Big Friendship, Big Love & Big Grief

I’ve never really been into Valentine’s Day.

Well, I should clarify, romantically. I am all for fake holidays. I have been known to throw National Cookie Day parties and celebrate National Ice Cream day like the holiday deserves. So Valentine’s has always been a good excuse to buy chocolate (50% off the next day!), send friends cutesy, punny, ridiculous cards that are targeted for children, and obviously celebrate my gals like Leslie Knope taught us. Even the times I happened to have a boyfriend for the occasion, February 14th felt the same as July 17th or November 3rd. In my book, you never need an excuse for a cute card or surprise chocolate. That happens year round.

 

But this year I found myself ordering Valentine’s Day gifts a month ahead of time. I planned an epic galentines (guys and girls!) virtual Netflix party, complete with the same snacks from Target being delivered to all our doors. I scoured Etsy to find the perfect chocolate treat to show up on my friend’s porch. I venmoed some of my favorite ladies a surprise coffee-on-me Saturday morning surprise. Valentine’s, this year, felt as exciting as Christmas.

krysti wilkinson big friendship

Was it my first married Valentine’s? Yes. And while that may have contributed, last year RJ stood me up for our gym date and we ended up eating Domino’s pizza and fighting over the toppings. All that to say, we aren’t really a Valentine’s couple.

 

I told my friends, as I was most definitely going obsessively overboard to plan a virtual movie night, I just needed something to look forward to. What else are we doing to keep ourselves sane lately? With every day blending into the next as we are going on a year in this new world of ours, a bright spot on the calendar is very needed. But also? I felt the need more than ever to remind the people I love how much I love them, how much I need them, how grateful I am for them. Sometimes that’s a sweet text message, a nice card in the mail – sometimes it’s a Target box with pretzel M&Ms, white cheddar popcorn, and matching mugs.

 

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I recently finished Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. While you will really love the book if you’re an avid Call Your Girlfriend listener (I am!), anyone will enjoy it. Two best friends co-author the account of becoming best friends, then co-workers ….and then almost strangers. They discuss missed communications, avoiding dealing with issues, and actually going to therapy together to save the relationship. It was so refreshing to read a book about adult friendships (why do we never discuss this??); it was also healing to read them describe things I never had words for. ‘Stretching’ as your friendship goes through a change – and you both have to choose if you’re going to stretch to meet each other in the new place, with new needs and expectations. Shine Theory, which isn’t new if you’ve listened to their podcast. ‘Big Friendship’ is how they coin the kind of friendships that are rare and special and lifelong. They discuss how hard it is to make good friends as you get older(!!!). They normalize therapy. They talk to actual experts and try to get to the bottom of what so much of us experience in platonic relationships, but rarely hear talked about.

Reading their story made me extra grateful for mine. The friends who immediately clicked. The friendships that took time to develop. The people who have stretched for me, the people I am willing to stretch for. The people who have pushed me to be my best and the people who have called me out when I’m leaning towards my worst. Almost every chapter left me wanting to call or text a friend I was thankful for, reach out to someone to make sure they knew how important they are to me.

 

Ultimately, it was so refreshing to read a love story that mimics what some of the greatest loves of my life have been: my girl friends.

 

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The same week as Valentine’s Day was H’s birthday. I knew it was coming, I knew it was going to be hard – but I wasn’t ready for what it was. She’s only been gone 6 months, but it somehow felt like the anniversary of her death. In this weird season where time passing feels like swimming in a pool of jello, it can feel like nothing is changing for other people. When you are no longer physically living life with people, seeing them on a regular basis – it feels like their life just paused where it was. If you don’t see it up close and personal, it can’t be real, right? So her birthday – a very stark reminder of time passing, of a new year – was one of the first times she really, truly felt gone.

 

Last year I posted a poem on Ash Wednesday. She commented on it, saying how much it connected to her. This year I shared the same one, and had an overwhelming sadness she wouldn’t read it this time. There’s so many small, mundane reminders of “this time last year”. It makes her feel closer, in a strange way. I wonder how long it will take for these little memories to fade away. The big things, the obvious parts of her – I hope I’ll never lose. But the small moments? The seemingly insignificant jokes and comments and gifs – how long will those stay with me? Is part of the grieving process grieving the passage of time? I want to stay close to it all, close to the days I can say “this time last year we were talking about this” instead of, years from now, “I had a friend once who…”

 

I am learning Big Friendship brings Big Grief. They go hand in hand.

 

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A month before I met RJ, I remember throwing a fit with God. My best friends in San Diego, my safe places for so long, had slowly started moving (geographically) away. I had stood by and watched friend after friend fall in love. I was happy for them, but I was also a little over it. “When is it my turn??” I demanded. “Where is my love story??”

 

She whispered back, “You’re living it”.

krysti wilkinson big friendship

And God, as She always is, was right. I was working at a job I enjoyed, with co-workers who were actually my friends. I was going to seminary in my free time, something I both enjoyed and felt like I was being led to do. And best of all? I was so known by so many wonderful people. Friends who bought me flowers and chocolate when I had rough days, friends who called me out on my shit and called me to be better, friends who may have lived farther away but didn’t let that distance diminish our friendship. I was part of not one, but two community groups at a church that truly felt like family to me. I had built a life that wasn’t easy or perfect, but that I loved. What better love story is there?

