By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Ten years ago, I got on a plane and went to Chicago. It took months of planning, but we pulled it off. I spent the weekend with my three best friends from childhood, seeing the sights, eating the food, and celebrating the year we would all turn 40. It was a massive scheduling and logistical feat because our kids were little, and our lives were crammed full of responsibility. But we made it happen, and it was incredible.
Two months ago, we were set to do it again – only this time the destination was sunny Florida, and the birthday year is 50. But about four hours before my flight, my dad woke up with only one half of his body working. A stroke sometime during the night changed my plans in an instant. Instead of Florida with friends, I went to the ICU and then hospice for a five-day goodbye with my dad.
In the Emergency Room lobby – in that instant when I realized I wouldn’t be able to go on that trip to see my friends – I felt devastated. Life had been chaotic and stressful even before my dad’s stroke, and the promise of that trip had felt like a lifeline. The timing seemed cruel.
But as the events of those next five days played out, I realized the timing was a gift – God’s way of keeping me home so I wouldn’t miss those last 24 hours of my dad’s consciousness before he slipped into a coma and then into eternity.
Then a month after Dad’s funeral, I got an early birthday gift. My husband Tom leaned against the doorframe of my home office looking conflicted.
Me: What’s up?
Him: I have a birthday surprise for you next month, but now I’m thinking I should probably tell you about it because you don’t always like surprises.
Me: Oh, no. Please don’t tell me it’s a big surprise party for turning 50. I don’t think I have the energy for it. Everything has just been so crazy lately.
Him: No, not exactly. I mean, it’s kind of a party.
Me (bracing myself): Kind of? Okay, just tell me.
Him: I planned to fly your friends here the weekend before your birthday so you can redo the girls’ trip you missed.
Me: They’re coming? Jennifer? Alaina? Christy? All three of them?
Him: They’re coming!
Me: BEST PRESENT EVER!!
My favorite people were coming to my favorite place so we could talk and laugh and eat our favorite foods, and I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted more. It felt like a little miracle of happiness in the wake of so much stress and sadness.
When the day arrived, Tom packed up and took our kid on a Dad-daughter weekend trip so my friends and I could have the house to ourselves. We did so many simple yet wonderful things – had great dinners, visited a museum, shopped, laughed, remembered, and talked about things you can only say to the people who know and love you best.
Perched here at Year 50, I can see now that there are some things in life that went my way through no effort of my own – the parents I was born to, the time I grew up in, my health, and the friends I’ve had since long before high school graduation. The blessings are immense.
There is such a deep comfort that comes from knowing that, no matter how many miles or years apart separate our little group, we can still click back into place. We find the groove we created as kids and fall right back into it. These are the people who will show up when everything goes wrong and put me back together, just as I would do for them. It is a sustaining, soul-nourishing kind of friendship.
We all need these kinds of people. Whether you’ve known them since elementary school or for only a year, I pray you have these people, too, and cherish them accordingly.
Go send the text, write the email, or if you’re lucky enough to have them close by, hug your people. These are the true riches of our lives.