Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On friendship

Who can say exactly what it is that creates a friendship? Who can identify the exact moment a connection is formed? Who can pinpoint the moment their entire life is changed because they made a friend?

I suppose there are people who can identify those moments in their lives. That instant spark of kinship, that moment when you realize you are experiencing something magical.

I didn't have that with Kris. I remember singing "Happy Birthday" to a beautiful blonde on the bus to Brasilia. It was June 29, 1987. We were exchange students embarking on a summer of exploration, discovery and adventure. It was an amazing summer, one in which I learned a lot about myself, met many people I liked and admired, and made one friend who made a profound difference in the way I look at the world.

As we spent time together that summer, I first saw myself in Kris, and I relished our same-ness. We were midwestern girls, brought up in small towns. We were both probably a little too smart for our own good, and we knew just how smart we were. We were bold -- after all, it's not every day girls like us left our small towns for exotic locales like Brazil -- and we were going places. For sure.

We both craved something more than the life we had ... something exciting, something where we felt more alive, something where we made things happen instead of watching from the sidelines.

And even our differences complemented each other -- she loved theater and fine arts, I loved books and literature. We were two sides of the same coin. Okay, except for politics -- I love the political process and she was thoroughly bored and annoyed by the whole concept. LOL

As we grew up, we followed very different paths. Kris pursued her big-city dreams as a single career woman and I ended up a stay-at-home mom. There was never a moment when we didn't honor each other's choices, though. We talked about my living vicariously through her when I was mired in toddler paraphernelia and dirty diapers ... and she sometimes confessed that she envied my relationship with my wonderful husband, who loved her as much as I did.

She was "Auntie Kris" to my kids and the love and care and generosity she showed them was immense. She once spent a long weekend at our home. Our eldest son was not quite 2 then, and she read, "The Monster at the End of this Book" again and again to him. In Grover's voice. I have no idea what she had to do to repair her voice after that, but I do know what it meant to me that she would spend that time with him and how very much he loves and misses her today.

On the whole, though, we were both happy with our paths and we experienced the same daily ups and downs that everyone has until her diagnosis in 2007.

It was so hard for her to ask for help, and I wanted so desperately to do something, but I waited, hoping that she knew my offers were genuine.

When the call came, I said I would come, without hesitation. I made the arrangements to stay as long as I could, and left my husband and kids at home.

Those were the hardest days of my life. It was so hard to accept the situation; the pain, the frustration, the thousand indignities that made up each day for her.

And yet.

They were good days, too. Days when I cried and she cried with me. Nights when we lay on her bed and talked. Moments of grace amid tremendous suffering.

Kris, you were my friend and sister. You will forever hold a place in my heart and in the hearts of my family. In asking me to come to you, you gave me a wonderful gift -- the chance to DO something. I know you felt it was my gift to you, but in reality, it was the other way around: in asking me to help you, you gave me some closure, some peace, some measure of comfort -- and you gave me your friends.

I always knew you had surrounded yourself with remarkable and amazing people, and I counted myself lucky to know some of them through you.

But now I claim them as my friends. These are people with whom I share an incredible bond. They showed me tremendous kindness and generosity in the face of their own grief and pain. They held me up, they encouraged me, they cared for me as they did you.

So I am sad that you are no longer here for me to talk to, to encourage and guide my kids, to do the teaching that fed your soul, but I am grateful that in leaving you gave me the gift of being a friend to you and the gift of turning your friends into mine.

You are an amazing spirit, Kris. Your light was so bright in life -- and even now it shines. And I know it always will.


  1. Jennifer, as usual you have a beautiful way with words. I'm sorry that you have to express them in so much grief, but the love you express for your friend moved me to tears. My heart goes out to you, your family and hers. I'm so sorry you lost such a special friend.

  2. I wish I could have met her....your words talk about her so brillantly.

  3. Wow, you sound like you lost a strong friend. But as long as your memories are strong, no one is ever truly gone.