Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
We are walking in the early morning pre-dawn, my best friend and I. It is a daily ritual in our longstanding friendship. Weather does not deter us. This morning it’s cold and dark with the Thanksgiving snowfall still on the ground. Technically it’s autumn but we are bundled into parkas, hats and gloves and call it like we see it—winter is here.
We talk while we walk. We are of like minds and our conversation covers a wide range of interests. Movies, books, Dancing with the Stars, cooking and politics are just a few of the topics we cover. We trade recipes; give advice and encouragement and share ideas. We tell it like it is in a no-holds-barred, five-mile power walk that serves as morning therapy.
One subject lies heavily between us, dark and unspoken. It resists conversation and steals joy from the day. We can feel it—relentless and unstoppable. Her husband is dying. This will be their last Christmas together, just as it was their last Thanksgiving, anniversary, and vacation. It has been a year of lasts.
Big events are replaced by smaller ones as the cancer in his lungs robs them of the life they have built together. I want to say something. I search for words and find none. I am a writer (of sorts), swimming in a sea of words with nothing meaningful or comforting to offer her.
Our walk brings us to a favorite stopping point—a panoramic view of trees and sky stretching across an expanse of field bisected by power lines. Trees that showcase the seasons in every color are bare against a gray New England sky. We stand for a moment, as we often do, until one of us says “I love this view.” We agree on that, and continue walking as the sun begins to rise.
We invite the topic in, if only briefly, when she says “I can’t imagine my life without him.” I want to tell her I know how she feels, but I can’t. It is not possible for me to know the depth of her pain and the loss she faces. She starts to cry, then says “I’m ok,” but we both know she is not. The unfair hand she has been dealt fills us both with unspeakable sadness. I tell her “I am here,” but it sounds hollow and inadequate.
She is a strong woman. She gets up every day and channels emotional and physical strength into herself and her family against an enemy that, in the end, will win. She is the glue that binds the fragile pieces of their lives. I see a brave face but those close to her know how difficult it is, made more so by the fact that it is the holiday season. I continue to search for the right words, any words, and find nothing that feels right.
Presents and Presence
We exchange small gifts at Christmas, built around meaning rather than cost. Chosen with each other’s likes in mind, they are personal reminders of our friendship. I treasure them.
This year I am giving my friend a different kind of gift; one that does not intrude or judge when things are completely beyond our ability to change them. It is the gift of presence and it needs no words to define it. Sometimes this is all we can do.
Hers is a difficult journey and I do not want her to make it alone. I ask what I can possibly to do help her through this dark place and I know the answer. I will do what I have always done; I will walk with her.
I say it again—“I am here”—but this time the words do not sound quite so empty and thin. I am here. Perhaps that is enough.