A friend of mine died last week. More than a friend really, as I blubbered in front a room full of people at her funeral, she was a 'work mom.' But let me back up. To before I fought with the Almighty (it went about as well as you can imagine) and before I learned this dear warrior soul had lost her fight to effing cancer (pardon the reference to a bad word, but you have no earthly idea how much I hate cancer, I promise. It belongs in the pit of hell.)
Let me back up to when this friend showed up for me one evening when I was stuck. Our friendship was a work friendship and I have very clear and strict boundaries about that for reasons I'm not quite sure why. I just don't like seeing people I work with when I'm not at work. I avoid it like the plague. So, see, if I work with you and you were feeling slighted I promise it's not you, it's me.
But this particular friend I had come to love dearly and would miss whenever she was off. It had become routine for me to take a break from work, wander out to her work area, plop down and be in her world for a bit. Like most great secretaries she damn near ran the place so she was always busy. This didn't stop her from sliding her cell phone over to me as she talked to some irate lunatic on the phone, with the tone of a cucumber, and I would look at whichever photo or video she had pulled up of her grand baby. I can still hear her squeal of delight over one in particular where the little tot was doing a jig and shaking her diapered bottom. She made me watch that one about seven times.
During this time CJ was a baby and Kaiya was about three and I was a hot freaking mess. I'd show up to work with a sucker stuck to me or baby snot in my hair making it stick up like Mary in There's Something About Mary, only I'm not Cameron Diaz but more like a frumpy version of the daughter from Rosanne, so it wasn't the best look I assure you. This friend had everything at her desk and would primp over me like only a mother can which some frazzled mornings was my salvation.
The evening she showed up I was puttering around on errands with my clunker car when it sputtered and died on me. There I was, on the side of the road with a toddler, while husband was home with the baby. For reasons I can't remember, other than I think it had something to do with the baby, he couldn't come get me. I tried a couple other friends and then, also for reasons I can't remember, I tried this friend. Twenty minutes later there she was. Bright eyed and chipper. Not only did she pick me up and bring me and Kaiya home, she also stopped and got us some food with a happy meal toy for the kid.
It wasn't earth shattering or anything, but I thought of that night and how she was the one to show up for me when she told me she was sick. The way she told me was so precious, because it was fraught with concern for me. The dear woman. Always mothering. She gave herself so fully when you were part of her tribe.
I learned she died at work because I'm taking a Facebook break and so I didn't get a social media heads up and instead read it off as another tidbit of information to my employees. I willed myself to not cry in front of them, and thankfully managed to make it to the parking lot to have a little fit in the privacy of my own car.
This was the start of the fight with the Almighty. For I had been praying for a freaking miracle for her. Just last week another woman at work had died from cancer and I had just gone to her visitation two nights before. Enough was freaking enough already.
Then I heard God tell me that I would tell the story of her showing up at her funeral. That it was important to her children that I tell the story. I saw an image of an open mic on a stage. I smiled condescendingly and politely informed God that he was wrong. My workplace does not do funerals the same way my church does. (It's a common occurrence at my church for the pastor to open the mic and let church members tell a story about the deceased- there- you've been warned.) It was a nice thought and all, and sure, I would track down her daughter and pull her aside to tell the story of her mother coming to get me, but I would not be speaking at her funeral- thank you.
Our workplace has a head chaplain on staff who is an excellent pastor that I love dearly. I have been known to blubber over a cup of coffee to him like a slobbering mess and he then has his 'card ministry' folks send me a lovely handmade card with an encouraging verse on it. The card is still on my desk. This pastor stood up and explained that my friend faced death head on (of course she did, I beamed) but that he had given her some 'homework' that she didn't get to (of course not, I smiled wryly) which was to pick someone to speak at her funeral.
It was at this point that I began to squirm in my seat. I was already uncomfortable for the head boss was in the row in front of me and I have a tendency to be a complete goofball when I least want to be. This kind of nervousness though was the kind where you feel God pushing you to do something, to step out in faith and go for something. I hate that kind of nervousness. The pastor went on to say, somewhat predictably, that he was going to open the mic up for anyone to come and share a story. I immediately leaped up, using the nervous energy to spring me to action before the rational part of my brain could keep me seated.
It was as I was walking up the stairs with my dress shoes clicking that it occurred to me that the chances of me being a goofball were now drastically rising. I started with a comment about how I would do my best to keep it together and not lose it. Because that always instills confidence. I then told the story, blundering, and probably way too fast. I also could only remember her daughter's name and completely blanked on the boys' names. As I started to walk away I realized I hadn't even introduced myself, so I awkwardly leaned over and said: 'oh yeah! I'm Courtney!' Did I mention the head boss was there? As in like, essentially, the CEO, the big shot, the big cheese, the one person who could fire me??
As I walked back to my seat there he was- this boss that can fire me- and he whispered an encouraging 'good job!'as he passed me and also leaned down for a side hug. Only I wasn't prepared and given the angle my cheek ended up brushing against his shoulder. And rubbing off make-up onto it. Oh. Dear. God. This one boss who can fire me now as my make-up on his shoulder.
I sat down and squinted, trying to see if I could see it. Maybe it was my imagination but I swear I could. Just a tiny glint. Unable to resist telling someone about this major screw up I whispered what just happened to my husband. Who gave me an encouraging and also sarcastic thumbs up. Thanks, babe.
I slunk down in the seat a bit. I prayed for a sinkhole to open up beneath me and bury me peacefully. This did not happen. I then remembered that I needed to get out of my little drama for there was nothing I could do anyway and I was here to pay respect to a soul far deeper and stronger than I. And that the point had simply been to bring comfort to her children which was way more important than my silly wayward thoughts about being called into the head honcho's office to explain how a light dusting of super pale make-up had wound up on his shoulder.
While passing through the reception line each of her children, and even their spouses, thanked me for my words. Their thanks was sincere and profound. One paused to clasp my hand in both of hers and said 'truly, thank you, those were the perfect words.' I smiled awkwardly as I thought: 'really? But I bumbled and stumbled?' I remembered that God had told me that the children needed to hear them. That he had picked goofball me to speak words of comfort to grieving children was also exactly how God works. For he didn't call the CEOs to follow him but the fishermen. The smelly, uncouth, fishermen. The goofballs.
Truth be told one of the things I loved so much about this friend was how she embraced her inner goofball with such gusto it made me envious. She had this mischievous glint in her eyes and way of smiling that let you know there was about to be some shenanigans going on and you best join in or get out of the way. But truly one of her best qualities was that she would show up when you needed her. In this era of instant messages and constant connectivity to social media a real person who shows up ready to help at a moment's notice is a rare thing.
Janice, dear friend, I am so going to miss you. I'm sure you've already carved out an extra nice cloud for yourself and if wouldn't surprise me if you've plopped down just inside the gates of heaven all set to run the place. I can't wait to come plop down on a fluff of cloud and fill you in on the missed years. One day friend, one day.