I'm in the middle of reading "The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want". In a section called "A Program for Lasting Happiness" the author cites a University of Pennsylvania study where a group of severly depressed people were instructed to recall and write down three good things that happened every day. Within fifteen days their depressions lifted from "severely depressed" to "mildly to moderately depressed" and 94 percent of them experienced relief. Now, I wouldn't classify myself as depressed, but I liked the idea. So, I've been experimenting with writing down three things I'm grateful at the end of most days. The folks at iamgrateful.com have been nice enough to set up a free gratitude journal which works great for this purpose. Today I wanted to share my gratitude to one of my closest and dearest friends who, five years ago this week, died unexpectedly.
On a normal evening in April 2007 she changed her clothes, grabbed her yoga mat, kissed her husband and daughter (not even two) goodbye, and went to the local gym. While in class, she suffered a brain anuerism and died. No symptoms. No warning. I'll never forget getting the call from her husband. I had just moved to a new state the week before. I was in New York for a meeting. It was early there, around 7 AM. When I saw the phone ring, knowing it was 4 AM in California, I was already worried. Nothing good was going to come of picking up the phone. The words out of his mouth? "We've lost [her]".
I was on a plane within an hour and a half, and at the house within seven. While it was horrible those first few days, it was mostly surreal. There was so much to be done. People to call, arrangements to be made. The days went by quickly, but the evenings...oh, the evenings. After her daughter was put to bed and the bustle of the house died down, her husband and I would sit and talk. Or not talk. Or cry.
I had the opportunity to speak at her funeral. I'll never know if I actually said the things in my speech I'd written down. It was a blur. I went and found what I'd written for the occasion...
"When I was thinking of what I might want to say to everyone here today, I kept coming back to the same thoughts. That the person I really wanted to talk to was [her].
- I wanted to tell her that I read a really great book last month that she should consider for book club.
- I wanted to tell her that I started looking into camping trips in the Midwest and wished she could drag the motorhome out there to come visit.
- I wanted to tell her that I watched Grey’s Anatomy last week and laugh about how we consistently cried at Thursday night’s episodes.
- I wanted to tell her that I finally got around to using my crockpot, but that I still can’t figure out how she just throws meals together with ease.
- I wanted to tell her that the Macy’s gift certificate I bought her for her birthday better have been spent on her, and not on someone else, even tough I know that’s what she would have done anyway.
- I wanted to tell her I loved the pictures she sent over of her beautiful daughter.
- I wanted to tell her she was an amazing mother.
- I wanted to tell her that I loved her.
- I wanted to tell her that I missed her.
Of all the things I could stand up here and say, what I most wanted to convey was how thankful I am to have known her. She’s changed me in ways I can’t even describe. And I know there are a lot of people here that know what I’m talking about. No matter who you are, there was always something to admire about her. And when I look around, I continue to be thankful to have met so many of you because of her. There is no doubt that the world will be worse off without her. But we are all better people for having known her."
I finished off with a quote that I had found in the days after she died:
If I never met you, I wouldn't like you. If I didn't like you, I wouldn't love you. If I didn't love you, I wouldn't miss you. But I did, I do, and I will.
Her loss affected me profoundly. It reminded me that I was strong, but that being strong doesn't mean I can't be weak. It reminded me that life is short, but not so short that you shouldn't plan for your future. It reminded me that losing someone you love is incredibly painful, but not so painful that you shouldn't love freely and fully. It reminded me that being there without being asked to is an essential part of friendship, but being there for others doesn't mean I can't also be there for myself.
This week I will try to remind myself of these lessons, and to be grateful. Grateful that I am alive. Grateful that I am successful. Grateful that I am strong. Grateful that I am independent. Grateful that I'm letting myself feel without fear. Grateful that I am capable of loving. Grateful that I am capable of being loved. And grateful that, even in death, she's still reminding me of all there is in this life.