March 9, 2014

Your Love Burns On. ~ Joni Kalstrup

burn heart love abstract yellow

Dear Barb:

You left kind of abruptly and there were a few things that were left unsaid, that I’d like to share with you.

It’s unbelievable how quickly you deteriorated, from a healthy mom of three (with your layer of “mom-fat,” that you pointed out and stated that you used to hate, but really missed at the end) to a shell of a being, loose skin burnt from chemo, eyes sunken, a short lawn of hair bursting from your crown. When you could tolerate no more pain, and declared freedom from eating and the nausea it brought, you also emancipated yourself from the cancer and the body that had served you so well. Until now.

There was much kissing and hugging at the end, wasn’t there?

I couldn’t help myself. I loved holding you closely, closer than we ever did throughout our lifelong friendship. Friends don’t typically lie in bed with each other, hugging and kissing and loving, but there we were. And maybe we should have had more of that, years earlier. It was soothing to cradle you; I believe you found some comfort in it as well.

I forgot to tell you thank you for choosing me as a friend.

People flocked to you, yet somehow you and I had a connection that broke through, that simmered on the back burner for the last decade, when we were both busy, raising families, creating identities as moms and wives. I was drawn to you and you helped me release the shadow parts of myself, feel better about the state of my imperfect life. You were a magnet. Was it that our pain became too much for you? Or that you didn’t want to burden anyone with your own losses? When did we become too shy and too afraid to reach out to those who know us the best?

When I saw you last, your energy was focused on opening your teary eyes. Even when your body was unrecognizable, your essence shone through. Piercing, really. There you were, still, in that body.  The unasked question, “why me,” and the acceptance followed, “yes, me.” And I wondered what lesson there was to learn in all of this, in the unfairness of it.

I forgot to tell you that I’m here for you, and that I know shame.

Shame in the colon cancer, shame in the divorce. They’re both areas that we shy away from discussing. My shame in not knowing what to say. Sadness in waking up and not recognizing your own life, and how did all of this happen, this is not the story of my life, and I most certainly didn’t sign up for this. So many things had been heading south. The fear that we’re not in control, that willing this bullshit cancer away doesn’t make it go away.

I want to ask your forgiveness for not being there, for asking the questions, for being fierce enough to lay it open, raw and ugly, and above all, terrifying.

I forgot to insist that this time I get to take care of you.

Just as you had taken care of me, softly, through the divorce of my parents. Through the death of my dad. Just as you had planted a seed in me to write, to dream, to delight with flowers, to expect great things from school and beyond.

Did you know at graduation it was just as important to me that you were proud of me, as it was that my parents were? Do you know how important it was to me that we went to the same graduation party that night? I believe we hugged each other tightly that night, too, on the brink of leaving the comfort of each other.

Years later, the Universe laughed when we realized that my apartment in Chicago was just doors down from where your grandparents had lived, where you had visited often as young girl, before I had known you. Even then, before knowing you, and now that you’re no longer confined to this earth, your energy surrounds me.

Why does it take these moments to raise us to who we are? To burn through the filters of everyday self-consciousness to be all that we are with those we care most about? Your flame burned so brightly and was extinguished so quickly.

I want to remind you, Barb, your love burns on.


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Editorial Assistant: Aaron Gillespie / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Markus Gann/Pixoto

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