What I’m learning from losing a friend

loveI’ve been thinking of late, mostly of my beautiful friend who left us recently, and little lessons I learned on our friendship journey, and the ones I learned as her soul found its way to the next spot. I love my friends. Each of them differently and yet wholly. It’s just, I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of person, and it doesn’t stop with matters of the heart.

I met Yesenia so long ago, when I was a young girl. I can count at least 25 years of friendship, if not more, with her. One day, as we were sitting with her at hospice, another friend of her’s came in and asked if I was family and her mom replied, “Practically.” My heart was so sore hearing that. I felt like I was losing a sister. She came to work for my parents at their restaurant  when she was 16 so we were co-workers, first. I was drawn to her easy-to-love spirit and we talked all the time, told each other jokes, and laughed together. Our friendship was so many of our days spent laughing together.

As I sat holding her hand just a few short weeks ago, we chatted about life. I told her I would make her a post with all my favorite words for her and she turned, with her big eyes just looking at me, as a tear slowly rolled down her cheek. She gave me permission to say what my heart wanted to. I kept writing this blog post in my mind, angrily crossing out words with an imaginary red pen, scribbling madly all the feelings I wanted to capture from our last moments, and then internally pressing delete all two seconds later, because I thought maybe I wouldn’t want to share any of them. Maybe they would be just for me to reminisce as the big day came and then moved on. You see, the days keep going on and I am stuck thinking of the one when she left, or the one before, when I last kissed her warm cheek, or the one where I sat, late at night and we had our last conversation that we didn’t know but kind of did that another wouldn’t come.

How do we say goodbye?

Even as I swim in sorrow, I promise I don’t want this to be a sad post. What I want is to share things that I picked up along the way of our time together, however short those almost 30 years feel now.

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Being there at the end is hard

I’m just going to get this one out of the way because there’s a giant sack of feels sitting on my tonsils right now and it’s hard to breathe. I try to be the type of friend who is there through thick-and-thin and let me tell you, it can really f*cking suck to sit there and watch those who own pieces of your heart begin to leave. I mean, essentially we are all in stages of death, but the end, if you’re lucky enough to see it, is the ultimate gut-punch. I am not one to cry but my heart has been ugly sobbing since she said cancer, since she said two years (which was not f*cking two years ago, which is really unfair), since she said hospice and since her last I love you. Since she wrote her own eulogy and left me a message and unexpectedly showed me love again. If you can, be there. More than once. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s harder to not be.

You can always listen

In hospice, there wasn’t much I could do for her. I mean, I had the intentions to do whatever she needed, but she didn’t really need anything. I wanted to bring her any and all of her favorite foods, but eating was kind of out of the picture. All I could do was sit there and listen. Mostly, she didn’t say much but one day I went later than usual and got there as her Mom was driving off. I walked in to find Yesenia crying (she said I could share any story I wanted to) and I held her hand and asked her why she was crying. We had a good long talk about all the things on her mind, because she was a total worry-wort. I let her say it all. I just held her hand and stroked her arm and kept eye contact. She stopped at one point and said, “You are being a really good listener right now and I love that about you.” If I can do anything for any of my friends, it is listen. I will come listen to anything you have to say. Ever.

You can disagree with friends

We were polar opposites in so much, Yesenia and I. She was an all believing Christian and I am not religious. She never held any grudges, and shit, I will remember wrongs long before I remember rights (as Ku points out to me often). She loved everyone regardless and I will cut people out of my life who show me I don’t matter to them. She just didn’t have that in her. She was always nice and sometimes my face beats me to it. She always showed me love even as she delivered harsh truths to me, sometimes, and I could never hold that against her. If we hurt each other’s feelings, we gave the other some time and then apologized. We just had that ability and it is hard to find in others. What I’m saying is that we can have people around us who don’t believe the same as us and it helps us learn. She taught me a lot. One of the last things she said to me was, “We are both so different and I love you for it.”

