The Space Between

Anniversaries of loss are strange postmarks in time. You know the date is coming — it looms in the season, the weather, the calendar. And when it arrives, you somehow feel simultaneously taken by surprise by the passage of time and anchored to the feeling that it has been so long since you’ve seen a face, heard a voice, had a conversation.

This past weekend marked three years since my dear friend Jen died. We lost her in one of those nightmarish ways that you read about but can’t fathom. Sudden cardiac death in the middle of the night, with no warning. She was here one day, larger than life, and then just gone the next. Her son was five and her twin daughters were turning four the following day.

And when I say we lost her, I mean all of us. Everyone who knew her, and, honestly, anybody who did not. Because when a personality that big and a presence so magnetic just ceases to be here one day, that void is just immeasurable.

Losing a friend is a strange, strange dynamic. It’s not the loss of a parent, or a sibling, or a spouse, so your grief resides and lingers almost at arm’s length in this ill-defined space. I would never claim to feel the depth of the loss that her family members feel or try to occupy that same emotional place. It simply isn’t the same. But the loss of someone, even not related to you, who shaped your childhood, who is connected to all of your memories of school and your hometown and adolescence and college and weddings and babies and beyond — that loss exists in a space so personal and doesn’t diminish over time. You can’t ever remove yourself from that fabric of your background, of your foundation.

Jen grew up down the street from me, in the house where her parents still live. The countless hours we logged driving together to and from school or social things or dance lessons are the times I often think about. Those car rides, some within town, some down the Garden State Parkway on a sunny day barreling toward the shore and tans and big hair, were the things of jokes and disagreements and gossip and music. The music. The car radio. Even now, songs from our days in the car instantly transport me in time and bring me to my knees when I’m driving my kids around in my minivan, some 20+ years later. I hear her singing in my ear. I half expect to turn and see her in my passenger seat with the windows down. I have willed her to appear in that seat so many times in the last three years. Maybe for a moment, the fleeting shadow of her voice singing along to the radio is there, and then it’s gone.

It wasn’t all roses and braiding each others’ hair and Kumbaya. Like all teenage girls, we had fights — about boys, about friends, about school. Later, there were some years of our lives, after college, when we spoke only periodically. And then there were others when we were in touch all of the time. She had friends from other parts of her life who I never met and others I came to know very well over the years. But this long and winding ribbon of our history together was something I expected to always have and I’m sure took for granted, as we all do with our friends. I never, for a moment, thought our orbits would stop intertwining.

It’s not that I left any grand statement unsaid or have any regrets. I just might never really get over not having known the last time I saw her would be the last. I would love to reconstruct that day at her house and our conversations, word for word, just to have them. But our kids were there, and it was of course chaotic. I know that in between addressing snack and TV requests, we swapped tips about Disney World and other trivial things. But we also discussed her finally-finished home renovation and how we were both about to leave our corporate careers. It was a huge time of transition for her and amazing change on the horizon. The cruelty of how she never got to really enjoy that time will never make sense to me.

Jen had started to ask me about having a third child when I was on the fence about it, not long before she died. She was so in love with her three kids, she loved the dynamic of three — she didn’t want me to miss it. Of course that wasn’t the reason we went on to have a third after all, but I like to think about how happy she would have been to meet him. And had my son been a daughter, we would have chosen Jennifer for a middle name.

I remember the days and months after she died that the air felt so heavy to me. We lost her the day after Memorial Day, when everyone is high on life with summer kick-off on the brain and the anticipation of that glorious shift in the seasons to lazy days and sunshine. But in those summer months of 2011, the breeze in the air felt stagnant to me and the clouds at night that were backlit by the setting sun looked heavy in the sky. It was a summer of shock, disbelief and confusion.

A lot has changed in those three years. The air doesn’t feel thick with confusion anymore, but there will always be a pit in my stomach that leaves me unsettled as the anticipation of Memorial Day draws near. Beneath the flags and the parades and shifting from jackets to t-shirts, I am reminded of that phone call in 2011. It still seems surreal that she is gone, but that shock factor has faded away with time. Just like everyone told me three years ago, I can smile now when I tell some of my favorite Jen stories. It doesn’t make the the bruise on my soul go away, but it shifts it from a very open wound to a scar that I’ll always feel.

But the radio. The car radio. It might always gut punch me.

She wasn’t my family in the literal sense, but I could never reconstruct my past without her. It would be impossible. And the space between is a strange place.

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  1. alexandra says:

    I can’t imagine.

    So scary, so possible.

    My love to her family, and you. You in your loss.

  2. Elle says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss. My heart goes out to you. <3

  3. This is a gorgeous post. I hate that it had to come from such a tender placeof loss. Thank you for sharing your friend with us.

  4. Alison Kehner says:

    Wow Kim–Jen always told me you were smart and that you could write, but this post blew me away. Your observations and your feelings described in this post are so on the money; I can’t ever seem to put into words how I feel every impending Memorial Day, but you were able to capture exactly how it is.

    Amazing. I hope you and the fam are well.


  5. Carrie says:

    My goodness, Kim…this is heartbreaking.

    What great memories you have though. That doesn’t necessarily heal the pain, but it’s something you will have forever.

    Lots of hugs to you today. Lots.

  6. Grief is so tricky. So slippery. You described it perfectly, and now my tears are for your friend Jen, and for my friends who live in my memory, and who live in my car radio.

  7. You’re right about that strange space of losing a friend. I lost a dear friend a few years ago, right before Christmas and every time I look at his signature on my wedding frame, or see a picture of us in 5th grade, I remember, all over again that he’s gone. That I’ll never see him again and it’s totally weird.

    Hugs on your loss… you got to have her for all that time, and that in itself is SUCH a blessing. Think of the things you wouldn’t have done without her in your life.

    • fordeville says:

      Yes, you’re right — I’m so grateful to have known her as long as I did. And I’m sorry about your friend too 🙁

  8. Alyssa says:

    Kim, you have brought to mind so many of my own memories of Jen… and you, in some way big or small, are linked to all of them. The memories are beautiful and full of life and laughter. I am so sorry she is gone, for her family, her children especially, but your loss holds a tender place in my heart. She will always be there with you in my mind.
    I hope you and your family are well. With love, Alyssa

  9. Michael Paulison says:

    That was wonderful of you to write remembering Jen. The song on the radio brings everyone to a common feeling… family, friends, and acquaintances. Remembering a single, happy moment is like a gift and being remembered fondly is the most any of us could ever hope for. Taking the time to write a beautiful open letter makes your friendship extraordinary.

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