Love, Friendship, and Grief

Today a dear friend called to tell me he lost his husband. I hadn’t spoken to him in a few years, though we emailed on occasion and I followed his career.  I was shocked and saddened to hear about his loss and I feel privileged beyond describing to have been on the receiving end of that call.

He is one of those people who defined who I am. He was a part of shaping my worldview and my understanding of myself. Our lives intersected in college and we wound up wrapped around each other in a way that ran so deep we never quite separated. He is on my short list—when something amazing happens—when the shit hits the fan.

I don’t call him for the small stuff, like, getting married or having a baby. It’s the big things that make me reach for the phone or the keyboard to find him. When I realized my marriage had to end or it would cost me my soul. When one of my children went through a devastating time and wound up in the hospital. Those are the times I reached out for George.

I called him when I finished my first novel and he read it. He’s a talented director with some amazing films under his belt. He knows a good story. He read my first effort and didn’t throw it away or laugh out loud. He told me to find a group that could help me. He supported me in continuing to work on the craft of writing and shared with me his opinion of the parts of the novel he found engaging and worth reading. In other words, he was one of the kindest, best friends I had.

Not until several years later when I was on my fourth novel, did I send him another story. The novel I sent for his opinion and his advice had been ripped to shreds by two critique groups and an editor. When I sent it, I apologized for the first.  It wasn’t until I learned what was good that I understood how devastating bad the first novel was and how gracious he had been in supporting my budding writing career. It was a gift, his acceptance of me and my work.

That most amazing gift, many years after we first met, solidified his honored place in my life. Today he gave me another poignant gift. He asked me, not to come running, he had people for that, but to reach out to him in a month, in two months when the flowers had died and the meals lovingly prepared for George and his son were long since enjoyed. He asked me to come and find him then, to make sure he is still afloat. To check that he is okay and that he has what he needs.

He asked me to help him understand what to do for his son who is close to the same age my younger sister was when our father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Today reminds me of that day in May many years ago when my world came crashing down with a phone call at dawn.

I didn’t call George that day. I didn’t tell him what had happened. It wasn’t until two weeks later when I had returned to school to finish spring quarter of my junior year in college that he found me. We were walking in opposite directions down a long underground passage in the administration building at our university. He was probably fifty yards away, but I knew his walk, his form, his heart. I needed him, and he appeared. He stopped what he was doing and we got a coffee. I couldn’t taste it, I couldn’t taste anything the shock of the loss was so intense, but he was there. Present when I needed him.

It is my hope that I can return the favor now, though it breaks my heart I need to. I would love to tell him that it will be okay, that time will heal, but I won’t lie. Time will separate George and his son from the most intense pain, but it will never go away. Their grief will rise and scream at odd, unexpected times, like when the light hits a tree in a certain way, or when the sounds of the city remind them of the time Before. It will reach through them when they expect it too, on holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.

Their grief will become a golden thread weaving through their lives from this day forward, touching everything and making it more beautiful. When George loves again, he will lean on the strength and joy of the love he lost. As his son grows and becomes a man, George will find his husband in their son and both father and son will be glad he is there—A father, a husband, a friend.

I am honored and privileged to be invited on this most precious and precarious journey with my friend. I will walk a pace behind because it is his path to forge, but I will be close by to make a bridge when the path is too hard or too lonely. It is the least I can do for someone I love.