Until Next Time
This is a post about who Nikki is to me.
In the early summer of 2005, someone "new" commented on this blog. Her name was Sarah. She was witty, and opinionated and feisty. She signed her comment with "Shalom." I "ran" to see who she was. I felt an immediate connection, a quick and intense "blove" for this woman. I looked forward to getting to know her. But I wouldn't have much time. She was soon to go into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant. She'd be away from blogging for about 100 days. I was sad about that, but talked with her as much as I could, and looked forward to deepening our friendship when those 100 days were up. When she became too ill to blog, I communicated, via comments, with her sisters and her partner, Nikki.
While on vacation, I would scramble to get to an internet connection to check on her. I remember sitting in the lobby of a Hampton Inn, reading that Sarah wasn't doing well. Jif was watching me as I read, and he said, "Is your friend in trouble?"
I would imagine this is true for those of you reading, as it is for me: it is a relief to me, a gift to me, when someone like Jif understands that someone I never met is truly my friend. Within days of that vacation check-in, I learned that my friend, Sarah, had died.
I gave my email address to Sarah's family, and on the day after she died, I heard from Nikki. Over the next many months, Nikki and I exchanged dozens of emails. I got to know her as an intelligent, sensitive, generous, loving, altruistic, funny woman. And a woman with, as she said, "a hole in my heart," created by Sarah's absence. It is hard, too hard, I think, when you are someone who is so "all heart," to continue doing what you do, when that hole is there.
Interspersed through the posts here, are comments from Nikki. Loving, supportive, funny. Even one where she threatened to "throttle" me if I didn't take good care of myself with my European troubles. I used that line to tease her about unleashing her inner BADASS, which she protested wasn't really in there. I still think it was.
There is so much more in my heart than I can get to come out of my fingertips, coherently. Bear with me, friends. I am still struggling with all that has happened.
My first emails with Nikki were me trying to offer comfort. She read some books I recommended. She was so grateful for every kindness shown. And I began to really care for her. I began to experience her as yet another of Sarah's gifts. And I became very thankful for her friendship.
When I posted about my medical problems, Nikki was immediately on the case. I was reluctant to discuss details with her at first, not wanting to take advantage of the friendship. She adamantly dismissed my concerns about that. She became animated, excited, at the opportunity to help me:
"I love being a doctor, and it's the one constant in my life that keeps me going. The reason I have not to pull the sheet up over my head somedays. It's my 'high in life.'"
And she was a good doctor, to me. She gave me good advice. I started out with a real-life doctor who was not so good, and she helped me find one that is excellent. I was in pain, and frightened, and Nikki stepped up. And I remain thankful. Especially thankful, because I understand that she was taking a risk in doing so. It is, to put it gently, unwise (if not unethical and potentially illegal) for a licensed physician to give medical advice to a stranger on a blog. And she did it anyway, and I love her for that, among other things.
I also turned to her when I learned of another blogfriend who had a friend, who needed advice. Yes, a friend of a friend, for whom I turned to help from my friend, Nikki -- and I never met any of these people. Nikki said this, at that time:
"You know I would do anything as far as getting info for people. I think in your profession, you 'mental health folks' are much more anal about privacy . . . but having said such, since I write out of an email acct. with my name on it -- you know that I trust you. Again, if these people or anyone else needs help, you know I will be happy to do what I can."
I share these stories, just to say, Nikki was willing to take risks to help people. To share her gifts with someone who needed them. It was little more than a month after Sarah's death that we learned Nikki was going to Louisiana, to help Katrina victims. Then, just weeks ago, she told us she was going to Cambodia for a year as a medical volunteer. When I wished her well, I told her that I prayed her efforts would make a difference, to those she was helping, and to her own healing journey. And she wrote,
"I, too, hope my work will make a difference, and through such my heart will heal."
In the 10 days or so since I learned of Nikki's death, I have gone through a lot of changes. It may be my spiritual discipline, or it may be my crutch, depending upon your perspective, but when I am knocked down by life events such as this, my first response is to scramble to find that for which I can be thankful. First, I was thankful that my friend, Shari, told me the news. That I heard it from her sweet, gentle voice, rather than reading it. I will always remain grateful for that. And to those of you who received an email from me, I wish I could have done better, in that regard.
