Holly brought her boyfriend, Rob, and her daughter, Samantha, to my house Thursday night on the anniversary of her sister’s death. Everyone was tired after a long day at work and a week of trepidation leading up to the one-year mark of my dear friend Krista’s passing.
Holly and I embraced and mentioned how tired we thought the other looked, which is actually shorthand for “You look like shit.” We exchanged knowing glances about what we’d each been through and smiled warmly.
I hurried my kids to bed and cleaned up in hyperdrive. Earlier, I had let my older child watch a movie, something I reserve for days where I feel like an empty sieve, utterly drained of energy, yet still leaking.
I had left a plate of dinner for Greg, which I always do for my husband, and suddenly I had a few more mouths to feed in my home, but it was actually a pleasure. I must have been channeling Krista, I thought. No matter how debilitated chemo left her, no matter how her husband’s selfish tirades deflated her, no matter the exhaustion from being the sole bread winner and performing like Supermom and doing all the little extras a person like her always did, she would still always get up to offer food, push away clean-up help, and welcome guests to linger, as if she hadn’t any other pressing matter to attend to.
When my husband and I were staying night after night at The Children’s Hospital immediately after our youngest was born – just four months before cancer overcame Krista – she brought us dinner after her chemotherapy. Against common sense, she had driven herself the hour-long trek to her weekly treatment, and then nauseous and weak, she stopped by to comfort us even though she had just had major abdominal surgery and was in constant pain and frequently vomiting.
A couple of months ago, I had returned to Krista’s Krista-less house to select a piece of cherished pottery her hands had made. Throwing pots was something Krista pined to do but her potter’s wheel had sat empty since she got sick, and basement shelves were piled with assorted cups and bowls waiting for glaze.
I was shocked by the state of her home. The gorgeous gardens she had so proudly maintained were dead, the brown lawn weeded over. Art was off the walls and scattered on the floor. Everything was unkempt and filthy. I didn’t want to touch any thing when I used the bathroom.
On the phone the day before, Krista’s husband had said I “was still in his good graces,” and he warned if I even mentioned Holly, he would “write me off too.”
He makes me want to wretch.
I suppose he is misdirecting rage over his wife’s death toward her remaining family, but the venom that he has for the sister whom Krista loved the most and who tirelessly took care of her sickens me. We can’t figure a real reason for his ill will, and I can’t bear to hear him rant about someone I’ve grown so devoted to during Krista’s illness, and now in her absence.
But I wanted to rescue some of Krista’s treasured things so I walked into her home and tried to block the noise coming from her husband’s mouth. It was crushing to learn that he and his child had thrown away her kiln and other possessions and let the house fall into disrepair. They were planning to get rid of everything they could, including the house, and move to California when Krista’s daughter graduates high school in three years. If only the girl understood that my friend had literally died to keep that house and those things and that lifestyle for her daughter.
Instead of selecting a single bowl or a vase, I crammed three boxes of pottery into my car with my heart breaking to know that it would have all gone to the landfill otherwise. I worry about the daughter, who reassures me she is fine, living without a mother to spare her from her father’s acrimony.
So a year to the day after my friend slipped away, her sister and I lovingly washed every piece of pottery my lovely Krista had created so long ago. As the dust washed down the drain, we found beautiful treasures in our hands.
It made my missing her raw again. I want my friend to come back. I want her to walk through my door and answer my phone call. I want her to join me at a yoga class. Like before.
Holly said that she actually talks to her sister a lot these days. She said she feels Krista’s presence, as in a caress on the back when her sister’s spirit drifts by. Holly urged me to talk to Krista, too. She tried to convince me that my friend is really still right here.
That feels like creepy hokus pokus to me. But maybe I’m still just wedded to mourning my loss. There’s been a lot of grief in my life this past year or so, and it’s too much to completely manage at once.
Weary and emotional, Holly, Rob, Samantha, Greg, and I packed up the clean pottery for Holly to take home and share with her other sibling, Lauren, and others.
I kept a blue speckled mug that I now enjoy my morning coffee in, a decorative plate, some cups, and a small pitcher. It sits in my kitchen holding a rose Holly brought for me that made me cry.
The flower is wilting now, and the heightened emotions that come with a mournful anniversary are diminishing, too. Life and its trials take their place at the front of my mind: My grandmother was just released from the hospital after emergency surgery. Collection agencies are calling. My children need winter coats. And on, and on.
I know I’m not altogether with it these days.
Between caring for my kids, squeezing too much work into too few hours, the constant rescheduling of therapies and doctors for my little boy on top of long-term sleep deprivation and too many responsibilities, I’ve been feeling weary. And teary.
My relationship with my husband is suffering so, and it pains me to think that I haven’t succeeded at learning anything from Krista’s fight, and from her loss. She did too much, took on too much responsibility, put caring for herself last, and allowed a broken relationship to slowly poison her.
A day ago, I accidentally dropped a pot lid on a spoon holder Krista had given me, and it broke in half. I immediately felt angry because I know my clumsiness came from moving too quickly to get too much done during a rare moment when both boys were napping. I was sad that something Krista had given me had shattered.
But then I noticed something that made me smile.
The spoon holder had words on it I don’t think I’d ever registered before. The fresh break had split apart the saying, “Be Happy.”
Perhaps Krista is right here after all. Perhaps she wants me to notice those words. Maybe she’s trying to tell me it will all be all right. Let it all go. Things break. We break.
Be happy, anyway.