Friday, February 3, 2012

Learning to Live Again: The Healing Power of Friendship and Laughter

During the first year following Eddie's death, I struggled to find ways to enjoy myself or things to be happy about.  There were times when I laughed briefly or felt a little happiness for short periods, but nothing that lasted.  I was surviving but not really living.  Things took a definite turn for the better however one weekend in June 2010.  That was when I made a big step on my road to recovery by taking a trip with three of my good friends, Janie, Peggy, and Susie.  Janie had bid on and won a discount package to a resort in Panama City.  I was reluctant when she first asked me to go because it meant leaving on Father's Day, and I wasn't sure about not being with Trey that day.  When I told him about it, though, he insisted that he would be okay and I should go, so I finally agreed.

Janie and Susie rode together and left Sunday morning.  I waited until Peggy got out of church and rode with her so she wouldn't have to make the trip alone.  Normally when I go to the beach, I'm on a mission to get there as quickly as possible.  I only stop when absolutely necessary and have occasionally made the trip without stopping at all.  It never occurred to me that anyone did it any differently ... until I rode with Peggy.   We made frequent stops along the way - stops to get something to drink, then stops to go "potty" because we had stopped to get something to drink.  We also took the "scenic" route to Panama City - I saw small, out-of-the-way places in Florida that I never even knew existed.  This included an outlet mall where we stopped to shop for tennis shoes and to browse in a paper store for things we didn't need but that might be on sale.  I have to admit that after about five hours I began to wonder if we were really going to the beach!  I really enjoyed the time with Peggy though and wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.  We did a lot of talking and even more laughing which I soon realized was going to be the norm for the next couple of days.

When we got close to Panama City we called Janie and Susie to let them know we were almost there.  They were shopping and asked if we wanted them to pick up anything for us.  I told them I would like a bottle of White Zinfindel wine if they didn't mind getting it.  They stayed on the phone while they walked around the store looking for it.  After a few minutes they told us they were looking at some wine that said White Zinfindel on the bottle but they didn't think that could be what I wanted because it was pink!  Needless to say that brought quite a bit of laughter from both Peggy and me, and we didn't let them live it down anytime soon.  We hadn't even arrived at the resort and I had already laughed more that day than I had laughed in an entire year.  I decided agreeing to this trip had definitely been the right decision. 

The talking, fun, and laughter continued throughout the trip.  It didn't matter where we were - in the room, by the pool, in the car, at a restaurant - we constantly found something to laugh about.  On our second day, Susie and I took a ferry to Shell Island while Janie and Peggy went shopping.  We looked like the typical tourists lugging our chairs, beach bags, and coolers across the bridge to the beach side of the island.  We set up right on the edge of the water, sat in our chairs, talked, ate, drank, read, and relaxed.  We totally lost track of time.  After a while Susie and I both looked around and realized we were the only ones on the beach.  Everyone who had ridden over on the ferry with us was gone!  There was a second of panic thinking we might actually be stranded before we saw the next load of people from the boat coming across the bridge.  Of course Janie and Peggy got a big kick out of that story when we got back to the hotel. 

That night after dinner I decided to take a walk down the pier.  No one else really wanted to go, so I went by myself.  By this point doing things alone definitely didn't bother me, but (thankfully) my friends cared about my safety.  Before I left they made sure I had my cell phone with me and made me promise to get back to the hotel before it got dark.  Of course I didn't get back "on time" and as soon as it started to get dark my phone rang - it was Janie, standing on the balcony of our room, checking to make sure I was alright.  If it had been my mother checking on me I probably would have been aggravated, but because it was a friend it was somehow okay.

I took my share of "ribbing" on the trip, especially from Susie.  I've never been one who was able to get ready quickly and Susie enjoyed making an issue of this.  She teased me every time we had to get ready to go somewhere.  She claimed she could shower, dry her hair, iron her clothes, and get dressed before I ever got out of the shower.  I had to agree that I would stop getting ready when everyone else was finished, even it meant I only had make-up on half of my face!  I told them if it didn't bother them it wouldn't bother me (yeah - right).

The trip was over way too quickly.  For the first time in over a year I had genuinely relaxed and enjoyed myself.  If I had a "bucket list" I could have easily marked off one thing - to laugh until I cry.  I learned something very important during those three days and nights ... I didn't just want to survive, I wanted to live again.  Thank you Janie, Peggy, and Susie - I love you!

"Heart Gifts" by Helen Steiner Rice
It's not the things that can be bought
That are life's richest treasures,
It's just the little "heart gifts"
That money cannot measure.
A cheerful smile, a friendly word,
A sympathetic nod,
Are priceless little treasures
From the storehouse of our God.
They are the things that can't be bought
With silver or with gold,
For thoughtfulness and kindness
And love are never sold.
They are the priceless things in life
For which no one can pay,
And the giver finds rich recompense
In giving them away.

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