Firsts and Friends
Yours truly (right) with author and friend, Claire Bidwell Smith (left–and moderately preggars)
Most months, the first is a sometimes glaring, sometimes dreaded number appearing in the first square of the calendar. Some months it approaches more brazenly than others. The first of this month (March) has been on my radar for a while for a couple of reasons. March 23 would have been Ken’s and my 11th anniversary together, and also serves as a reminder that last year on that date he was in the hospital and was too out of it recognize our 10th. I think more than anything the beginning of March is more of a harbinger for me for feelings that will come later in the month. As for March 1 marking nine months since Ken died, like many other months past, I can hardly believe it.
But there was less of a sting this month. I’ve kept this first on my calendar for other reasons since I found out my friend and author Claire Bidwell Smith would be in Chicago doing a reading and signing of her first book, “The Rules of Inheritance.” It’s a stunning memoir dealing with the journey of coming to terms with grief and loss that I devoured the same day it was released last month. (See my blog about the book.) As the promotional tour was announced, I was excited to see Chicago was on her agenda. She was scheduled to do a reading at an independent book store in Andersonville–on Chicago’s north side and not far from me. And I couldn’t wait. I’d never been to an author’s reading before, so it was extra exciting.
There’s something very healing for me about seeing Claire. Something quiet and unspoken and gentle. Our friendship was forged for me–not only in the unyielding heat of grief and loss–but partially because of it. As our hospice grief counselor, we shared intimate moments that can only be experienced when you’re talking about love, life and approaching death. I felt at ease with her the first time I met her, and my husband Ken and I both fell for her very quickly. Knowing my journey isn’t an unfamiliar one to her; that she has experienced significant loss like me, but that she’s compelled to write about it and help others better understand it are some of the reasons I find myself so connected to her. The irony–or rather, serendipity–of meeting her as I was losing Ken isn’t lost on me. She is one of the gifts bestowed upon me from the experience of loving and losing him.
The book store was packed and became standing room only at a certain point. Her reading was spellbinding. I found it comforting to hear her smooth, steady voice speaking the words just as I’d imagined them when I was reading it. In spite of that, I couldn’t help bobbing in and out of the story as I looked around the room, seeing everyone riveted and motionless as she read; the obvious support and love emanating from her husband Greg (who I’d gotten the chance to meet just before the event started) as he watched; the sound of my own heartbeat racing at times during her reading when her evocative words transported me.
It was a beautiful evening that left me feeling joy, pride and love–which the picture at the top pretty clearly demonstrates.