Yesterday’s blog memorialized the three people in my biological family that are in my thoughts often, but wanted to pay special tribute to this holiday weekend. The three people in this post are family, but that of a different variety. Two are chosen family, which does not make them any less cherished and the third is someone I actually never had the opportunity to meet, but that doesn’t stop her from being family or keep her out of my thoughts. These people were gifts when they were alive and now these memories are the gifts they leave behind.
My dear friend and chosen family, Jerry
Jerry passed away 28 months ago and I still can’t believe he is gone. The day I found out, I had just woken up and my Facebook feed had ominous messages on it, so I went to his husband’s page and then his own and my heart stopped. I went upstairs to where Roy was still sleeping and he woke up hearing me crying as I entered the room. He jerked awake quickly – I am not a crier. If I am crying someone is either dead or my shunt is broken. It took me a few minutes to tell him what little I knew between sobs. Later that day, after reaching out to his husband, Jay, I looked at my old phone, which was rarely charged because I had a new line and everyone knew my new number. This other phone only had a month left on my contract so it was better to pay for both than deal with an early termination fee (I had also switched carriers). Jay had left me a message shortly after he found him. I’ll never forget that message.
Even though I wish he were here, I am only filled with warmth and gratitude when I think of him. He was the most selfless person I have ever met. He was the person who would give you the shirt off his back in a hailstorm, even if you were already wearing something, but appeared to be cold. His laugh was magic and he laughed often. He was a Wiz in the kitchen, and the first meal I ever cooked (for my husband Roy on our anniversary) was only a success because all of his advice and tips, most of them as basic as you could get (but hey I was preparing to make six courses, including homemade pork ribs and homemade barbecue sauce, and at that point I could barely use a rice cooker).
I remember going to Jay and Jerry’s wedding. Jerry was beaming, it was a day full of love and happiness and I am glad they decided to get married (they had been together for years) so that when Jerry left so suddenly six months later, maybe it helped with the sting. I hope that it did. I don’t remember the last time I spoke to Jerry, which bothers me. I sent Jay and Jerry a Christmas card and told them about my engagement (Roy and I got engaged December 18) and hoped they would come to the wedding. Jerry contacted me on Facebook when I was away, asking for my new address in Colorado. The next day Jay called me asking for the same thing, so I never got back to Jerry. We received their Christmas card that I keep with my most prized possessions, including a book I lent to my grandmother when she died, a statue belonging to my grandfather (you get the idea).
Jay and Jerry were/are family. When I was sick in 2009 and 2010 they were the ones I lived with, who took care of Angel in my absence, who were always there for me. It proves that your blood and your family are not always the same thing. Without any genetic obligations, they were more family than my biological family and served as a reminder that your chosen family is that much more precious, because there is no perceived obligation among their intentions. There is only love.
As much as I wished I had some concrete memory of our last interactions, it does not weigh me down. I know he knew how much he was loved and he gave everyone who knew him such a gift – the kind that brings a smile to my face every time I think of him.
My childhood best friend, Matt
Matt and I were inseparable for our first nine years of life. He was my best friend, my first best friend in fact, and so many wonderful and terrible things happened to me while we were friends. We always stayed the night at each other’s houses, sat next to each other in class and got each other’s jokes even when no one else thought we were funny. Matt’s smile could light up the room and we made quite a team. I always had ideas or plans so I guess I was the mind, but he was the heart. I laugh remembering us back then because even at eight, I was maybe 42 pounds, super short, and Matt was nearly five feet tall and yet I was the protector. Whenever Matt was picked on, I came to his aid before he could come to his own, whether it be standing up to three bullies and blocking their way, to firing off a quip after a boy named Ryan said he saw Matt picking his nose.
We were there for each other at the beginning of puberty and all of that awkwardness. I taught him to dance to impress a girl he liked in the fourth grade (we were in third) and he was my first kiss. We were always platonic, like siblings, but he liked a girl at his school and I wanted to be ‘prepared’ for high school. I had since moved away and we rarely saw each other at this point. It was that awkward practice kiss from someone who I considered a brother. Technical, no fireworks or attraction and nothing progressed because the goal was the kiss itself (or more accurately making sure each of us was a good kisser for our actual crushes).
When I think of Matt I mostly smile, but I am still weighed down with a lot of regrets. Matt and I lost touch in middle school, geography and different schools were the culprits. Some time in high school and we completely lost track of each other. Then two years ago, he found me on Facebook, and added me. We talked, tried to catch up, but Matt seemed so different from the boy I knew. I know that sounds ridiculous, of course he was different more than fifteen years later, but he seemed so negative, random, angry and self-pitying. I never ignored him, but I never reached out or overextended myself either. I honestly thought he had just grown up to be this person, so I kept a slight distance between us.
Then last November, I found out he had died. I was shocked, completely stricken with disbelief. How? It took some digging, but when I found out the specifics I was absolutely wrecked. Matt had had brain cancer. Suddenly, the anger, randomness, self-pity, it all made sense. He never told me he was sick, even though we talked two months before he died. I wish he would have told me, but even more I wish I had taken the time I did to ‘dig’ while he was still alive, to be the friend he had always been to me.
For several weeks after I found out he had died and the why of it, every time I thought of him I cried. It wasn’t because our memories were not happy ones, but his smile was one of unlimited potential with a full life ahead of him and his reality meant that he never got to fall in love, have a family or career and knowing how it ended was just too hard. And there was also the guilt.
Now, seven months later, I don’t cry when I think of him. I still feel a heavy sadness, but the joy of the experiences we shared has dulled the edges of that grief. I still feel guilty for not trying harder and wish he had been honest with me about what he was facing, because I would have been there for him, with him, until the end. I never got the opportunity to tell him what an amazing friend he was and how much he had impacted my life for the better. He takes up a place in my heart that no one else can inhabit. And I wish I had been the friend I used to be to him, in his final days. I hold onto knowing that he knows now, how much I cared about him and that I will never, never forget him. We weren’t ‘best friends for life’; we are ‘best friends forever’. Time and space cannot take what we had away from us. I have to believe that he knows how much he is missed and that he made the difference that he longed to make. And now he is no longer in pain.
My husband’s maternal grandmother, Rachel
I never had the chance to meet Rachel, it is what makes her unique on this list, but I really wish I had. Many people in Roy’s family, especially Roy himself, always says “Mama would have loved you.” She was a literature professor, an incredibly talented artist (some of her paintings hang in our home) and someone who always spoke her mind. (Sound familiar?) Apparently, she also always wanted to have red hair. Even though I never got to know her while she was still here on this earth, I have gotten to know her through Roy. She was particularly close with him and Roy always says that he believes she guided him to me. I don’t know if I believe that, but just in case, I would like to state my gratitude for that as well. 🙂
(I feel kind of iffy about saying anything, because while I am not superstitious, once you make your plans known to the world, in my experience the universe kind of goes the other way. But what the heck, Roy and I have talked names when it comes to our kiddos down the road and we’re going to name our first daughter Rachel. And our first son is going to be named after Roy, because he is already the fourth and there comes a time when you just need to continue the line haha.)
I hope everyone had a happy Memorial Day and that the memories the past few days have been of the happy and comforting variety. ♥