Since losing our 9-year-old daughter Addie, I've occasionally allowed myself to build a new reality, one in which my child is still here and this happened to someone else.
Someone else I know.
It's never anyone in particular. And it's not as if I'd ever wish for this to happen to anyone. I just wish it didn't happen to me.
With that new reality firmly in place, I think about what I would've done if I were the friend or the friend of the friend or the mere acquaintance that occasionally said hi in the grocery store. Basically, if I were anyone other than the mother of the child who was diagnosed with cancer and died. If I were this person, this magical person who still had all of her children living and breathing alongside her, what would I have done for this grieving mother and her family? Well, of this I am sure: I probably would've brought a casserole. Something cheesy, delicious, and warm. Something sure to bring comfort in a time of crisis.
And that's probably all I would've done.
Sure, I'd wonder about the family, how they were managing, if they were managing. But I would've done this from afar. Which is why I'm amazed by the people who haven't been afraid to put themselves in the eye of the storm, to get their hands dirty, to walk with us in our grief.
Early on, we were told that our address book would change. That we'd be surprised by the people who would step forward. And disappointed by those who would not. They were right. Relationships have changed, friendships have been lost. But in their place new ones have taken root.
Within a couple months of Addie's death, I received a phone call from a woman I'd met just once before. It was a casual meeting at a Saturday morning youth basketball game. She was standing on the balcony, trying to snap a pic or two of her son. I had moved to the balcony in an attempt to wrangle two very active boys who had lost interest in their big sister's basketball game. She introduced herself, we made a few connections, and that was that.
And then our world turned upside down. And out of the blue, a phone call. From her. I know we don't really know each other, she said, but I'd like to take you to lunch. I want to hear about Addie. I want to learn about you. And your family.
And for some reason, after holing up in the house for weeks, I said yes.
That afternoon I opened up about Addie - what a treasure she was - and I worked through the details of her diagnosis and the road to her death, as a platter of Mexican food sat untouched.
What makes a person do that? Get in, get all tangled up in the complicated yuck that is our grief?
Because she didn't have to.
But I'm sure glad she did.
Because even now, three years later, I can count on her to check in on me from time to time and show up on my front porch - fried chicken in tow - just because she knew I was probably having a rough day.
And there have been others.
Those whose hugs have held me together at back-to-school nights when I was almost certain I was going to break right apart. Those who've listened to me tell the same stories about Addie over and over and over again, smiling and nodding because they know the stories are numbered. Those who know I'll never quite get back to the way that I was, but love me just the same.
How do you grow a heart like that?
I wish I knew the answer.
Because I'm trying awfully hard to work on mine.