I went to a funeral in Florida this month. It was for my best friend Jenny’s mother, Diane. It was important for me to go because Jenny died over 5 years ago and I couldn’t attend her funeral.
Florida is a difficult place to express grief. There is so much sunshine and palm trees. The unfortunate circumstances of my trip created an unintended vacation. I was able to visit with another high school friend for the first time in 20 years.
When I told my friend, Victoria, that I wanted to pop by the local POCA clinic in Sarasota to say hi to Melonie, Gene, and Carmen, she promptly booked us appointments. I was looking forward to visiting my POCA comrades. At the time, I didn’t think I needed a treatment for much more than my stiff neck and a stamp in my POCA Passport.
I settled into a chair. The clinic felt familiar and comfortable even though I had never been there before. Melonie asked “What are we working on?” I told her that my friend's mom had passed away, but my friend died unexpectedly over five years ago. I never had a chance to grieve her loss.
I couldn’t feel anything when Jenny died because I lost her a long time ago. She was my best friend, but that did not necessarily mean that I was her best friend. I have some great memories. We made mixed tapes and pancakes. She helped me color my hair with henna. I also have memories that are not great. Her feelings towards me could run hot or cold. She would suddenly get mad at me and cut me off. I was afraid that I would lose her friendship. I was afraid that she would convince other people to dislike me. After our sophomore year she moved away. I wrote to Jenny often. Sometimes she would write back.
Jenny’s parents attended my wedding two years after she died. We said what people say when we lose someone who struggles with mental illness; “She’s in a better place now. She is not longer suffering.”
Jenny is in a better place now, but we are still here. We will always remember how she suffered. We will always remember how we suffered. When I lost touch with Jenny so many years ago I made up my mind to move on. I didn’t feel like worrying about her anymore. I needed my own space to shape my life. I didn’t want to define myself around her anymore. My family stayed in touch with Jenny’s family. I always knew when she was in or out of rehab. I always knew when she was in and out of jail. I would think “gee, that’s too bad.” Then I would go back to studying, working, and getting through my life. When my mother called me to tell me that had Jenny died of a lung abscess, I was completely numb.
The tears came in waves throughout my acupuncture treatment. I could hear all the songs that we used to sing together. I could hear Jenny’s voice for the first time in years. I told her that I was sorry. She told me that it’s not my fault. Other patients in the room were aware that I was crying. Melonie came back with extra tissues because another patient could see that I needed them. Another patient told Melonie that they wanted to hug me but also wanted to give me space. I did not intend to disturb the treatment space, but it was comforting to feel the same solidarity that I feel when I get treatments at my home clinic in New Hampshire.
When my patients cry during their treatments I reassure them that it’s not unusual and that it’s a good thing. That is what Melonie said to me. As her patient that day, I needed that reminder. It's the best thing that she could have said. The last thing that I need to hear is “are you okay?” or “I hope you feel better.” My tears are proof that I feel something and that is better than feeling nothing. When Victoria and I said goodbye to Melonie, we headed to downtown Sarasota. I cried over lunch at the Farmer’s Market. I cried on boat ride with my family. I cried in the shower. I cried on the airplane. I still have tears that are waiting to come out. One of the best parts of not being 15 anymore is that I no longer care if my vulnerability makes other people uncomfortable.
As a promoter of POCA, I always want there to be more POCA clinics offering affordable acupuncture and healing in solidarity. This weekend I underestimated just how badly I would need that experience for myself. Thank you, POCA. Thank you, Sarasota Community Acupuncture. Thank you, Victoria.
Thank you. I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me.
Into the soul, peace to the mind, peace to the world. Peace.