It's been almost a full year since the passing of my friend. The initial shock of her leaving has worn off, but the sadness and the missing of her has retained it's vigor. This morning I was reviewing a gratitude list that I've been keeping for some time now. Nestled between the other entries was one that read, "Cooking in our kitchen with Lisa". I wrote that quite a long time ago- a couple of years ago, most likely- but I clearly recall that day. After the meal, we stood by the sink, me washing and her drying what couldn't be cleaned by the dishwasher. She laughed as I told her I'd never been joined in the kitchen before. For her, growing up in an Italian family with siblings and other relatives present, partnering in the kitchen was commonplace. I enjoyed that day immensely. I still think of it sometimes as I stand at the sink alone. While I cook in the kitchen with my daughter often, it's rare for me to have another adult by my side. And because the kitchen is somewhat of a sacred space for me, that day with Lisa was doubly special.
When I first had my daughter, Lisa was one of the few people I trusted to help me care for her. She helped me to find my voice at a time when I was still a bit shy and timid. Once, when we were at the beach, a grimy man who was stumbling about the broadwalk reached out to touch my then baby. Lisa, admonished him immediately, telling him in her raspy voice, "Don't touch the baby with your dirty hands!" I was grateful that she'd spoken up when my own voice felt so uncertain. I have since grown and changed a great deal; I can hardly recognize the mouse I once was. But Lisa helped me to get to where I am now.
For a new Mom, everything in life revolves around our new little one. We accept this, usually without much thought, but appreciate it was someone thinks to do a little something for us too. In my early days at home with wee Sparkle Fairy, Lisa would sometimes come by with a little something for us both. She might bring a toy or a trinket for the baby, and would give me a candle or some lotions. It didn't matter what the gift was; it just felt good to be considered, to receive that love.
When Sparkle Fairy grew a little bigger, Lisa would sometimes babysit for her. Our daughter adored Lisa, and until recently would shy away from the mention of her name. It was difficult for her to acknowledge Lisa's death; she was a part of our girl's life from the beginning. We have a ritual with potato chips- Lisa used to tell Rachel that the folded over chips were the best (aren't they though?!). They'd sit at our kitchen table, and when either pulled a folded chip from the bag, they'd hold it high in the air before chomping it down. To this day, those potato chips are Auntie Lisa chips.
The last time Lisa and I communicated, I told her I loved her and would see her when I got back to Florida. I could feel in my solar plexus that she was in some sort of trouble but she never told me what was going on. I had no idea how sick she'd been, or that she'd almost died already over the previous months. I don't blame anyone but myself, really. I'd distanced myself from her a little bit because I'd had some confusing experiences with her during which her addiction was fully in charge. While I was familiar with the dynamics of addiction and could handle some of those painful moments, my daughter could not. I didn't want her to see Auntie Lisa at her worst. She was so beautiful at her best. I wanted my girl to know her for that. For the past year, I've regretted that I didn't find a better balance with this situation. While I don't have any false notions that my presence would have changed the course of her life (if she could have gotten well for anyone it would have been her daughter, but addiction doesn't care how much we love our family, or our friends), I do wish she'd been aware of my support for her. In my heart, I never gave up on her. To the last day, I held a shred of hope that she would be able to make the changes she needed to make in order to live. It was not to be.
I miss her.