Overdue Grief

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I was in sixth grade when my best friend’s mother died.

After months and months of treatments and transplants for leukemia, she had gone into remission. The luminescent Cheryl, at whose house I watched Fried Green Tomatoes and learned to play penny poker. Her daughter–also Jessie–was my constant companion from the time we moved to Timbercreek Court. I remember meeting her when one of our homes was still being built. They sat next door to one another, separated only by a large oak tree.

I don’t remember too much about Cheryl, except for her willowy blonde hair and calming presence. She was willing to let us try experiments in the kitchen or seclude ourselves in a bedroom with Sonic the Hedgehog.

As I can remember, she played a tune on a recorder infected by a sick someone. The cancer came back upon her weakened body.

I will never forget standing in our kitchen in Richmond. We were in the corner by the microwave. My mom turned to me and barely holding it together, said, “It’s time for the big cry. Cheryl’s dead.”

I had the big cry. And months of feeling lost, of not knowing what to say to my very best friend. I didn’t know what it was like to lose my mother.

Gradually, the other Jessie flew away from my life. She moved in with her aunt and uncle in another school district. We visited when she came to stay with her dad, but her house was full of smoke and go-carts and other women now, and it left me smelling disgusting and with a heavy heart.

I was always heart-sick that I didn’t know the right words.

When my Michelle‘s mom died this past May of ovarian cancer, the same feelings washed over me. Why is it that when someone needs you the most you can’t seem to eke out any words? I felt like the most useless friend on the planet. I still didn’t know what it was like and I had nothing to offer. Not being able to see her in person, I couldn’t even share a hug and cry with her.

I am sorry, friends.

Mama's Losin' It

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16 thoughts on “Overdue Grief

  1. Hi- I'm visiting from Mama Kat's. I know this doesn't help much but you are not alone with those feelings. My mom was going through her first round of chemo. A family friend, reached out to give support. Her mother called to do the same. I couldn't respond, my grief was paralyzing. I always felt guilty. About a year after my mother finished her treatment, my friend's mother started to feel a little tickle in her throat. It was lung cancer. I reached out and apologized for not being able to answer the first time around, and this time, my friend couldn't respond. Her mom died three months later. Loss isolates.

  2. I'm also visiting from MamaKat's. It is impossible to say the right words to someone who's going through that kind of grief. But I am certain that your very presence was the thing both friends needed, and you gave that.

    Beautiful story.

  3. My mother passed when I was 13 (going into 8th grade). My best friend didn't know how to handle it either and was just there for me to be a friend and let me laugh and cry at the same time. Even though it wasn't a lot, I am so thankful I had my friend there with me after my mom passed. I think anyone would be greatful just to have an open ear to listen with and shoulder to cry upon after a loved one has passed on. It never does get easier, like they say it does. Some times it gets harder.

  4. What a great post. I've also had difficulty trying to find the right words to say during times of grief. What I've learned over the years is that it's not what you say that really matters. Being there for the grieving friend is what's most important. It's your presence that provides comfort. If you're not in a position where you can be physically present, your time and ability to just listen would be appreciated as well.

    Stopping by from Mama Kat's. I really enjoyed your articl. I hope you'll stop by and read mine when you have some time. Have a great day.

    Kristi, Live and Love…Out Loud

  5. What a trying thing to go through as a young girl. How hard it must have been to lose your friend's mom through death and then and then lose that close friend through separation. I am confident that you provided more comfort than you could know by simply being there and showing your compassion.

    Stopping by from MamaKats, enjoyed the read.

  6. That's so hard. I will say, though, as one who's lost her mother-in-law that friends who were just THERE meant the most. In times of the deepest grief, I don't think anyone has the right words. I don't think there ARE right words.

  7. My Jessie's name was Lori. And I still lay awake at night and wish I had known what to say. I think we can't find the words because there are no words. No words good enough, strong enough, comforting enough. It's heartbreaking.

  8. Sometimes just being there is all you can say. Sometimes you don't have to say anything because that just makes it more awkward. And then it's okay to just sit- or write a blog post years later. Because somewhere, she knows you cared.

  9. Oh Jessie, so great of you to share … i know lots of us can relate!! The truth is many of us as adults don't even know what to say, so that's way too much pressure for a young girl! And just like the others, I totally agree that just being there means the world!! Because truthfully most of the times, we say the wrong thing anyways!! And unfortunately that's coming from the perspective of the one that's lost & the one that's tried to comfort!

  10. Oh Jessie, I'm the same way! I never feel like I have the right words, so I just don't say anything. 🙁

  11. We've had 2 good friends lose parents over the past 18 months. It's so hard to know what to say to them when you haven't been in their shoes and all you want to do is make things better for them. Of course you can't. My best friend's mom has Alzeihmer's. As she loses more and more of her mind I just try to help my friend with every day things as much as I can. I can just be there, but what can I say when I haven't been through something like she has.

  12. My best friend lost her dad to cancer just a couple of years ago. I never knew what to say. "I'm sorry" seems grossly inadequate, yet nothing else seemed better.

    I found myself praying…praying that her favorite song would come on the radio…praying that something would unexpectedly make her laugh…praying that God would send a breeze her way that reminded her of Him…

    Sometimes…you pour your heart out in prayer to God but, with them, you just be there.

    "And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great." Job 2:13

  13. Death is very hard. And it's hard for most people to find words. So, do not feel that you need to apologize.
    After losing our daughter, Hannah, at birth. I wanted our friends to hear my memories about her. To let me say her name a hundred times. To talk about her smell, her long fingers, and stubby toes.
    Those that have lived more than 8 minutes on earth, have made memories. That we should celebrate & make legacy.
    But for those babies that are taken too soon, unfortunately their death defines them. However, I chose to look at it that the space between who my family is today, and who were when Hannah was born- forever defines Hannah and forever changed us. This space where perspective, love and joy live.
    Keep writing, and inspiring.

  14. Hi Jessie!
    It's your cousin Erin. This post popped up in my facebook and couldn't help but comment.

    You can never know what to say to someone who has suffered a close loss, even if you have suffered a similar loss. I lost my Mom when I was 18, and I will never say to another person, "I now how you feel," when they've lost a loved one… because I don't. I wasn't in their relationship. Just because I know how I felt when my Mom died, doesn't mean I know how someone else feels when their Mom dies.

    To agree with what everyone else has said, the friends who helped me that most were those who were present and let me cry on their shoulder without trying to say anything. They just let me grieve the way that I needed to. Knowing that they loved me was all that mattered.

    PS. I'm amazed at all of the cooking you do!

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