It has been almost one month since Carrie died. I have wanted to post things, but I find myself unable to do it. I know this post needs to come first before I can move on to talk about anything else, but I just haven’t been ready until now. But before I can write anything else that is real, and honest, I have to write this.
Tonight, Carrie’s best friend, Sam, sent a message to a few of us who loved her best, and we just got to say things to each other that we can’t really share with anyone else. Mind you, I have met exactly one of these women, ever, at the funeral, and we spoke for mere minutes. She was comforting and calming and just very earth mama, you know? I, on the other hand, was an awkward mess. Because I just am. The point is, that through our shared grief, we have bonded, me and these women I don’t really know, but I am thankful for them. And now, I can face this post.
I was planning to visit Carrie on a Monday. The Thursday before, I was making arrangements, figuring out who would drop off and pick up my son and doing all of those little logistical things that needed to be done. I was writing about Carrie. The news that her cancer was terminal had come shortly before, so I was making it my mission to write memories down for her girls. I went to bed around two, and my phone rang at 3:30. It was Carrie’s husband, telling me that if I waited until Monday, I would probably be too late. He told me he would buy me a plane ticket or put gas in my car, but to come, just come. This man, who was facing all he was, offering to help me. I pulled out of my driveway as the sun was rising to make the four hour drive to Carrie. I prayed a lot. Mostly for Carrie and her family, but I asked for strength for myself a lot, too. When I was just minutes from her house, I made a quick stop and I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I can face this.” And that small, still voice said, “YOU are facing this? No, my love. Carrie is. You don’t have to face anything. You get the privilege of being one of those people she wanted to see, so honor that.” It was like walking through a muddy creek bottom, but my feet took me back to my car and the rest of the way to her house.
Carrie is an only child, but her extended family is large, and they were all there for her. All of them beautiful, and crying gracefully into tissues with no visible streaks of mascara or puffy noses. (I am reminiscent of Claire Danes when I cry, so I was in awe.) You could feel the love in that family and in that house. They were so very gracious to allow me to be there, during a very private time, and I will always remember how gentle they were with me, in a time where they need comfort themselves.
Michael was there, coordinating and DOING things, all of the things. So kind, so thoughtful. Carrie’s mom and dad were there, keeping watch and care over her, protecting her and loving her. And there she was. Carrie. We talked. I held her hand. We got to remember silly things, and say big things and tell each other we loved each other, which is, after all, the biggest thing there is to say to anyone, ever. I will consider that day one of the biggest blessings of my life for the rest of my life, no matter how long or short it may be. To see that kind of strength and grace, to know she wanted me there when she had such precious little time …
She died the next day. I spoke at her funeral the next week. I was in what I like to call my politician’s wife’s dress, feeling stiff and wrong, my dad by my side. He held my hand, and I will forever be glad he was there, lending me strength. See, he loved Carrie, too. I got through my speech by meeting his eyes, and seeing her family there, knowing that, again, the hard part wasn’t mine.
As the family stood to leave, Carrie’s oldest daughter turned and, for a moment, when I saw her, all of the breath was sucked out of my lungs. Because it was her. It was my friend, just as she was when I met her. She might have been walking down the hall to meet me after school. The moment passed quickly – I don’t think my dad even realized I paused – but for just one minute, I saw that little girl who I spent so much of my childhood with, right there in front of me.
I have had moments since that have given me that breathless feeling. My grief can catch me unaware sometimes, like the day I was in the ice cream shop with my son, and the song, “When I get Where I’m Going” came on the radio. As a rule, I am not a country music fan, but I do make an exception for Brad Paisley, so I knew the song. The line about matching his granddaddy step for step always makes me cry because I pray for that opportunity one day, too, but I was not prepared for what would happen as I sat on a sticky white couch with my cup of mango sorbet. The effect was almost immediate. I sat there with tears silently rolling down my face, hoping my son wouldn’t notice and be alarmed. Other days, it is there with me, always tugging at the edges of my brain. It is persistent, my inner voice whispering, “Carrie, Carrie, Carrie,” to me all day long. And, sometimes, it is little things that affect me, when they shouldn’t. Carrie is still the first person listed on my “favorites” list on Facebook, and there are days it pains me to see her face popping up, a constant reminder of the loss. But the day I thought she had, somehow, been taken off of that list, I panicked that I wouldn’t see her face in that familiar spot several times a day. I frantically tried to MAKE IT COME BACK, until it did, just a funny little Facebook glitch.
Sometimes I think if I could just explain to someone, they would realize a mistake has been made and correct it. Because this just isn’t logical, can’t everyone see that? Carrie was supposed to be a grandmother – the kind who sneaks you extra Christmas cookies and has a great lap for sitting in when you want her to read a book or want a quiet place for comfort. She was supposed to celebrate milestone anniversaries with Michael and dance so hard at her daughters’ weddings, that she, oh, I don’t know, blew out a knee, just like she did at the homecoming dance our junior year of high school. She was supposed to sit with me and make me laugh so hard I cried, and tell me truths that only dear friends can tell you. She was supposed to do so much more. She was supposed to teach her girls to do so much and be so much.
Of course, as a Southern woman, a million lines from “Steel Magnolias” have been running through my mind through all of this. I had to stop myself from telling people I didn’t know how their insides were holding up, but their hair looked fantastic. I actually did offer, many times to “fix something that freezes beautifully.” I also keep thinking of Annelle’s speech about how Shelby wanted to take care of people, but her little body just wouldn’t let her so she became an angel. It rings true. But so does Sally Field’s next line, “Well, I want her here.” Selfish, I know, but there it is.
A dear friend of mine and Carrie’s said, after her death, that we are all broken now, but she is healed, and that seems like a pretty fair trade. He is right. He is so right. Many people don’t get to experience a person who lives and loves quite like Carrie did. How very blessed I am that I got to call her my friend.
“Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.”
– William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude- (Yep. Totally got this from the beginning of “Deathly Hallows.”)