of our hearts.

Clinging as closely as I can to all the times Lisa and I shared, and the close friendship we nurtured over the years allows me to share my tears and to laugh as we celebrate our girl today. As we move forward from this space I am confident that the joy from knowing Lisa will resonate in our interactions with those who knew her and those who didn’t. Because she truly left her footprint on all of us and in some way shaped the people we are now. We are all better having known her, even for the short while she was graced time on this earth.

Lisa, my dear friend; I love you. I miss you like crazy already, but I hold you close in my heart, and promise to do so always. Know that I, and all of your friends here today, will honor your life and our experience of it, and share your spirit with your babe, Thomas. Fly in peace.

There is a long road ahead, but the healing has begun.


Kerry said...

Oh Sara, this is so incredibly beautiful. I don't really have any more words. Thinking of you!

Us said...

Her impact on your life is very evident. I pray you find peace in the joy she brought you during the time you were given. I'm sending lots of love to you during this time of pain and healing.

babba said...

Dear Sara,
I am speachless and in tears after reading this,you shared the essense of your friend and your love for her in beautiful and heartfelt way. You truly have a gift for sharing from your heart in an authentic and Eloquent manner ,please keep sharing your gift,
With love light and kindness your very proud Uncle TIM

sara said...

I can't say how much I appreciate all of your encouragement and loving support. Writing, reading aloud and posting this left me very raw and it's so uplifting to know that it resonated with people. Thank you.