I got a card in the mail last week, from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I was so happy. We set up a coffee date. That was yesterday.
We met as volunteer Daisy moms when our girls were in kindergarten. Those girls–who once went around her neighborhood “raising money for Girl Scouts” by selling rocks they painted in her garage–are now twenty-six. We didn’t stay close, despite those Girl Scout years. Our kids went in different directions, and thus, so did we. There are hugs when we see one another in town, what’s news and how ares. The regular stuff of friends grown apart.
During those Girl Scout years, both our boys were unofficial Girl Scouts. Her son was a few years younger than Chris, so Chris got to be the “big boy.” They’d play, sometimes do activities with the girls. As they got older, they stopped coming to meetings, but that connection remained.
Not long after Chris’ accident, while he was still wheelchairbound and trying to process what life was going to be, I saw an archery competition set up to take place nearby. It was a local club thing, but open to the public. Chris had an eye! Whew. First time I ever took him to shoot, he got a bulls-eye. He could still shoot from his wheelchair. I thought it would be good for him. And it was. He out-shot all the other archers, grown men who’d been shooting most of their lives, and won two pumpkin pie trophies. It was a great day for him.
My friend’s husband and son were there that day, too. It was the first time the boys had seen one another in a few years. It was adorable, watching the old dynamic reassert itself. Her boy’s little bit of hero worship; my boy showing hers how to do something with his bow. My friend’s husband and I watched them a minute or two, chatted. There was nothing significant about the moment. Or so it seemed, at the time.
It wasn’t long after that her son died. Chris took it hard. He would have, anyway, but he’d recently seen him, and that connection was still there, and he was trying to process the death of his own identity. How he cried.
Fast forward ten years, and Chris was gone too. I’d seen my friend as I always had over the course of years. At the gym, in the grocery store, at Village Fair Days. As it had been with Chris and her son, the connection was always there. And now, we’d both lost our boys, those boys who used to be unofficial Girl Scouts. No one wants to have that in common.
She brought me flowers, and cookies she’d baked. We sat together over coffee, talking about this and that. Every now and again, one or the other of us would say something about our boys. They were tentative steps toward sharing deeper hurts neither of us can quite express. I might do fine on these pages, but only because the brain to fingers connection is far more adept than the connection brain to mouth.
And maybe we don’t have to actually say anything. We both understand the other’s pain, and sometimes just being in the presence of someone who truly knows is enough. It’s a relief.
This thing we have in common sometimes makes interactions with family and friends uncomfortable. They don’t know what to do when we’re sad. Do they talk about our missing sons? Pretend there isn’t an empty place at the holiday table? Talk about their own kids, thriving and growing up? Downplay all their familial happiness to spare us? They act from a place of kindness, of course, and that ramps up the pressure, because we’re the cause of their discomfort. And while I’m so very, very grateful few of them will actually understand, they will, nevertheless, never understand.
We all need those people who get where we are, with whom we don’t have to explain things, or tip-toe around, or endure getting tip-toed around. It’s not about like minds, but like experiences. Whether a mommy/daddy group or a writing group or a survivors-of-something group, those who understand our experiences intimately are vital to navigating this world. It’s not a place to dwell on the pain, but a place to be liberated from it.
Find your group. Free yourself. And in the process, free others.