I first met her when I moved to a new town, got involved with a new community. Her son was hospitalized as a raging fever revealed the absence of a spleen, a situation ultimately fatal. Maryann’s first son, Sean, gone at nine months.
The next few years were a blur of babies, as we each had three boys, matching in ages and to a degree, temperament. It was an unexpected development for me, as was our deep involvement in the spiritual community that had opened their hearts widely to us. I never expected to marry, let alone have babies, or go to church or PTA or any of the other activities that quickly filled our hearts and our calendars. But we had already run the games out on our own terms and years on the streets and in addiction made this alternative reality pretty attractive. Very shiny. We were all in.
Feeling such a stranger in a strange land made my friendship with Maryann all the more meaningful to me. In one week I turned thirty, moved to a new town, quit my longtime job and had my first child. It was like being catapulted to an alternative universe, and I’m sure I left scratch marks on the walls, kicking and screaming my way in. Motherhood was an unexpected mystery to me and much of it unfolded through Maryann: nursing, diapers, surviving without sleep….being alone with babies and toddlers for days… A drastic change of course, but our friendship eased me in. With her I could always vent, question, dream…..wonder about so much. My love language is laughter and we did much of it, always talking about things that were real. Keeping things hidden wasn’t our style, and I don’t know if I’d have made it through those years as freely as I did without her.
I went on to have one more baby, a girl, and we both raised our kids in a bubble that seemed to promise a certain future. It took me a while to recognize it but there was much misunderstanding in our expectations. Speaking for myself, I thought if I tried to raise my kids in an affectionate home of love and laughter they’d embrace our values and morality. Simplistic, I know now, but it was the dream that we lived in and lived for. Those early years were some of my happiest; Maryann’s happiness was tempered by the loss of Sean, of course. The loss of a child doesn’t preclude happiness. It does change it, but many of us who have traversed the path of deepest grief reach a new revelation of how to live, and for some it does include joy, or a different version of it. I expected to raise and deliver happy, healthy, helpful citizens to the world.
I often wonder about the various factors that may have played a role in the alternative version of our dreams that ultimately played out. In my family’s story we struggled with addiction issues always; addiction has always been present in my life in one form or another. But that’s not at all the whole story; some of our kids were drawn into the lifestyle, others were completely disinterested. And it is the same in my family of origin. Cruelly random, seemingly. Life isn’t a simple morality tale in black and white. Human complexities plus culture plus circumstances plus….well, you get the idea. Aim in a direction that feels right and hope for the best.
It was my turn next; we lost Zack five and a half years ago. Talk about random; he had a seizure and asphyxiated on his vomit, sleeping on his back. Interestingly, our house was just opened after all the post Sandy repairs, so no furniture yet. Zack’s mattress lay on the new carpet, he hadn’t had time yet to get a bed frame. If he had would his girlfriend have heard the bed shaking and woken him? I say it again: no simple answers. But Maryann and her family were in my house for days, just showing support with their presence.
Three years later, Mare’s turn again when she lost her oldest remaining son David. Absolutely heartbreaking, and she wasn’t even my only close friend to lose more than one. And my heart ached from far away.
I’m driving back to Florida now after yet another cruel surprise for my dear friend. When her third son, beautiful Danny, was taken we drove up to sit beside them. It’s all you can do. After the service a bunch of us took them out, and as I looked at the long table of old friends I realized none of us had been spared. Not all had children who died but all knew the horrendous pain of watching their kids blow up their own lives. And in no small measures. Maybe it’s why we were all gathered, unconsciously. Our dreams have been severely challenged. We’ve had to re-examine our hopes, our own hearts, in the toughest ways. But we still had love, and there was much laughter at the table that night.
I love so many of the 12 step tag lines. Keep it simple, stupid. One day at a time. So much wisdom in these simple yet revolutionary concepts. Our dreams of a beautiful future for us and our children…they’ve been radically transfigured. We’ve had to surrender the idea of simple equations and explanations. We’ve had to learn to never compare; the entryway to endless pain and frustration. We’ve had to redefine happiness…family….future. For the worst reasons. But still….one of my sweet friends at the table that night told me today she’s found friends to be her new understanding of family. I’m so glad she’s able to grasp that silver lining. I’m so grateful that 36 years ago I became friendly with the funny girl who lived across the street. She knew sorrow deeply but she never forgot how to laugh. She never quit living…hoping…expecting goodness. I’m still standing with you, Mare. Counting it an honor of the highest order. 💛