When people see you hurting, they want to help

The day she passed I wrote some words about her on my Facebook and many reached out to me to offer love, kind words, and to offer help in any way. My problem has continued to be that I don’t know what kind of help I need. My heart hurts and I just want to shut everyone out and curl up in my bed and cry. And then get up and go through the motions until I want to lie in bed and curl up again to cry. I keep hearing this will pass and I know it must. I just don’t want to talk about it even though I know it’ll help make it hurt a little less. I want to share stories but then I get selfish. I want to talk about how much I loved her but then it reminds me I won’t see her again. What I’m saying is thank you for your love and kind words. They are not falling on deaf ears. I’m just trying to keep it together for life to continue, ya know?

Memorials are for the living

As we drove out to her service, I turned to Ku and said I didn’t really want to go. You see, I had time with her during her last two months in hospice and we said a lot to each other. I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed that closure from whatever would be said in a room full of people who I might have to talk to. I just don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want people to ask me how I’m doing or how I feel. I want to be a hermit and being at her service made me mourn in public and I just don’t think that is the type of thing for me. Either way, I’m glad I didn’t miss it. The hardest things still have to happen, no matter how hard, I guess.

Loyalty has many faces

One day we were sitting there, probably like two years ago, and Yesenia spoke of someone who I am not a fan of. I looked at her incredulously (Ku calls it my Latina face) and she stopped short and said, “What is that face for?” I angrily spat back, “I cannot believe you are still talking to that beezy who was so friggin rude to me!” I mean, I was pissed! How dare she?! And she kind of sat there for a moment and thought about it. She grabbed my hand and said, “I love you but I’m not going to be mean to people for what they do to you, okay?”

We need honesty

Well, on that same note, I was b*tching to Yesenia about some other person who had done me wrong and she kept countering with nice things about them so I turned and said, “It’s really hard to sit here and complain to you when you keep finding reasons to show that they are good. THEY ARE NOT GOOD. I am really upset at them right now.” And so she was quiet for a bit because she was never as loud as me and then she said, “Virginia (because she almost never called me Vee), yeah, they did some crappy stuff. But let’s just not focus on that because it makes you scowl and scowling gives you wrinkles and you really do have a beautiful face. Let’s not make it wrinkle prematurely. And everyone has some good in them.” Just like that. Matter-of-fact. She understood that about us all.

Spouses aren’t the end all of friendships

Ugh, this was the biggest thing I learned from her soul. I didn’t like a lot of the guys she dated and she hated my ex-husband and we butted heads on dating choices, yet somehow, we made it work. That is a big-ass friggin lesson.

How to say goodbye

I continue to think, even right now, that death is not the worst thing we will endure. Yesenia was in a lot of pain, and I continue to remind myself, when I’m feeling my saddest, that she is no longer feeling that and so this is better. It’s harder for me but for her, this is better. We are going to make something at home, in her honor, because Moose asked if we could. There will be a sugar skull made for her for Dia de los Muertos and we will have a small shrine with some of my favorite photos. The thing is, I refuse to say goodbye. I’m going to keep on loving her and saying her name because she will be in the land of the remembered for as long as I breathe. I’m going to allow myself to be sad and laugh at memories we shared and look back lovingly. This is how we will deal. We will continue to make shenanigans on Halloween and take some silly Christmas pics.

For her.

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Yesenia Isabel Zavala Rios (11/04/1974-03/23/2018)

2 thoughts on “What I’m learning from losing a friend

  1. Virginia, that was so beautifully written. I cried through all of it only because I could see her doing and saying all that stuff to you. She was such a beautiful person inside and out. She radiated her love for all who chose to see and for that I will mostly remember her by. Jesus said to love everyone even if they have done you wrong and that is exactly how Yesenia was. She was Christ like and never held a grudge against anyone. I lnow you were very close and it wont be easy losing her but as long as you keep her memories it will almost be as if she never left! I love you and thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

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