 

RJ changed my life. I’m not denying that. Falling in love with him, discovering this kind of love existed – is something I in no way deserve but am so, so grateful for. Maybe newlywed bliss is part of why Valentine’s Day meant so much to me, why I went all in this year. But as grateful as I am for a funny, kind, generous, intelligent, handsome husband – I’m grateful that falling in Big Love hasn’t changed my other loves. It’s just made them even sweeter.

We Spent the First Month of Marriage Grieving

I got a text from a friend the other day that mentioned our “newlywed bliss”. I audibly laughed and turned to read it to RJ. Bliss isn’t quite how I would describe marriage thus far. If I had to pick one word to sum it all up, it would be grief.

we spent the first month of marriage grieving krysti wilkinson

For the loss of a wedding
July 18 was beautiful in its own way and sacred at times – but mostly it was really, really sad. We never wanted to livestream family in. We never wanted a small, intimate moment – we wanted a huge celebration, the best party you could imagine. Not only did our little ceremony in the park feel a bit underwhelming, the week of felt like a nightmare that wouldn’t end. Ricky got the news of two tragic deaths on Monday; I was in the ER on Thursday. In the weeks leading up, people kept asking us what we had planned and for details and we would give them blank looks and say …..well, we’re going to get married? We’ll figure it out soon. Except soon never came. The day of we didn’t know if my dress was going to fit over my mysterious bloated stomach, we hadn’t written our vows, we hadn’t packed for our honeymoon. We barely made it to July 18, in more ways than one. Instead of enjoying our wedding week, savoring it even – we were trying our best to survive it. We weren’t eagerly anticipating incoming flights of loved ones or looking forward to the weekend’s activities, we were putting out fires left and right. For the happiest day of our life – it felt like so much loss.

 

For the loss of celebrations
I don’t know how to put into words how lonely it feels to get married in a pandemic. A day you thought you’d be surrounded by 200 of your favorite people turns into a day of silence from the majority of them. We got some phone calls that week, but not a lot. We got some texts the day of, but not too many. We had some of the sweetest surprises – our community group pitched in and bought me a bouquet, we had goodies left on our doorstep the morning of – but they were few and far between. Materialistically, the lack of presents was hard to come to terms with – mostly because it was a stark reminder of lack of presence. Covid has caused so many “We cant wait to celebrate with you one day!!!!” messages which is sweet and all, but what about right now? Our marriage started! Can we celebrate now? Can we celebrate this?

 

 

…and then the loss of a second wedding
The saving grace for July 18 was we had October. October was going to be round two, the real celebration with friends and family. Every decision made was “well we’ll do this this time, but in October we’ll do _____“, “in October this can happen”, “in October we get that”. In October, we can finally have this and that and this other thing.
Two days after coming home from our honeymoon, our wedding venue cancelled on us. We could have scrambled for a new venue, changed our all plans, tried to force something – but 2020 already held too much heartache for us at this point. The idea of rescheduling again, just to have Big Rona rear her ugly head, was too much.
Slowly the reality that we might just never have a wedding is sinking in. We want one. I can’t tell you how badly we want one. I can’t tell you how painful Pinterest is to scroll through, with ideas for decor or bridesmaids dresses or tips for a seating chart. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to look at Instagram and see other couples having big giant weddings like we aren’t in a pandemic at the moment. I can’t tell you the beginning of how I feel about this loss, because I don’t even know how to go about it. I can’t even process the thought that I might never get the dance party with my best friends, the walking down the aisle and seeing everyone who loves us, the tacos at sunset we dreamed of. Corona has brought a lot of tragedies worse than this, but I won’t pretend this doesn’t make the list.

 

For the loss of life
The week of our wedding RJ heard about two tragic deaths, back to back. Selfishly I thought, “Of all weeks for this to happen? Really??” Our wedding (or lack thereof) had already been through so much. We tried our best to navigate planning the logistics of an elopement and weighing family desires all while sitting in shock. Doing our best to mourn during a week everyone told us should be the best of our lives. Trying to figure out what celebration looks like in the middle of deep, deep grief.
Then, two weeks after our wedding, sitting at my desk at work, I got the news that a friend who had been rushed to the hospital the night before didn’t make it. I started at my computer screen for 30 minutes without seeing it. Got up and walked to a meeting I don’t remember attending. The friendliest, most extroverted person I knew – quite literally friends with everyone she met – was no longer with us. No longer laughing. No longer posting her daily Spotify listen or tweeting about Jeopardy. It didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t. I don’t think it ever will. It’s been two weeks of shock. Of anger. Of disappointment and grief. So much grief. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over H being taken from us so soon. It will never be fair.

