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Memorial Stones

Please pray for me. I just found a lump.

I was in my car in the Starbucks parking lot when the text arrived from my long-time best friend, Tammy. My stomach tightened and my heart raced.

For a dozen years we’d homeschooled our kids together. We worked for the same charter school. We had dinner together at least once a week, co-led a Bible study, and celebrated most holidays with each other because our hubbies worked nights and weekends. Twelve years of doing life together hadn’t only made us friends, it had bonded our hearts and souls.

I prayed for her in the parking lot, tears streaming down my face. I prayed every day after, privately until she announced to others that she had breast cancer. Then I organized a prayer group. I started meal chains and publicized fundraisers. I visited her every few days, then daily when she went on hospice eleven months after finding the lump.

“I love you,” I whispered as I knelt beside her bed the cold March morning she passed away. I realized my life would never be the same without her. The price we pay for loving deeply is hurting deeply.

Texts from friends arrived throughout that day. Most offered sympathies and prayers. Others added to my hurt.

I know it’s hard, but it’ll be okay.

Nothing about losing a person I loved so deeply seemed okay.

You can be thankful that she’s in heaven.

While I was grateful she was free from pain, I was mad that I had to live the rest of my life without her.

Each day I continued on, meeting obligations and acting like I was surviving. In reality, inside I was dying.

“What did you want to do for Easter?” my husband, Jeff, asked a few weeks later.

I wanted to stop pretending. I wanted peace, but I couldn’t find it. The one place that always brought me peace came to mind.

“How about we go to the beach?”

After church, we took a walk on the beach with our two teens.

The Southern California sun warmed my back as we strolled down the pier. Seagulls squawked overhead. I inhaled the salty air, remembering a conversation Tammy and I had a month ago over peanut butter M&Ms while watching the cooking channel.

“I’d love to go to the beach,” she said. “Just to see the water.”

“I could drive you in my hubby’s convertible.” I smiled.

“My wig would blow off.” She laughed.

Oh, how I wish I had taken her, I thought, my stomach churning with regret.

While the kids and Jeff talked about the waves, the surfers, and the fish dangling from people's poles, I focused on not crying. As we made our way to the sand, I tried to ignore the tightening in my chest.

Several feet from the pier the number of rocks that littered the shore grew. The farther we walked, the more they increased until we were on the hard, uneven stones rather than soft, squishy sand.

When I stumbled, I glanced down. A small, shiny black rock caught my attention. I bent over to pick it up.

“What’d you find?” Jeff asked.

I rubbed my fingers over its smooth surface. “A pretty rock.”

I wished Tammy were there to see it. She always said how beautiful the beach was. It would have been fun to collect rocks with her.

My attention having shifted from grief to the stones beneath my feet, I scanned the ground looking for unique finds. I picked up a white one, a flat reddish one, and a marbled round one.

“How about this one?” My daughter raised a rock with a greenish hue.

“This one is cool.” My son gave me a brown-and-black one.

Soon my hands were full and I started filling my pockets.

“What are you going to do with all those?” Jeff asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. And I really didn’t care. Holding something Tammy would love made me happier.

On the walk to the car, Jeff took my hand in his. “It was a good day.”

It was. But my sadness lingered because I wanted my bestie to experience it with me. My heart ached at all she would miss. Her oldest son’s eighteenth birthday and high school graduation. Other birthdays, weddings, grandbabies. We always said we would raise our grandchildren together …

I took a deep breath. Life without my bestie was going to be hard, but I would make it through one day at a time, one significant event at a time. To get through another forty-some years without her, I needed to count my blessings. I needed to remember the goodness of God.

I pulled a rock from my pocket with a smile. “Yes, it was a good day.”

A verse rolled around my head. I searched memorial stones in my Bible app. Joshua 4:5-7 came up.

“He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

Yes, this was what I needed. A memorial of God's goodness and all I have to be grateful for.

When I returned home, I went to the large hurricane-style candle holder on the bookshelf in the family room, half full of what looked like dried cranberries. The large candle in the middle had been burned less than half a dozen times. I took it out, along with the decorative berries. Then I emptied my pocket of the dozen rocks and placed them around the hurricane glass.

I picked up three. Each represented a milestone my best friend and I would have celebrated together. One for her oldest child’s birthday. One for me teaching at my favorite writing conference. One for the publisher who asked for the manuscript of my latest book. I dropped them into the glass with a clink.

“Whatcha doing?” Jeff asked.

“Being grateful.”

He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Every rock represents something good that has happened since Tammy left. Memorial stones.” I swallowed my tears. “Things I can be grateful for. Things I can celebrate with her one day when we meet again.”

He smiled. “That’s a great idea.”

I’ve made it through each day, month, and year by adding more rocks to my jar. There’s one for each school year I finish, one for each birthday of a family member, one for my books I finish, one for every award our kids receive.

I also put in rocks for all the obstacles I overcome. I dropped in one following my husband’s second heart attack. Another after delivering the eulogy at my dad’s celebration of life. The rocks are now just an inch from the top, reminding me of all I have to be grateful for. All that I have survived without her.

Three and a half years after my best friend passed, I received an invitation to her husband’s wedding. I added two more stones—one for the joy the family is experiencing and a second because his fiancée and I have become friends.

It’s true, my life has not been the same since my bestie passed away. I now have a new appreciation for each event of my life, whether joyous or hard, and I’m grateful that I loved someone so deeply that my life is forever changed.

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