Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Heather



I haven't known what to write about Heather's passing.

I still don't.

Part of me keeps hoping that with each passing week since that horrible day in early October that I would gain some sense of clarity or peace about it.

Sometimes, a morbid part of my brain writes eulogies for friends who are still with us. Maybe it's a way to consider our mortality, or maybe it's a morose way of taking stock of valued friends. It usually happens after those joyful gatherings where it seemed that not one single thing could have been more perfect. 

But Heather was never one of them.

It wasn't for a lack of affection. I've considered Heather a friend for nearly 20 years. Perhaps my mind considers it too cruel of a thing for mothers to be ripped from the arms of their babies to entertain the thought for even a moment.

Indeed it still does, as the shock and denial about our friend's absence is still too fresh as we near eight months without her. 

Bits and pieces have floated to my mind to try to encapsulate our all-too-brief friendship with such a vibrant woman.

The first, arriving within days of her departure was this: Heather was my favorite kind of Christian.

She was saved as an adult, so she never seemed to take salvation for granted as so many of us do. Her approach to God and others was often so meek, it reminded me of Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. Even as she grew into a formidable woman of God, she never made anyone feel that she was better than them, at least not that I had ever seen. In speaking about matters of faith, she would say things like, "You probably know better than I do," which seemed supernaturally unusual coming out of the mouth of a woman whose opinions were so often strong (and vocal). 

If you knew Heather and ever felt that she didn't have enough time for you, you were right, she didn't. This was no symptom of self-importance. Rather, Heather was constantly surrounded by people who wanted one more conversation, just ten more minutes with her. For each of the 18 or so years of friendship I had with Heather, this remained invariably true. 

Heather could listen. I hope someday this could be said of me as it is said of her. She had this x-ray vision into your soul that helped her know just what question to ask, usually the one that would end with you cathartically crying on her couch a couple hours later. I don't remember ever having to endure small-talk with Heather, unless we were killing time waiting for other people to leave so we could talk about girls or jobs or whatever my latest drama was. She cared too much to waste time chatting idly when there were things of true importance at hand. 

Which reminds me ... Heather made me feel important, even when I would discuss high school crushes with her ad nauseum. She gave no indication that she was confused about what really mattered, but rather, she cared about things simply because they mattered to me. 

The second thought about Heather that occurred to me arrived as I began the dreadful task of getting ready for her visitation. I found myself wondering who I would see there, unsure if I was emotionally stable enough to visit with the full range of characters I would likely encounter. It was as though Heather collected people who lacked social graces. The awkward, the insecure, and the lonely all found a friend in this wonderful woman. 

Most likely a product of her patient attention and care, her collection grew each year that I knew her, from the first to the last. Even when I wished she would throw a few back, like my ex-girlfriends, she kept them, preciously, aware that their value was not even remotely linked to my discontinued romantic interest in them. 

As I drove to the visitation, still trying to process her unfathomable departure, I realized that I was one of her collection of misfits. There were likely as many of Heather's friends who found a conversation with me uncomfortably interminable as I did them. 

Heather's peculiar and beautiful gift was to make each one of us feel normal without ever demanding that we change to fit her preferences.  It worked, too.  Almost every one of us felt normal, comfortable, and accepted around her.

She wasn't perfect. I don't mean to deify her.  It's just that none of her flaws seem to matter that much when weighed in the balance of her life.  Some of them were even a little funny.  Sometimes I used to forget books on the end tables at Ben and Heather's place during college, and regardless of the amount of time they were there, if Heather was awake, those books were straightened and in size order (largest to smallest from bottom to top).  And then there were the times that we would unload the dishwasher to be helpful, only to return to find the dishes in the cupboards "correctly" color-coded, though she never said a word about it.

It hurts to think of her quirks and the unusual way that she would say certain words.  They made Heather who she was as much as any of the good things.

As you can imagine, a lot of words I've heard spoken in church since Heather's passing have rang a little hollow in my ears as I've tried to process the absence of this dear friend.  But I still believe in the Jesus to whom Heather devoted her life, and I look forward to hanging out with both of them one day.  The Heather hug will be long-overdue.  It already is.

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