September 16, 2010

You Are the Company You Keep

Dear Mom,

Of all you have given me over the years, my favorite, most treasured gift is not one of material posession. You would be shocked to know it's not even this to-die-for olive skin tone I inherited from you or my curvacious derriere that makes my super-thin friends quite envious. Your most special gift to me has come in the form of an unexpected, yet irreplaceable friendship.

Unexpected couldn't be a more appropriate word to describe it. I am fully aware it's not normal to be BFFs with your high school ex-boyfriend's mother... really I am! But I wouldn't give up my friendship with Gisele for the world, and I honestly feel as though it was your final gift to me that truly keeps on giving.

I am a firm believer that, in a healthy relationship, you don't just date the person-- you date the whole family. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the break-up. I think it takes a very special connection between two mothers to continue being friends even after their children end their three-year relationship. Although it was just slightly awkward that you and Dad attended her older son's wedding afterward, and I wasn't invited, it still made my heart happy that you two had found the truest of friendships in each other (and that I had a big hand in that!).

I have, for the most part, encountered two kinds of friends (with a few amazing exceptions along the way). There's the friend who thrives off feeling needed, and once she "fixes" you, she ventures off to find her next emotional basketcase, and then there's the friend who fears comforting others and only wants to be a part of your happy days.

Gisele single-handedly messes up any categories I have previously created. She is pretty much her own unique breed of friend. She was the kind of friend to you that I have only read about-- the kind that is there when she is needed, and even when she is not. There were people in your life who only called you when they heard you were back in the hospital, and then there were people who would disappear until you were well again. But Gisele was there for you always and in so many ways.

She was your partner in crime (in those lovely orange and black outfits) yelling my name as I performed at football games and in cheering competitions; she treated you to dinner and a movie the night before your chemo treatments; she bought you chicken noodle soup from Panera Bread when the broth is all you craved during your final months on Earth; she stood by your bedside as you breathed your last breath.

I remember watching the color drain from your face in that moment. It was unlike anything I had seen, and even the most realistic movies don't get it right. I began thinking about a million things at once. She's dead. I am mother-less. She won't see me walk down the aisle. She'll never meet any grandchildren. Will our family fall apart without her?

But all I managed to get out was, "That's it? She's gone?!" in a shakey, panicked voice that I didn't recognize. In response to my words, I heard someone let out a sob (that I can still replay perfectly in my head, although I'm not sure who it belongs to) from the kitchen where many of our relatives had gathered that morning. Then I collapsed, sobbing in Gisele's arms. Little did we know that in that instant we were bound together for life.

In one of Michelle's blog entries, she writes, "Life gives you many mothers, not just the one of your birth. You will always have a mother when you need one. You just need to look for her." Those words seriously need to be in some book of quotes to live by because they are a must-read for any grieving daughter (or for any woman, actually).

Still, almost three years after your death, I call Gisele multiple times a week to tell her about my day and to inquire about hers. We vent; we laugh; we swap stories that no one else would appreciate or think are funny. As much as I love every aspect of our friendship, for quite a while I felt extreme guilt about it. You are the person I used to talk to daily, so I couldn't help but worry that, wherever you watching me from now, you feel sad and replaced.

I saw a therapist once a week on campus when I got back to school that spring, and during one of the sessions I brought up these feelings I had. She said, "If I died, I would find comfort in knowing that my daughter had someone to talk to. It would be the worst feeling to leave this world without being sure someone would be there to give her all the girly advice she would need later in life." That's exactly what I needed someone to tell me. I know you would never want me to sit somewhere by myself and deal with my feelings and questions about womanhood on my own.

A year after that discussion with my therapist, I then found a new problem slowly creeping in to occupy my mind and put an ache in my heart (there's always something, right?) I began to struggle with what other people may have thought of my friendship with Gisele. If I wanted to stop in and visit her when I went home for the weekend would Dad be jealous? Would Tom think I was replacing you? Was it secretly upsetting my boyfriend that I was so close with an ex's mom? Would my aunts resent me for not having that same relationship with them?

I had to rid myself of this knot in my stomach. I couldn't take it anymore. So in the middle of my sobfest and wallowing in self-pity, I picked up the phone and called Dad. We talk often now about any and everything, but this was something I hadn't shared with him. He gave me all the comfort in the world and reassurance that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my close relationship with Gisele. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I called Tom too and continued to spill my heart out. He is the greatest big brother. Our talk took away my worry and endless guilt. I allowed myself to be the vulnerable, defeated, comfort-seeking little girl that I hid for so long and sometimes still feel like inside. It felt nice.

I talked to John about my worries (he is my new boyfriend- well, not new to me since we have been dating for almost two years, but new to you because you never met him). I actually introduced him to Gisele before I brought him to meet Dad. "And this morning we're going out to breakfast with my ex-boyfriend's mom!" If that's not the pick-up line of the century, I'm not sure what is. Luckily, he's such a good sport about my semi-nonconventional life. He noted that it was a little weird at first, but that my friendship with her is a part of who I am, and he accepted that and me. He has a way of making me quickly wave goodbye to my insecurities. You would love him (insert a big, bittersweet sigh here).

I also started keeping in touch more with my relatives. Just because we didn't already have a close relationship didn't mean that one couldn't be formed eventually. With our little messages and e-mails here and there, I feel much closer to several of them and am a happier person for it.

I owe this tremendous growth to this wonderful friendship you have given me. Gisele shares your sincere enthusiasm, encouraging words, and warm heart. I think, subconsciously, you kept her in your life for a reason- to not only be your friend, but to eventually become mine.

If we really are defined by the company we keep, then damn,
I look good.



  1. Ssmi, I had to read a few more of your posts. They are really so compelling. I love this one and the quote that says, "Life gives you many mothers." I think it's wonderful you have this special bond with Gisele. You two shared (and always will) something very intimate. As a mother myself, I'm pretty sure your mother would be very happy about that friendship.

  2. I agree, Nancy! And I also love that quote. Definitely one to live by! Gisele called me after reading it and was so emotional and thankful for my words. It was icing on the cake!