Blame it all on my roots,
I showed up in boots
and ruined your black tie affair
And that was all it took for every country fan, good old boy, and wannabe to join in. It was funny, and it was fun. More importantly, I think it took the upperclassman in charge by surprise. A fairly large crowd of singing freshmen in uniform must have been a sight to see and hear! We certainly produced quite a bit of noise - maybe not the most melodious noise, but very much united, loud, and proud. From that moment on, it became our tradition to sing “Friends in Low Places” at accountability each week. That song became a part of who we were as a plebe class. It sort of became our class anthem. Sure, it was a rowdy song more suited for a bar than the gym at a federal academy, but it was ours. During the four (or five or even six) long years we were in school – years spent cramming TONS of information into our brains at breakneck speed; months spent at sea and far away from home; days spent on liberty if we were lucky or on restriction if we weren’t - we came to understand just how valuable friends were, even and especially in low places.
College was a long time ago, and I like to think I’ve matured a bit since then. Though I still enjoy the occasional beer, I don’t get drunk anymore, and while I do enjoy hanging out with friends, I don’t hang out at bars. I most certainly don’t sing at any! But if I ever happened to drink a little too much again while I also happened to be at a karaoke bar, then “Friends in Low Places” would be my go-to song, my lively and raucous ode to both liquid courage and fond collegiate memories. Until that happens (ha!), then I’m resigned to sing it only in the shower. Oh, I’ll sing it very loudly and very well, if I do say so myself, but only in the shower.
I’ve got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases the blues away
And I’ll be ok
It seems a bit odd that such a specific song with such strong memories from a much more carefree time in my life would come to mind now in my post-Ella world. It’s not as though I heard the song on the radio because I don’t really listen to secular radio anymore – country, pop, rock or otherwise. I don’t go out drinking with friends, and though it would be seriously fun to do, I don’t have much of an opportunity to sit and reminisce with Academy classmates about the good old days and that good old song.
But I have frequented some low places recently. Some really low places. The types of places from which I wasn’t sure I’d ever return and the types of places that still threaten to overwhelm with absolutely no warning. If not for some incredibly awesome, generous, and loving friends, I would still be floundering alone in those low places.
When Ella died….oh Lord, when my Ella died, I didn’t know how I would ever be able to go on. I didn’t know how I’d ever pick up the shattered pieces of my life and of my heart, and frankly I just couldn’t imagine ever being able to move forward. I didn’t know how I could be a good wife and mother again when so much of my heart died with my daughter. I’m still not there yet, not by a long shot. I’m not back to being fully present here with the living because it’s so freaking hard not to focus on the dead, on my sweet baby girl who may no longer occupy the crib in the corner of my room but who occupies so many of my thoughts.
I have been blessed to be surrounded by friends who didn’t try to push me or drag me through the grieving process at society’s pace, but rather let me move at my own pace. I have been blessed by friends who are more than willing to stand still and wait for me to move forward if and when I’m ready. By friends who stand still with me while I face backward and think of my sweet baby, who let me share my memories, both good and bad, and who listen. I have friends who, with the patience of the saints, endure the shitty moods, the simmering anger, and the sad quiet. I have friends who come to me with no agenda of their own about how I should heal or grieve or learn to live again.
I have so many friends who have met me and held me and not left me alone at my low place. Oh, the friends I have in low places…
The friends who cleaned the house so that my family and I wouldn’t have to worry about it when we came home from the hospital that final time;
The friend who left her own family at home on Christmas night to be with me for a few hours because I needed to see her and to cry with her;
The friend who was contacted at the last minute but who willingly spent hours baking and decorating a gorgeous cake for the reception that followed the funeral Mass of the most awesome baby on the planet;
The friend whose family doesn’t eat wheat flour and sugar but who used those ingredients to bake a bunch of goodies for the reception;
The friend who rallied a group to provide tons of food and drink for the reception, and that group of friends who put their own lives and plans on hold to help in any way that they could;
The young friend who postponed celebrating his own birthday so that he and his family could join us in celebrating my daughter’s life and in mourning her death;
The friend who gave up his entire evening to fix my computer – the only computer that had ALL of the videos we had of Ella - because I had a panic attack worrying that we had lost them all;
The friends who made meals, or sent gift cards for meals, for my family - friends who are on tight budgets, who have to cook for lots of their own family members already, friends who don’t live close by but who took time to deliver food, comfort and hugs;
The friend who left her son for a few hours in the hospital so that she could check on me and give me a hug;
The friend who isn’t Catholic but who came with me to a Mass that was said for my sweet daughter;
The little friend who said that the second thing she wants to do when she gets to Heaven – after first hugging Jesus – is to hug Ella;
The friend who, in the midst of her own overwhelming grief, reached out to let me know that she was available if and when I needed her;
The friends who sent cards, texts, emails, and private messages and who still post messages on my FB wall to let me know they are thinking of me, of my family, of sweet Ella; friends who have no expectation of a response because even if they don’t truly understand how hard it is right now….they understand that it is so hard.
I am blessed to have so very many friends who have met me at my lowest place. So many friends who weren’t afraid to join me in that low place, who held my hand there, who hugged me tight there, who cried with me there, who shared my anger and frustration and dismay there, who prayed with me and over me there, and who haven’t let go of me there because they won’t let go until they knew I’ll be ok.
My friends know that nothing on this earth or in this lifetime will ever heal my broken heart, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to patch it up with love, kindness, understanding and time.
A while back during my morning walk, I got a mental image that brought me some comfort and a bit of peace. It was of a broken heart that was surrounded by lots of people. Those people were doing all manner of things. Some were pressed up against the heart, hugging it while also linking their arms to make a bigger, stronger hug, the type of hug that would keep the heart from splitting in two. Some were using putty to try to patch up all the cracks in the heart, working diligently and doing their best to repair what they knew was irreparable by their own hands. And some, God love ‘em…some were using silly putty, not necessarily to make repairs but to try to coax a smile out of the broken hearted.
Contrary to what Garth Brooks' song says, I don’t plan on going anywhere near where the whiskey may drown and the beer may chase these blues away. I know better. I know that the silly lyrics in a fun drinking song don’t really translate to wise counsel on healthy living. I know that drinking is a temporary “fix” for a permanent pain, something that would only mask and never fill that which will always be a huge absence in my life. Rather, I will continue to turn to my friends when the blues try to drown and chase me. I’ll remember how much they’ve already done for me, and I’ll remember that they were and still are so willing to lift me when I’m low.
It’s funny, isn’t it? Only in this messed up world would a drinking song from the 90s remind me of my blessings. And that’s what my friends are – blessings. Each one in his or her own way has reached out to me through the sadness that envelops me and, with open heart and open arms, has willingly and selflessly traveled to meet me where I am.
I am blessed beyond measure to have so many friends, and I can’t help but thank God for all of my friends in low places.
St. Ella, pray for us!