“Give sorrow words:
the grief that does not speak
knits up the o-er wrought heart
and bids it break.”
I could not find words this week. They were lost in grieving the loss of my cousin Danielle who died of cancer on her 36th birthday. Lost in feeling the agony of her husband and children, parents and brothers, innumerable friends and relatives who love her so much.
They were lost in attempts to understand, to find some measure of peace in the waves of sadness and anger and numbness that would not stop.
I couldn’t write, so I just let myself feel. Let myself cry. Let myself remember.
Danielle was my very best friend growing up in Canada. We were more like sisters than friends, commiserating with each other over being the only girls in housefuls of boys and of the fishbowl existence of being pastor’s daughters.
We would spend holidays together, visit each other as often as we were able, and squeeze every possible adventure we could into each visit.
We were crazy little girls, drama queens to the core, feeling everything on a grand scale and expressing it through big words and pages of journal entries.
We hosted lavish tea parties for our mothers, announcing their entrance by pounding wooden broom handles on the floor and shouting, “Hear ye! Hear ye!” before escorting them grandly to their chairs.
We had sleepovers in the “most romantic” (and most uncomfortable!) places we could think of: an old shed, a spider-filled attic, her family’s camper trailer and absolutely loved it. We’d scare ourselves silly dreaming up awful stories while munching our way through jars of dill pickles we’d swiped from our mother’s pantries.
We considered ourselves rather accomplished cooks and I still have the little recipe book we wrote one summer filled with enticing delights like Cool Candy Cinnamon-a-mon and Hot Mexican Cha-Cha.
When we weren’t furious with our brothers, we absolutely adored them and spent many happy hours building forts, playing war, sledding in the winter, and watching stupid movies that were infinitely funnier when all of us were howling with laughter.
Danielle was always the more fashionable one, and she took great delight in dolling me up and making me look marvelous. I always secretly wished she could live with us and pretty up my tomboy self every day.
Danielle brought out the ridiculous in me and was the funniest person I ever met. As we got older, our cousin Shannon joined the mix when she moved back from her home in Ethiopia. We were the three daughters of three sisters and when our moms got together, so did we.
We had one particularly memorable sleepover when we decided that we really ought to name and converse with our guardian angels. We thought that surely they would emerge from their shadowy world to talk with three such delightful girls. I dubbed mine Anne and Gilbert (three guesses as to what books I was reading at the time) and we waxed long and eloquently to those stubbornly silent angels until 3 a.m. when we finally gave up.
We went to junior high and high school and comforted each other through the emotional traumas of our teenage years, planning our weddings and picking out names for our future kids. Our brothers swore I should not be allowed to have children because my names were so odd, but Danielle (after hooting with laughter at my choices) stalwartly stood up for me.
We moved away but kept in touch through letters and yearly visits, always able to pick right up again through a lifetime of shared memories and inside jokes. For a little over a year we were able to live just over the border from each other, me in the US and her in Canada, and we absolutely loved it. I actually got to get to know her husband instead of just hearing about him, got to hold her babies instead of just seeing pictures. We felt so lucky.
I watched her become more beautiful every year, delighted in her incredible creativity through the things she cooked, wrote, made, and the gorgeous photos she took. We loved getting together and nattering about what we were working on, laughing ourselves silly over faux pas, and crying over the awful things that sprinkled our lives and the lives of people we loved.
Then life intervened again and she moved to Northern Alberta. A bit later I moved to Europe, then Australia, and things changed. We both went through traumatic things, things that change a person, and change a relationship. I learned that change is OK, that sadness over change is OK. I learned that we could still love each other from afar, still cheer each other on in our hearts, still celebrate each good thing and mourn each bad thing even if we weren’t there in person.
She will always live in my heart as my very best childhood friend. The keeper of my secrets, the teaser of my foibles, the sharer of my gummi bears. I miss her terribly.