But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.–Thessalonians 4:13-14
If you’ve ever lost a best friend, how has the loss impacted you? This may include their expected or unexpected death, or the end of the relationship…
“You’re pretty. You wanna piece a gum?”
I was walking from class and stopped short by some tall chick with a mischievous expression and a boy standing next to her, looking at her like she was crazy.
“Sure, what kinda gum is it?” I asked.
“It’s peppermint…here,” she says forcefully.
Bzzzp. “What the hell?” This girl, who I’d never seen prior to today (and her friend) are both laughing hysterically like a bunch of wild hyenas, and I’m salty. But before I know it, I’m also howling; unaware that I’ve just met my new best friend.
It’s funny in hindsight that a piece of “trick gum” is what brought us together. But that was Connie. Always laughing, cracking jokes and smiling. She lived a mere 25 minutes away from the golf courses that dominated my community, but she might as well have lived on another planet. Especially on the weekends when we didn’t get to see each other every day, like in school. Her mother didn’t believe in the sleepovers that had helped shape and been a huge part of my childhood, though she relented twice that I can remember, and only after Mommy cajoled her into it.
Connie lived in a small apartment off Tamarind Avenue in West Palm Beach, Florida. It was tiny, but immaculate. Ms. Helen, her mother, cleaned houses for rich, white folks in Palm Beach, so you know she wasn’t about to come home to no dirty house of her own. I distinctly remember feeling embarrassed for her living situation the first time I visited and then ashamed for thinking that she had any less love provided to her in their home, simply because of its size. That apartment held a quiet, unassuming sense of comfort and peace within its walls. It had good energy. If you’ve ever walked into a room full of negative energy, you’ll understand.
We were an odd pairing, no doubt. Where she was tall, I was short. Where she spoke in a knowing way that could only have been ingrained into her psyche through struggle, I was loud, rebellious and arrogant. Where I wore designer clothes and stayed on top of the latest fads, she did not. She spoke of God and often quoted scripture to me, but don’t get it twisted, she knew better than I did the code of the streets and would fight in a minute to protect herself or someone she cared about. I loved that about her. The juxtaposition of her characteristics.
She would tell me that other kids at our school would ask her how we came to be friends. Someone even suggested that I was only her friend because it made me look better…could you imagine? I could tell it hurt her feelings that other people felt as though they needed to make sense of our friendship when we clearly could have cared less. Fric and Frac, we were undeniably two peas in a pod.
Even after I moved to Georgia, the physical distance did not matter. We still spoke on the phone nearly everyday discussing the growing pains of jobs, men, our children, and life. We made an unlikely pair of friends but it was real.
I’d begged her for months not to get involved with this guy she liked and had a crush on. He wasn’t living right and doing it right in front of her mother’s house. Caught up in the game, he was so nice to her and Ms. Helen—and that’s the only thing she saw. Not the fact that he already had a girlfriend or was selling drugs, just that he was kind to them.
We ended our conversation one evening, much later than we’d spoken to each other in a long time. Both single mothers, her mother often joked that she hoped I didn’t have anymore children because as soon as I had a baby, Connie would turn around the next year and do the same. I stopped at two and she won with her third. Knowing that we both had children to get up early the next morning for school, I tried once again to get her to look at the crush situation from a more logical point of view. I could tell she wasn’t feeling it and the conversation ended with me feeling disgusted and disappointed. I turned off the lights in my bedroom and went to sleep.
Why is the phone ringing this early? My alarm clock hasn’t even gone off yet and now I am fully awake. I feel heavy, pregnant even, with dread. It’s one of those phone calls.
“Uhh, Ms. Mya…” Jesus, it’s her oldest son. It has to be Ms. Helen, I tell myself; she’s getting up in years and something has happened.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but my Mom got shot.” Wait…what did this baby just say?
To this day, I’m still not sure if I asked him to repeat that last bit or if silence prompted him to repeat it, but the next thing I knew, I was dialing Ms. Helen’s home number. I could hear the confirmation in her voice as soon as she answered, that quiet ache of disbelief and sorrow etched together.
“She gone, Mya. Ya girl is gone. They sayin’ she got shot __ times, aint’ that right, Sir?” I hear indistinct mumbling from a male voice in the background. Everything is white around me; sound, sight, everything. Breathe. Just breathe, Mya. “The cops are here now but they won’t let me out the front door. They won’t let me see my baby.” She’s whining now, and it takes all of my strength not to unleash the storm brewing inside of me. I want to scream. Instead, I promise to call and check on her later and we end the call.
I am unraveling.
