Last week was a difficult week for my friends. A close acquaintance lost her college-age brother in a senseless homicide. One of my best friends learned of the death of his high school girlfriend. Another friend experienced a painful setback in a family struggle with alcoholism.
Now that I’m thinking about it, the whole month of February has been strewn with painful episodes. People close to me have endured physical and mental health struggles. I have a student grappling with anxiety. Mary Ruth Ray, a Boston violist that my family has long known and admired, died of cancer.
There was a kind of haze of sorrow — and the human togetherness that it brings with it — over the whole week. I felt sorry, but I also felt prepared. Losing my mother meant seeing my most precious friend destroyed by a disease. It also meant the restructuring of my entire emotional life. I no longer shy away from what is painful. In fact, I embrace the opportunity to let it be here with us. On Monday night, I found myself writing a song which began:
I can’t remember who I wanted to send flowers to / Someone I love in the corner of the bar / My friends blend together / Like a choir of voices calling for me now.
It’s funny, because I can’t remember the last time I wrote a song like this. For close to ten years, the main inspiration for my songs has been infatuation and desire. Writing songs is my chance to play out fantasies that I don’t act on in real life. After my mom died, the need for this space only grew. When you spend a lot of your time swimming around in pain and loss, you’re grasping for an escape, for something — anything — that doesn’t hurt.
Soon — on April 6 — it will be a year since she died. Which I can hardly wrap my head around.
But here I am, still doing my meditation practice, wondering just how much I’ve been changed. I’ve started to do some of what the Buddhists call the ‘heart practices,’ where you practice things like self-compassion, loving kindness, and forgiveness. Tara Brach described the loving kindness meditations as “de-armoring” the heart. (According to the copious tears that accompany my attempts at these meditations, she is right.) And I can’t help but think that the heart practices are what led me to the song about my friends.
Nearly eleven months since mom’s death, I’m beginning to reflect on what my friends have given me. And I’m humbled. I remember knocking on Nick’s door after a frigid walk from the bus; laughing and catching up with him as we set up for band practice. And sitting with Aimee at the Edgewater Lounge, talking, listening. And laughing at my friend Tami’s impression of her late grandmother. And huddling around my violin making weird sounds with Jenna. And then there are those relationships which are bigger than friendship, but which still include it: my father, husband, siblings, grandparents. Smiling to myself at all the funny things Tyler says. Learning that I can call my Dad crying or laughing.
It has started to become clear to me how essential my friends are to me, and how blessed I am by their presence along this path. Friends are like angels that work both ways — sometimes holding my hand, sometimes letting me hold theirs.
Since Mom died, I’ve been searching high and low for someone who can give me a shred of what she gave me. I’ve been searching my surroundings for love, for humor, for support, for wisdom, for constancy, for unconditional love. And I’ve been looking for it among my friends and loved ones. Not one of them can ever replace my mother. But together, I think they may be the reason I have survived.