Two years ago last May my mom passed away after only a short 11-week battle with cancer. Those 11 weeks were filled with happiness, sadness, laughter, crying, fatigue, frustration, sorrow, and many, many more emotions. Of course, at the time, we did not know we would only have 11 more weeks with mom. Luckily, I have three dedicated sisters and we rotated 24-hours shifts with my mom so she was never alone. Reflecting on this time, my mom was the happiest I had seen her in years because she had constant companionship and love. But I am not going to lie, it was painful and hard and exhausting. Not to mention I was just exploring the possible causes of my recent slurring of speech, wondering could it really be ALS.
During this time, I was also working full-time. After mom passed away, I was overcome with grief. I would cry at inopportune times. I didn’t know what to do with my emotions over her death and the emotions about my own looming prognosis. Then I remembered that Kaiser Hospice, who provided excellent care for my mom during her 11-week battle, offered bereavement counseling. So I made the appointment, a bit apprehensive about what it would be like.
My bereavement counselor’s name was Kim. I immediately sensed she was a kind-hearted woman with tons of compassion. As I recounted my experiences of grief with her and shared my fears about my own health issues, I felt at ease with her. As I processed previously unspoken hurts and emotions, I experienced her empathy and could often see tears of compassion in her eyes. I do not really recall exactly how many sessions we had, I continued to see her until I took a leave of absence at my work in Vallejo to deal with my health issues.
Much to my surprise, I received a phone call from Kim one day telling me that she was conducting a bereavement group in Vacaville and wanted to stop by and see how I was doing. I just assumed that since she knew I didn’t want to drive to Vallejo for continued sessions, she would bring those sessions to me. We continued to meet at my home whenever she was in Vacaville.
Each time we met, our time together felt less and less like a “session” and developed instead into an unexpected friendship. With Kim, I am free to be fully me. I am free to be transparent, honest, raw. She understands my emotions and is not afraid of my tears. She doesn’t ignore the fact that I have an awful disease or pretend that “all is well”, but instead has helped me process my grief as I encounter new losses.
Then one day, she informed me that she was retiring and moving to Louisiana. I was heartbroken. How could I lose such a marvelous friend now? Why another loss, I asked myself?
Then I remembered telling Kim about the Open When Box I made for my mother for her last Mother’s Day. I wanted to give my mom something meaningful. I had heard about it my from my friends’ daughter. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, it is simply a bunch of letters and/or small gifts with a simple instruction on the front of each envelope to “Open when……” For example, “Open when you need to see something beautiful” and I put in a note along with a compact mirror, telling my mom to look at how beautiful she was to me. So I decided to make one of these for Kim’s going away gift, because she had been so touched by the story of the one I gave to my mom. When we met, we had our usual 2 hour chat. Then I presented her with the Open When Box. When Kim began to open the box I could tell she was excited about receiving a gift, but as soon as she opened it and saw all of the envelopes, she realized that it was an “Open When” box. She immediately burst into tears.
So off Kim went, assuring me that whenever she opened an envelope, she would call me to let me know. Kim has told me she cherishes her box of letters and opens it, flips through the closed letters, and then closes the box. When I asked her why she doesn’t open them, she told me that she is purposely not opening them because I need to be around for a LONG time so she can share the opening with me. So, she is making them last. I think she has only opened 2 or 3 in the year and a half or so that she has had them.
I honestly thought that our friendship would wane with the distance. But God is so good! Every time Kim comes back to California she contacts me for a visit! We pick up where we left off. She is patient with me and my computer voice. She is comfortable with my tears. She is my very unexpected friend.
I am thankful that she sought me out. I am grateful for her wisdom. I am filled with joy at her smile and her laugh. I am blessed beyond measure.
Be bold. Seek unexpected friendship. Bless someone with the gift of you.
Kim, I will hang around as long as possible to enjoy those envelopes with you! I love you!