Thursday, November 4. Lisa died yesterday. I go to her house, drive through the rain across town, a fog in my brain. This isn’t really happening. I am not driving across town to my friend’s house because she is dead.
But she is. I decide it is my mission to help her family find important documents. I can go through files, I can dig around in her computer, and on her phone. I know how to do these things, and so I do. Her family and another friend are at the house too. We clean out her refrigerator and I take some fresh food. She will not be back to eat it, but this act is not enough to make this thing feel real.
In shock, we all do strange things. One family member sees a basket of old Christmas cards in the corner, and declares that we can throw it away. Lisa has been dead for one day. There is so much to be done to wrap up a lifetime of earthly possessions. The Christmas cards can wait. To save them from the family member, I take responsibility for them. I dump them into a plastic bag, put them in my car. Later I move them to my living room. Still later I move them to my office in the spare bedroom.
December 28. I look in the bag. It is after Christmas, and I am cleaning out my office of Christmas-y things. I am preparing packages to mail, and these include some of Lisa’s things that I promised mutual friends I would send to them. A beloved book. A few Notre Dame T-shirts. And here is this bag of Christmas cards that has been sitting quietly on the shelf, reminding me every day that I still have so much grieving ahead of me.
Finally, I face the bag. I pull things out one by one. There is a faint notion of eavesdropping, this reading of someone else’s mail – mail that is treasured enough to live in a special basket for years. Turns out it’s not just Christmas cards – most kept in their envelopes, even – but birthday cards, too, and notes of support and congratulations. What I saved is a basket of correspondence that meant something to Lisa.
I sit here and look at every card and letter in this bag. Some make me smile and even laugh out loud. We had many mutual friends, and I know many of her family members. She even kept cards from her insurance agent and her realtor.
Going through the pile doesn’t make Lisa’s absence feel more real. Is it time that has done it, and the fact that the cards only go up to 2010. There should be a large number from 2011. I’m sure there probably are people who haven’t heard about Lisa’s passing who did send cards to her empty house. But time, that devil and saint, has brought with it the absence of phone calls and visits and hugs and laughter and good times shared with my family and her family and just between the two of us. That’s what makes it feel real. Still, it is this task now that makes me weep fresh tears today.
The birthday cards from 2009 and 2010 are the ones that set me off, so full of hope and atta-girls for Lisa’s recent accomplishments. Here is what was printed on one, from her aunt and uncle:
All our lives we’re taught to worry about getting older,as though life has some secret schedule for us to keep. But there’s no magical age for being our BEST, no deadline for dreaming, taking risks, being fully alive.
On your birthday, take time to look forward to all life’s possibilities and all you have yet to see, to do, to be.
And this, which was of course, funny at the time:
As a sentimental person and as one of Lisa’s best friends, I consider it my duty to honor this little collection of love that she kept, at least by writing about it, so that it’s not just me and Lisa who knew it existed.
It existed. She loved her family and friends, who are all represented in this pile.
She existed. That matters.