On November 1, I woke up to a text from my mom, to Garrett and me: Call me when you get this." Clearly, bad news. At 6;30am, I learned that a very dear family friend had died in a car accident late Halloween night. I have spoken and texted those words many times in the past two weeks, but they don't convey the relationship my family had with Jack's family, nor the scope of his loss.
Jack was the first death in our crowd of friends. He was one of the "little little" kids-- just 28 years old. I am of course sad because Jack was a wonderful person who died far too young, but the ripples of sadness extend so, so far. Both of Jack's step sisters live nearby-- one in Boulder, one in Denver-- and we have celebrated engagements, births, weddings, and various parental visits together. His older sister and I are lifelong friends. His older brother was the best man in Garrett's wedding last month. We were neighbors all throughout our childhoods. Dana spent a summer a few years ago working for Jack's dad in Maine, and Jack's mom is one of my mom's closest friends. My heart is broken for them.
I wrote about my idyllic New Boston childhood here. I did not, however, write about the relationships that created that childhood, and truthfully, I don't know if it's possible to capture in words what it was like to grow up in such a close-knit group. Our crowd of 8-10 families has been friends for over 30 years.The kids were friends, and the parents, too. In my adult life, I find myself longing for that sort of tribe. It was just as likely that someone else's mom would pick you up from preschool as your own. When, in Kindergarten, I had a conflict with a friend, I vividly remember my mom telling me that I didn't have to like her, but that she would be in my life forever, and I needed to figure it out. (We figured it out, and we are indeed still in each other's lives). On unbearably hot June days, our moms would take us out of school and bring us to Greenfield State Park to swim in the lake and eat salami sandwiches for dinner on the beach. We slept at each other's houses as often as at our own, permanent fixtures at one another's dinner tables. We went on family vacations together, and we know each other's extended families and family stories. When my parents divorced, I sought and found father figures in my friends' dads. When my grandfather had a stroke, there was no question I would stay anywhere other than at the Browns'. As adults, we have been in each other's weddings, attended each other's baby showers, loved each other's children from afar. My New Boston family is truly my home.
Our crowd has done divorce (wow, have we done divorce). We've done cancer, and traumatic births, and other illnesses, and grandparents' (my parents' parents' generation) deaths. But we haven't yet had to mourn one of our own.
I have been writing this post in my head for two weeks, but it wasn't until after the bombings in Paris that I started to put it into words. Now, Jack's death feels connected to a tragedy in Paris, which, at one time, was also home to me. There has been a lot of unhelpful, accusatory rhetoric since Friday's tragedies, but a couple of writers have articulated truths that apply not only to Paris, but also to Jack's death. On Saturday, Anne Lamott wrote a Facebook post that I can't stop reading. About Sandy Hook, she writes:
What was helpful was that we stuck together in our horror, grief, anxiety and cluelessness. We grieved, we feared, we despaired, and raged, prayed; we reached out for any help at all; and these were appropriate responses. I am going to recommend that we do that today, and tomorrow. Wounds and trauma revealed were healed; eventually. Some of us couldn't eat at all, someone of us binged, some of us couldn't turn off the TV, some of us couldn't turn it on. Those were all appropriate. We felt like shit, and let some time pass, talked and stuck together. And day by day, we came through.
I think I can speak for my New Boston family when I say that sticking together is the only answer. Gathering in person when we can, and virtually when we cannot, is all that we can do. And, as Lamott says, day by day, we will come through again--not the same as before, but still together.