The next thing for which I am so very grateful -- and I have seen this as a miracle, really -- is that Nikki said goodbye. And those who love her said their goodbyes. Because she believed she was leaving for a year, we all got to say sweet things to her. To tell her how much she meant to us. We were given the gift of having no regrets, about loving words left unspoken. This is unheard of, in the case of a sudden, accidental death. And ask anyone who has been left behind, after a loved one has left in that way; they will tell you that not having had the opportunity to say those things is one of the most distressing aspects of their loss. Those who love Nikki were spared that distress. We got to say what we needed to say. I can't overstate how thankful I am for that.
What I did not say to Nikki, was "the G word." As I told her, I don't do goodbyes. I never have; just can't, when having to take a break, or "permanently" leave a loved one. Whether it's an extended vacation or an imminent death, I say, "I'll see you next time." And I have faith that there will be that next time. Except in Nikki's and my case, the actual meeting will be the first time. And that brings me back to the whole, "Are internet friends real friends?" Was Nikki real?
These last few days, I keep returning to a quote from my graduate school days, when I studied the psychological theories of Carl Jung. In addressing the question of whether to believe the sometimes unbelievable stories of clients, he said, and I love this SO much, he said, "Whatever acts is actual." If the belief, if the perception, acts upon our lives, our hearts, our minds, it is indeed, actual.
No doubt, then. Nikki is actually my friend. As is Sarah. I am a better person, with more possibilities in my life, for having had my path cross theirs, as we journeyed through this time and place.
Sarah's sister and Nikki's dear friend and sister-in-law, Shoshie, tells me that Nikki did not specify any particular charity, to which she would want donations made in her memory. What the family did discover, though, among Nikki's will and "final papers," was this request:
"My wish for memorials is for people to perform a kind act for someone in need, or to volunteer one hour at their favorite charity."
Nikki had, apparently, taken time to consider and articulate these wishes, in the aftermath of Sarah's death, as people were asking her what they could do to help. Of course, no one knew then how quickly people would be asking the family the same thing, regarding ways to honor Nikki's memory.
Anyone who encountered Nikki would not be surprised at her wish. Indeed, before Shoshie shared this with me, I had intended to tell you all, "Take a risk and make a difference. That will honor Nikki." That is what I intend to challenge myself to do, in her memory. In thanksgiving for having had her pass through my life. I think that is what she did, in a nutshell. For some of us, the risks taken may be big, like going to a strange country and culture to share our skills. For most of us, the risks will be smaller, though no less significant, like forgiving someone; like taking a moment to reach out to someone we don't know well. That's my challenge to myself, in Nikki's memory. Take a risk, make a difference. It really doesn't take much.
One of my first emails from Nikki was written just after she returned from Sarah's funeral service. If I insert Nikki's name in place of Sarah's, it expresses my regard for Nikki as I knew her. Nikki also expressed her gratitude for my role in her life at that point, and now I would say the same back to her. Nikki said,
"Sarah was the best of everything in a human. Smart, kind, witty, generous, loving. I am lost and still feel as if I am in a dream. Thank you again, for everything you did for us."
Until next time, Nikki.
And now, my dear friends who visit here. I need to say to you, too, "Until next time." Events of the last couple of weeks have affected me very deeply. You know that I have struggled with health problems for the last few months. I'm sorry (and pissed, and depressed, and confused) to say, there are more. I do not believe they are serious, but they are disruptive to my daily life, and they require more focused attention from me, in order to be properly diagnosed and treated. So, I need to take a break. I am thinking . . . weeks. Although I don't know for sure. My hope is to keep doing the Sunday Post, or maybe even ask some gracious blogfriend to cover that for me, once or twice. I am not ready to "pull the plug" here. And I hope it doesn't come to that. But I am being sent pretty clear messages, by my health, my life, and yes, my God, that I need to take a break from "What Was I Thinking?"
As I've said here many times before, I had no idea when I started, how absolutely delightful this experience would be. I can't thank you enough for being so welcoming to me, so very, very good to me. I won't go onandonandon. I am, as too often in recent weeks, under the influence of pain meds. I'll just say once more:
Thank you, from my truest heart parts.
God bless you.
I will see you next time.