I’ve lost a friend. Four days ago I received news that one of my closest friends since childhood had left this life. My reaction surprised even myself. I gasped and my hands flew up to my face, covering it as if to shut out the information I’d just learned and somehow make it untrue.
I wanted to write. That’s what we writers often do when we’re struggling with something: we make sense of it on paper. It’s our therapy. But words didn’t come.
Lisa was a writer. This was a fact that had bonded us at an early age. We’d compare thoughts, poems, and stories. She was the only person I knew who loved writing as much as I did. “The moon is keen and I like green” was one of the most memorable stanzas from an early poem she had written.
I immediately made preparations to travel “back home” to attend Lisa’s funeral. Amidst the planning, I received a text message asking if I’d like to speak at the service along with a few other friends. I froze for a moment. Public speaking scares almost everyone, doesn’t it? But I quickly accepted. I knew it was an honor to be asked. I said a silent prayer that I’d find the words that would do Lisa justice.
In gathering to remember Lisa, we went back in time, to the time we remember Lisa best, before she suffered a traumatic brain injury eighteen years ago. Going back, we laughed at her whimsical behavior, the way she’d have a million ideas all at once as if she was frenzied, juggling balls in the air. We friends, many of whom traveled from hours away, gathered at a local watering hole for laughs, memories, and a toast to Lisa and all that she meant to each of us.
For two days I struggled for the right words to speak at her funeral. This was the last thing I would be able to do for my friend and I wanted to make her proud, I wanted it to be a comfort to her family, and I wanted it to comfort me.
One thing you should know about Lisa is she was steadfast in her relationships with friends and family. She was loyal and supportive, encouraging and loving. She also had the ability to reinvent herself on a daily basis. One day she was a wild child, embracing life and squeezing out every last drop of excitement and experience. The next day she was quiet, introspective, silently soaking in everything and contemplating it.
Lisa had a brilliant mind. Some say she was born in the wrong era, that she was a flower child at heart. One story recalled over these days spent honoring Lisa was that years ago, she announced to an uncle that she would one day purchase a VW van and journey with him to California. Lisa had dreams that knew no bounds. And had she been given the chance, I have no doubt she would have lived out every one of them.
Lisa was untamable. She was a force, a wind. She was here and then gone, fleeting yet resolute. She was a dreamer, a creator, a poet with purpose. When I spoke at the funeral, I was honest…Lisa couldn’t be captured in words alone. Her essence had to be told in stories–“Lisa stories” I call them.
I recalled her unique fashion sense, in high school wearing men’s boxers…outside her jeans. She loved challenging herself and those around her, making them think. Early in high school we both agreed to read The Fountainhead and stretch our minds a bit. I reminded folks of her compassion (as if we need a reminder…we always knew). I spoke of a time we encountered a homeless woman in Detroit and all Lisa had to give was the baklava she had purchased moments earlier. But give she did and this woman accepted it with a smile of appreciation.
I didn’t mention the time we went to a well-known quick haircut place where we’d made appointments to get our hair done for our friend’s wedding. As bridesmaids, we wanted to look great. As out-of-towners we had no idea where to have an updo done so we went with what we thought was the safe choice, a hair salon chain. We’d been specific when making the appointment. We wanted French twists. Could they do those? Yes, they’d assured us.
The wedding day was there and we made our way through the city and nestled into the salon chairs side-by-side, ready to get glamorous. Each stylist would comb out our hair, then start to backcomb it a little, comb some more, repeat. It was a little like pushing your vegetables around on your plate as a child hoping your mom wouldn’t notice you really weren’t eating them. Lisa and I exchanged confused glances in the mirrors we faced.
Time was ticking. The wedding wouldn’t wait. Finally, I asked nicely if they really could do the French twist we were after. With sighs and shame, both women admitted they couldn’t do it. We assured them it was okay and tried to hurry away. As we walked out the door, Lisa ran back and left her “stylist” a tip. Ah, Lisa. A tip for the gal who couldn’t perform the service. There’s no one sweeter than Lisa.
I’ve learned so much from Lisa over the years. Perhaps the most valuable lessons I learned just now as she passed. The friends who returned from afar to see her off, the countless memories everyone has of different phases of her life, how truly loved she was by so many people, and how many lives she had profoundly touched are all testimony to what an amazing person she was. Lisa didn’t squander time. She lived it to the fullest.
In the going back and remembering and learning, we can go forward and take Lisa and her lessons with us. She was a dreamer and an artist and an encourager of others’ dreams. She was a rebel and a friend, a sister and a daughter, an aunt and a niece. She was many things to many people, but she was always this…beloved.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” ~Jack Kerouac