We took a selfie one day, giggling in the snow. The snowflakes stayed in tact when they landed in her soft curls while my hair looked every bit wet dog. It’s an image, a moment, I can’t find in my phone, but forever burned in my brain.
We’d ski, drink spiked hot chocolate and share crazy stories. There were so many trips, date nights and dinners in pajamas with glasses of wine. Our friendship was one of ease and in the past few weeks I have seen her everywhere. In the profile of a woman at a conference in Salt Lake. In dark curls bouncing through a crowd. The freckles in someone else’s Instagram post. I randomly found myself in the same restaurant we were in during a blizzard in Utah. I ordered her favorite salad without even realizing that’s what it was until it was placed in front of me.
What are you trying to tell me, Briar?
I hold enormous guilt. You see, we had a falling out before she died. I was there for her the day she was diagnosed with brain cancer and I was there for a long while. When she first fell into a coma her husband and I walked behind the bed the surgeons were wheeling her away in as we clutched each other and cried the big tears that you don’t wipe away. Then I went through a divorce and stories were twisted and I saw how the pain of my breakup was hurting her. After I shared my tearful side of the story I heard her sob after she thought I’d hung up the phone. I felt selfish. She was undergoing hardcore chemo and radiation therapies and I was talking about my problems. I decided not to talk to her about it anymore.
She tried to get us back together. She begged. She asked me to keep an open heart, to listen to her, to accept a marriage intervention of sorts. I stopped talking to her altogether because I was in pain. I was hurting and I was hurting her and it was easier to hide inside myself. So I did. She sent me emails, texts. I explained that it was hard to see her because I knew she was spending time with my ex and that we used to be couple friends. That I just needed some time to get over everything.
I didn’t have time.
She didn’t have time.
My ex husband called me almost two years ago, “Jeanette, Briar is dying and you are going to regret it if you don’t see her.”
The doctor had determined it was the end. She had maybe a week and I immediately left the office and went straight over to her house. I felt her in my chest as soon as I entered the room. It almost knocked me over. Her pastor and several friends were sitting with her while I wished them away. I finally realized they were there for her and whatever was about to transpire. They knew our rift was the last thing she had to resolve so were firmly planted, no excuses.
I took a deep breath to steel myself, “I have to say this….” The room got incredibly quiet, “Briar, I was never mad at you.”
She immediately started crying, “I know.”
“I was hurting and I was so broken and I didn’t want to talk to you about it. I was losing my family and never once was I ever mad at you. Never once. I need you to know that.”
Now, in hindsight, I realize I probably could’ve included another sentence or three, “I knew I was losing you as well. I was too weak to handle all of that loss at the same time. I’m a jerk.”
We both sat there crying, softly sobbing and nodding. No more words needed to be said and before long her pastor asked if he could say a prayer.
Briar lost consciousness soon after my visit and passed away several days later.
Sometime before that day and between the emails, texts and tears, I shared the biggest gift she ever gave me and I know it filled her heart. She brought me back to faith. I’d forgotten the God of my childhood and I found some semblance of him; different, more amenable and forgiving, in the prayers that came after Briar’s first seizure. I thanked her for helping me find the courage to give something bigger than me a chance again.
At her funeral her mother and I locked eyes and moved directly into each others arms, crying. I apologized through sobs and she shushed me, “She loved you so much. That was her unfinished business. You helped her let go. Thank you.”
I felt guilty for my tears, guilty that I was mourning someone I’d abandoned. I didn’t feel deserving of my grief or time with Briar before she passed. I ran from the loss rather than facing it head on. I also didn’t know that I was still carrying all of this with me until this past week.
When I saw flickers of my friend in the life of others.
I’d like to believe she was sending me a message. That she’s ok. That she’s at peace. That WE are at peace and all is forgiven. I don’t think she’d say it exactly that way. I’m pretty sure it would be like, “I’ve seen your tears. Cut that shit out. We’re good. Have you seen my wings? They’re ridiculous.”
She’d probably have a beer in hand.
Say the things you need to say to the people you love. Say them before you can’t. Forgive like its your job. Love them when they’re in front of you. Love them hard.
And, in the words of my friend, “Keep an open heart.”
Miss you Briar.