This past year I joined a Facebook group for spouses/partners who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While I have this incredibly supportive network of family and friends who are always there for me, our loss is different. They lost a beloved son, a son-in-law, a brother, an uncle, or a friend. In a lot of cases, Jay was someone whom they’d known most of his life if not all, or for some, they’d known him all of theirs. Whereas, I lost a husband – my best friend, my favorite person, my raison d’ê·tre. And while the losses are equally tragic, they’re also very different. I have never lost a child or a brother or a good friend to suicide. They have never lost a husband to suicide.
In this group I’ve found a comfortable space where every member has experienced a similar tragedy. Just reading their words or posting mine has helped me put my grief in perspective and it has helped me realize that the ways I feel and think aren’t particularly uncommon – that I’m not alone in the thoughts/feelings that I have. It’s a safe place where I can share my best and worst thoughts, where I can celebrate what was but still show how deeply my scars run. It’s a place where I don’t have to lay out a backstory or offer-up a lot of explanation – a place where the members just get “it”. They inspire me. They break my heart. They laugh, cry, and share their stories – the good and the bad. It’s a group no one wants to belong to and one we’re glad exists.
Occasionally a member will post a photo of a meaningful momento – something they keep close to remind them of their loved one, and that’s what inspired my post today. (This is the post I mentioned I was struggling with over the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out how to sink my teeth into what I wanted to say. So, here we go!)
Before Christmas, one of the members shared a photo of a bracelet she wears. It’s fairly simple – a square on its end divided into quarters with two lines crossing it. In each quadrant is a letter – from left to right the letters represent one set of initials, from top to bottom represent the letters represent another person’s set of initials. Let me just show you, it’ll be easier:
When I saw it, I knew immediately I wanted one – truly a no-brainer.
I immediately went to the company’s website, and that’s where I read their description: “Who crossed your path and changed your life forever? Cross your initials with the initials of the person who set you in a new direction and stay connected wherever you may wander.” I paused. So many people have crossed my path and changed my life forever – more than Jay – people who had an equally strong hand in righting my course in this life (or at least made small, but significant course adjustments). I suddenly pictured dozens of bracelets running down my wrists, filled with their initials: JU, AA, AB, AG, DP, HB, JB, JH, JJ, JK, JS, KT…. (the list goes on). The imagined bracelets celebrated everyone who not only had an impact on the course my life has taken, but have greatly influenced the person I am today. People who believed in me. People who took chances on me, opened doors and presented me with new opportunities both personally and professionally. People who taught me my self-worth (hrmmm “…taught me…” makes it sound as though it’s in my past. I should change that to”…continue to try to teach me and get frustrated, slap their forehead, sigh, and maybe even cry a bit in regard to my seemingly hard-headedness in regard to…”) Most of my good friends, would tell you this is an area they’d greatly love to see me improve upon. Hey, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t challenging. My job is to keep them busy and sighing. You’re welcome, friends!
Those people shaped the me that you have now. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. (Now you know who to blame. 🙂 )
Of course, wearing that many bracelets seemed a tiny bit ridiculous, so I looked at the company’s other offerings. There I discovered another type of bracelet – one which displays the latitude and longitude of the place you met someone. My first reaction was, “that’s ridiculous! I have no idea where I met my friends.” Then I thought about it, and realized that with rare exception I could actually pin-point the location of our meeting. From a particular room in a house to a desk in a classroom to an office or a meeting room. Not only did I know where I met them, I remember the moment – the formal introductions, the stolen glances across a living room, the picnic table on a Thanksgiving Day – all photos sitting in my memory I can easily leaf through – all with very specific locations. My imagined bracelets doubled and now gracefully hung from two wrists.
With some I remember there being this immediate connection – a moment when I just knew, “this person is part of my tribe.” Aside: one of my friends once went completely slack-jawed after she’d introduced me to her friend. In a matter of hours we had our arms around each other, giving each other huge hugs. Typically I’m the hugest fan of strangers touching me – even some acquaintances, which this friend was quite aware of, but hey I’d found one of my people out in the wild, I had to hug them because I didn’t realize that, even though I didn’t know them before, I really missed them and needed that hug.
Of course, some of those first meetings didn’t go quite as well (definitely zero hugging). They were more of the, “I think I’m going to sucker punch this jerk and see if they’ll make fun squeaky ouch noises?” variety. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, though I have since slugged almost all of them in the shoulder more than once. Hey, they can’t help being them, and I can’t help being me.
And there were those in the middle. People who were this constant presence in my life. People who didn’t elicit that visceral “OMG! I adore you!” or the “OMG! I cannot stand you!!” reaction. These people just appeared beside me, and we were simply friends.
And all of these friends, no matter how we met, would end up becoming essential to my story influencing so many aspects of my life from my thoughts, my tastes, and my tolerances.
Recently, an old friend made a fairly simple observation. I was in the process of making a choice, and then explaining the “why” behind that choice when they said, “you probably got that from me.” And I’m pretty sure they were right. Then I realized it wasn’t just that single thing I’d taken from them, or from others – I’ve taken so much more. In fact, the more I thought about it and the more I think about it, I recognize that not only did people cross my path, but I carry many of them with me every single day. It’s in the way I smile, my facial expressions that aren’t easily concealed, my wit, the way I write, the choices I make when I park, the music I enjoy, the way I laugh, the way I sneeze, or the way I speak when I’m expressing an idea emphatically. Their traits, their quirks, their habits have been added to my own and I’ve become this incredible mosaic of all the people who have touched my life.
After thinking about all of this, it was hard not to ask for those bracelets for my birthday. I was only held back by the uncertainty of how people would perceive me crossing their initials with mine and wearing them around. I imagined incredibly awkward conversations. “Ummm Beth, we’re not going steady.” While I looked completely surprised, “wait, we’re not???” So, I suppose I’m content to wear them in my head and on my heart, for now.
I’ll wrap everything up with this final piece.
I’m not sure how you feel about the TV show This is Us, but a recent bit of dialog really stuck with me (and it’s the theme for this season):
It’s so strange, isn’t it? How just like that a complete stranger can become such a big part of your story. It’s actually kind of terrifying, y’know? How a single cross with one person you’ve never met can change everything.This is Us, Season 4, Episode 1 Strangers
I look forward to 2020, to a year which includes a new job, being on a board with new people, traveling to new cities and starting a new personal project. I know with absolute certainty that my path will cross with many people, and I look forward to that next person who becomes a significant part of my story, to that friendship, and seeing the new/unexpected (and hopefully welcome) directions we go – adding and changing the mosaic that is me.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year.