celebrate & acknowledge: a tale of two birthdays


I found a giant box on my porch this Sunday morning when I was leaving for church. Which just means that I missed the UPS guy the day before, which just means that I’d once again spent most of a Saturday evening holed up in my house. (Oops? I'm good with it.) I set the box inside, and leaned it against my entertainment system. I knew what was in it and was also super late for church. (Oops? Also, good with it.)

Inside the box was a giant 16x20 canvas print of my Facebook profile picture, aka my last and favorite picture with Maggie, taken on the day we graduated from our Masters program.   Right now it’s propped up in my bedroom in my vanity chair, which means it’s one of the first things I look at when I wake up in the mornings. It’ll eventually hang in my home office room.

I’m sure Maggie would hate that there’s a 16x20 shrine to her in my house. I guess it would have been weird if I’d done that while we were still in grad school. But we’re not in school anymore, and she’s not here anymore, and so this is one of the little things in place to remember her. To remember all of it.

One of my greatest fears is that I’ll forget. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, writes in her book, Stitches about this very thing. About needing things to hang onto after our lives unravel. After we begin to face the fact that, as she puts it, “the insidious palace lie that we will get over crushing losses means that our emotional GPS can never find true north, as it is based on maps that no longer mention the most important places that we have been to.”

The picture, of me in the pink dress and Maggie in the blue dress, is from the last day I saw her. The last handwritten note that I have from her is hanging on my refrigerator. Our twin things: the pink Polo hat from the last selfie she tweeted me, the purple and blue Asics running shoes that I will buy stock in, the cream lace blouse that I will wear until the threads start to unravel and it gets armpit stains, as all good cream blouses eventually do over the years, pardon my realness.  

The print. The giant canvas print, all of these things say, as Anne puts it, “It was all true.”

Our birthdays were last week. Hers Wednesday, mine Thursday. I turned 24 and she would have turned 25 for the 8th year in row. I spent hers this year at a school counselor’s conference that the CollegeBoard put on. We started with a speech from Michelle Obama, about how school counseling is one of the most important jobs in the world, about how the kids needed us. I thought it was a fitting way to honor the best one I'd ever met. 

Our first birthday together was about a week after we’d met. I brought a cookie cake to our night class that had a giant green dinosaur on it. She was turning 30, or 25 for the 6th time, which she hated, and the next day was my birthday, which I hated, because I was in a brand new place with brand new people, and so it was one of our first real bonding moments. Sometimes that’s all it takes. A picnic, a dinosaur cookie cake, a mutual instant understanding of each other.

Which turned into countless car rides to the outlets in Blowing Rock to see what was on sale (which explains our duplicate everything). Which turned into eating breakfast at midnight with pancakes shaped like our initials. Which turned into nights watching basketball and life chats on my couch. Which turned into walks and good cries, which turned into her being one of the most important rocks in a season in which I almost left grad school, which turned into Maggie being Maggie—one of the people who helped me choose to stay, to fight for myself.   

It was a picnic and a cookie cake and then all of a sudden it was everything.

“It was all true.”

Part of me wants to be in denial about how important she was to me.
It’s the same part that’s angry about everything that’s happened.
It’s a part that I try hard to keep under control, because there’s a better way for me than denial and anger, even through those two do creep in.

There’s a store in Blowing Rock called Take Heart where I used to pick up little knick-knacks for my apartment, and now house. I don’t know how to explain the place other than to say that you feel like you’re at home when you walk in and that all the little knick-knacks and sweet ladies who work there make your heart settle and snuggle in, no matter what kind of day or life you've been having. It smells like peace in that place, I swear. Mags and I have a lot of “one of the same everything” from there, too.

It’s where I found these two little rocks. At the time I thought they’d just be fun little things that sit on my coffee table, but now they’re cornerstones for me.  I’m looking at them as I type this and they force me to remember that celebration and acknowledgement are two of the most important processes in my grief story, and two things that I can replace anger and denial with.

Celebration says, “oh she really was that wonderful.” Acknowledgement whispers, “and I’m going to miss her for the rest of my days because she really was that wonderful. That irreplaceable.”

That may leave some in a state of sadness, but for me it helps tremendously.

“It was all true” is much more helpful, right now, than all of the negative thoughts that come into my mind—“how is this even possible?” being where I typically begin and then end, because I can’t even begin to answer such a thing.

We are all brave people. It is, to me, an absolute holy wonder that we are still standing. That we get up and can stand and that we have continued to operate in a world that somehow manages to turn even though it is now missing one of its most integral pieces. A holy wonder, I tell you. And I’m mostly talking about those of us who have lost Maggie, but there are lots of people who have lost their own Maggies, their own most important pieces. We are brave, all of us. Brave to keep going.

I have a StoryPeople print to hang beside Maggie’s giant canvas shrine of “it was all true” glory, and it reads this:

She had the gift of stopping time & listening well so that it was easy to hear who we could become & that was the future she held safe for each of us in her great heart & you may ask, what now? & I hope you understand when we speak softly among ourselves & do not answer just yet for our future is no longer the same without her.

Is that our girl, or what?
It was all true.

It’s heavy.
I know.
But. It was all true. 
Let’s not let these terrible news reports about terrible court dates and the terrible comments on every single one of the articles rob of us our happy memories.
Really, I’ll never know what the articles and the comments say, because they’re written by people who didn’t know my friend for the most part, and all the due respect in the world, no thank you, because none of that helps me right now. Maybe some people. But not me, not now.
It only makes me return to questions I cannot answer.

So for now, I have this:
Let’s not let the evil rob of us all of her magic.
Because it was all true. Every ounce of it was true and good and real.
So let’s celebrate. Let’s acknowledge.
Let’s keep going.
Only love lives here.