I was hiking with one of my closest friends the other day. She was telling me about a dream she had the night before, a nightmare. "The worst nightmare of my life," she said. She was fraught telling me about it because I was in the dream, too. "I'm in your club." She said to me in her dream, "I'm now in your club!" She dreamt that her husband had died. She said it was gut-wrenching, the worst feeling in the world. "Yup," I said as we climbed up the steep hill, "Welcome to my life!" Her nightmare is my reality.
This is one of my closest friends. She was with me at the hospital almost every day. She has loved and supported me long before Joel was ever sick. She is an integral part of my life and feels more like family than a friend. She was so shaken by the nightmare, she wanted to share the pain and fright of it with me.
My closest friends and I talk about everything. Really, everything. What we made for dinner, what we put in our kids lunches, where we found the cheapest gas for our cars, articles and books we've read, projects we're working on, our sex lives, our birth control, our menstrual cycles (lots of talk about that!), our kids, our parents, our siblings, our other friends, growing old, our jobs, our loves, our thoughts and feelings about everything. My friends were there for both Joel and I throughout his illness, from when he was first diagnosed with MS, to when he could hardly walk at times. They showered me with love and support when he was in the hospital, and since he's been gone, they sustain me and have kept me sane.
This is why I don't want my friends to feel self conscious around me. I don't want them feeling bad because they're husbands are alive, and mine isn't. I don't want them to sensor themselves... but sometimes, they say things that are difficult to hear.
On really tough days, I call my Best Friend. She would be the Gayle to my Oprah. Why I'm Oprah and she's not is something we both just accepted early on. I actually refer to her as my soulmate, and often introduce her that way. It's hard to pinpoint, but I know that she understands me in a way that feels profound. She doesn't judge, never has, she's open and thoughtful and funny. She's also interested in my day to day and I include her in most of my big decisions. In simple terms, we just get each other, and have for over twenty years.
I had a friend in my early 20s who didn't really believe in soulmates. She said she felt that every guy she ever kissed was her soulmate. I embraced this idea that a soulmate doesn't have to mean just one person, nor is it exclusive to someone you're in a sexual relationship with. In fact, I'm sure that my dog Lucy was a soulmate of mine. I think my former business partner may be, too. My daughter is. Was Joel? Absolutely. The thing about Joel was that he got me in a way that no one ever has -- deeply, intimately, intuitively.... and much to my surprise, Antonio gets me, too. He sees me, appreciates who I am, what I've been through, and like Joel, he encourages me as I move forward. Is Antonio a soulmate? He might be.
But back to my "Gayle." She reminds me that I'm not the only one who lost Joel. Soon after he died, and I was having a particularly sad day, I called her crying. Or maybe we were together. She called them "Melissa Mondays" -- for weeks and weeks, she would come to my house, bring me lunch, and help me sort through all of the hospital paperwork, she organized my bills, called the washing machine repair people... She took care of me and kept me going. We would laugh/cry over the fact that everyone in both of our neighborhoods would see us crying all the time. In the car at a red light, walking the dog, at the supermarket. And I asked her, "What are you so sad about?" Stunned, she said, "You're not the only one who lost him."
I needed to hear that. Yes, I was Joel's wife, but he had a ton of meaningful relationships and was loved by so many. He had best friends, soulmates of his own, the ripple effect of his death reaches far and wide. Because of that, I feel less alone, and connected by this shared experience, horrible as it is.
Perhaps this is what my close friend was doing when she told me about her nightmare -- sharing the experience with someone who she knew would get it. I felt for her as we huffed and puffed up the mountain, distraught as she was. Hard as the climb was that morning, we kept moving forward, together.