I read a lot of grief books. That’s obvious from my Goodreads profile. What might seem an unhealthy obsession to some, could be explained as research for the book proposal I’ve been working on, or as part of my training in bereavement to help others. I’ll be teaching an expressive writing through healing seminar at a Heal Your Grief retreat I’m coordinating in Dubuque for October. So reading about journaling and other ways of healing just makes sense.
My latest read was Alan D. Wolfelt‘s When Your Soulmate Dies: A Guide to Healing Through Heroic Mourning. When I read this, I thought of my friend Mary:
“To be truly helpful, the people in your support system must appreciate the impact this death has had on you. They must understand that in order to heal, you must be allowed-even encouraged- to mourn long after the death. And they must encourage you to see mourning not as an enemy to be vanquished but as a necessity to be experienced as a result of having loved.” (page 126)
Mary has been that support. Mary is the friend who visited once a month, every month, for eighteen months, treated me to lunch, and sat and listened, asking questions no one else dared ask. She has written countless letters of understanding, never complaining about my need to vent in my return letters.
I would have loved to have read this book shortly after David died. I think it would have been a tremendous help. Of course, if I was reading it then, my comments wouldn’t be included in it, would they?
“I’ve notice that about one-third of the people in our lives are capable of showing up with a loving heart and a ministry of presence. Another third can’t really help in this way but don’t hurt us either. And the final third are often toxic and harmful to our healing. They may tell us to quit mourning or declare that we’re doing it wrong.” page 84 of Wolfelt’s book
I count Mary in that first group of people. Unfortunately, I’ve also had experience with those who fall in that third group. Wolfelt’s wise advice is to steer clear of them.
Wolfelt discovered that it isn’t just spouses that can be soulmates. Some of the people he interviewed had lost a child, mother, sibling, or friend that was a “soul mate.” Yes, a friend. If we are lucky, we have experienced the kind of friendship that means our very souls have connected. We feel it immediately. For those who have read our book, you will know that for most of my adult life I didn’t experience many friendships outside of sisters and Mary. Almost as if loss broke my heart wide open, I have since accumulated many female (and male) friends, and there have been those I’ve connected with on a soul level. I can hardly wait until the group of people I have hand-picked for the “Heal Your Grief” retreat are in one room together, because each of them is that kind of friend. What happens when we all congregate under one roof, these chosen people? Do sparks crackle in the air above our heads? Angels sing? I can hardly wait to find out.
I am well aware that in the process of learning what it is to establish friendships, I have also opened myself up for further grief.
“I’m scared to get too close to him,” I confided. “Because of his age.”
I didn’t have to say any more. Mary knew what I meant. I didn’t want to face the possibility of a friend dying. The death of my husband was too recent, and I was raw with grief.
But it was too late. I already loved Cecil Murphey. The fact that I can admit as much shows just how far I have come in the friendship department. I love Shelly Beach, Wanda Sanchez, and dozens of other women I have met through Christian Writers conferences. Then there’s my Bible-study family. I love each and every one of them.
“I think that must be what heaven is like,” my daughter Elizabeth commented after one of our more animated studies when we’d laughed until we were nearly in tears.”- from “Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink,” page 124.
I don’t want to lose any of my friends. They are all too dear to me. Despite how much I love them, I don’t expect the grief to be the same as that when I lost David.
Have I dared to contemplate what it would be like to lose Mary? As briefly as possible. From our book,on page 184.
“Mary is more like me than I realized,” I told my daughter Elizabeth on the phone.
“Maybe if Jim dies someday, you and Mary could live together,” was her reply.
Without thinking, I’d blurted out in horror, “Oh, no, she’d drive me crazy!” Mary laughed when I confessed this transgression one day at my brother’s house.
“We’re too much alike,” she agreed.
“Can you even imagine not writing each other?” I asked then. I saw tears well up in her eyes.
Later on the way home, I let myself briefly consider a life without Mary’s letters.
I couldn’t bear it.