One after another, alarm clocks are sounding and the house is fully awake now. I pray that my body will allow me to get out of bed and function, just long enough to get the boys off to school and then it can do whatever it needs. I don’t want to alarm them, but as soon as Blair knocks on my door and opens it, I blurt out that Connie has died. Just like that, in my obtrusive and sometimes grossly inappropriate way, I get it out and off me.
My oldest child looks at me and the expression on his face is something I will never forget. I believe fully that for the first time, he saw me as a real person and not just as his mother. He hugs me and wants to stay home with me, doesn’t want to leave me alone. Nick hears the news and is also stunned. It takes every bit of strength I can muster not to cry in front of them. I assure them that even though I’m sad, it’s okay and they should go on to school and try to concentrate as best they can. Reluctantly, they leave the house and I am alone with this new normal.
I call home next and my Dad is the first person I reach. Because he still gets up early every morning to watch the news and enjoy his cup of coffee, he listens as I tell him that Connie has been killed. Shocked, he tells me that he saw a report about a shooting but didn’t pay attention to any name they listed and he is sorry. Next, Mommy gets on the phone and I have to repeat the story again. I am unraveling and pushing it down as best I can. I want nothing more than to roll on the floor, but the retired teacher and guidance counselor keeps me on the phone talking.
She’s doing that thing. As a parent, I recognize the innate sense I have that is in tune with my children’s emotions. She wants to maintain the connection, but because she is in the next state over and cannot comfort me physically, she does the next best thing and sends my aunt and uncle over to check on me.
Over the next few days, I walk around in a fog until I look up one day and realize that Mommy and I are standing in a chapel in front of a casket. I think it was pink and white, I honestly don’t remember. We don’t recognize the person lying inside of it and I ask if we’re at the right church. I can tell by her expression she is deciding what to say to me and then I see the gold, engraved plate on the front. Connie J. Pierce. It’s her. It IS her. I point to the engraving and say, “Mahhh.”
Steering me toward a seat somewhere in the back of the church, we get seated just as Connie’s family is lining up to march in. I want to lean out of my pew and touch Ms. Helen and Connie’s three children, but I can’t move. Can’t speak. And can’t think. I focus on the figure lying in the casket and the erratic beating of my heart.
I am unraveling.
One year older than me, Connie would have turned 49 years old in July. Instead, she died a 37 year-old, single mother of three young boys. She’s missed graduations, birthdays, marriages/relationships, and all of the blessings that parents acknowledge and are grateful for. Her children will never again feel the comfort of their mother’s embrace. And that pains me.
Because I could not bring myself to follow the casket to the cemetery and watch as it was lowered into the ground, I had no idea where her tombstone was. I told myself she was in California on business. For eight years. That was how I comforted myself when I felt like the wheels were about to come off.
The first time I visited her gravesite was after my youngest son’s father died and I realized they were both buried within feet of each other. Ironic that the two people who knew me better than anyone would both leave this earth suddenly and tragically. I was unraveling.
During our 21 years of friendship, I can only remember the two of us having one major disagreement. While we moved around it, I never told her that I forgave her momentary lapse in judgment. We didn’t even argue about the situation, but after expressing how disappointed I was, several days passed before we spoke again. We continued along as though it had never happened. She died without knowing that I had forgiven her—and the weight of my inability to simply say, “I forgive you,” weighs heavily on me.
Connie’s sudden and tragic death has left an indelible imprint on my life. There’s a void that I’ve wanted to make sense of but cannot. Maybe I’m not even supposed to. Is that what God has been whispering to me?
I cursed him. I cursed God for taking her from me. I cursed him and instead of turning his back on me, he’s been talking to me in my dreams, in my writing, and showing up all around me.
Because she always placed a lot of emphasis on dreams, I began a few years prior to her death, looking up the meanings of certain dreams we had and would share with each other. After she died, I didn’t dream for a long time, and that confused me. Well, my dreams this past year have not only reappeared, they have come back with a vengeance. And I’m writing most of them down which allows me to feel closer to Connie and God. I think deep down He is steering me toward a greater connection with both of them and it’s very comforting. Something I haven’t felt in a long time.
I would encourage anyone mourning the loss of a friend to seek spiritual guidance and comfort from the Source, no matter what you call him. Even if you feel like you don’t deserve to be in His presence or that you’ve walked or are walking a path that might be displeasing to him, seek him anyway.
Losing my best friend has been one of the most challenging experiences in my life, but I’m learning to navigate the loss and I’m so grateful for the breakthroughs I’m having.
Hugs and Blessings,