 

And for the mysterious physical pain that pervaded every moment
About 2 weeks before our wedding, my abdominal pain started. I thought maybe I ate too much, thought maybe it was some strange one-off thing – but after 5 consistent days of pain and strange bloating I made my first trip to the ER. Everything looked fine, no serious test results. I went home to lay in bed for 3 days straight, wondering how I’d be getting married the next week. Two days before our wedding I was back in the ER. More pain, suspiciously on my right side. No new news, no nothing. I was sent home with new medicine to try and best wishes on my wedding. On July 18 I had friends praying my dress would fit over my insanely bloated stomach (it did!) and that I’d be able to walk upright. I spent our honeymoon walking around holding my stomach like I was 5 months pregnant. It’s been a month of too many calls to insurance, two (virtual) doctor visits, one upper endoscopy and still zero answers. A month of only wearing elasticated clothing, of “Please don’t touch me right now” and “I’m going to bed at 8pm, the pain is too much”, of carrying around a jug of liquid antacid in my purse at all times.

This is what they call newlywed bliss, right??

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It’s been a dark, dark month, to say the least. It’s felt heavy and unbearable, like no human should ever have to go through all of this at the same time. There’s an emotional weight to grief, but there is a tangible weight, as well. I feel it in my shoulders, I feel it in my bones. It’s felt like we’re treading water in a sea that somehow keeps expanding. We thought shore was in sight, and it turned out to be a mirage. With every new wave that keeps rolling in, I sink a little bit lower and swallow a little more water. I know life is hard, but it feels unfair to be this hard. Especially in this season. Our wedding was already ruined, couldn’t our first month of marriage catch a break?? Can someone, somewhere turn on a light for us?

And then I was listening to a podcast with Barbara Brown Taylor, and she talked about how people are always scared of the dark and dread the dark – but how some beautiful things can only be done in the dark. We dream in the dark, we see stars in the dark. Kissing is more fun in the dark.

I thought of the darkness we’ve been living in. And I thought of the stars that have peeked through, stars we couldn’t see in the light. I’ve learned laughing in the dark tastes sweeter. Cuddling, kissing, (am I allowed to talk about sex??) is all so much more intimate in the dark. So much more healing, in a way.

Because here’s the thing: just because you’re grieving doesn’t mean you aren’t healing.

Because of RHE

It’s weird to mourn the death of someone you’ve never met.

It’s weird to be so sad over the loss of someone who you’ve never shared words with… but whose words you hold so dear. A friend put it best, after the tragic passing of Rachel Held Evans this weekend – writers feel like mentors. Their words matter to us, their lives feel intertwined with ours. Their joy, our joy. Their pain, our pain. Their death… it’s unimaginable.

It feels unfair. It feels unjust. A women so godly – surely, God would heal? A woman so prayed for, surely God would answer the prayers of thousands across the world? She had so much more work to do. She had babies to raise. She had a marriage to see age. She had conferences to plan and people to mentor and – selfishly – she had more books to write for people like me to read. She had thoughts that still needed sharing, words still in her our world needed to hear. Read More

Februaries & Balance

February has always been a big deal in the life of Krysti. I’m not sure why, I’m not sure how, but these special, note-worthy moments somehow all land in the shortest month of the year.

It was the month, years ago, I found out I had been accepted to go on a two week trip to a small country in south eastern Africa. The month, a year later, I decided to return and lead a two month internship. The same month, a year after that, I finally told the world my plans of moving there after graduation – inviting people into the very sacred and vulnerable dreams I had been harboring for a while.

It was the month I wrote my very first blog post (not linked here because, eish, that thing is embarrassing). It was the month I agreed to step onto the very scary stage of Flood College and share a part of my story most friends had no idea about. It was the month, two years later, I stepped onto another scary stage and gave a TEDx talk. Read More

A Year in the Life

The music was taking me back to another time, as music tends to do. Lyrics that hold so much hope, so much truth. Lyrics that shaped my middle school angst, my high school worries. Lyrics that hold more memories than I know what to do with. They were all coming flooding back as Relient K and Switchfoot switched from new stuff to old stuff to really old stuff to the somewhat new stuff. It took me on the sweetest trip down memory lane, but it also reminded me how much words matter. How much artists putting words to feelings matter. How much these specific words have mattered to me, in different seasons of life.

It was four days before my 25th birthday – the tickets a birthday present from my brother. 25 is a strange year, as you’re a legitimate adult now and should probably know and do lots of adult-y things… and yet you’re kinda just making it up as you go (I hear most of adulthood is like this, I’ll keep you posted). You feel a little on the young side still – you aren’t 30, after all. But you feel a little on the old side – it only takes 20 minutes with 20 years olds to make me crave an 8:00pm bed time.

I haven’t been dreading turning 25 at all – I think life is a gift and another year older is never something to complain about. But I have been feeling this upcoming birthday. 25. Quarter of a century. Halfway to 50. It’s been drawing near and I can’t help but start asking questions. Is this it? Am I doing it right? Should I change anything?mw1efru1qcu-natalie-collins

In the midst of these questions, seven days before my birthday the unthinkable happened. The week leading up to my birthday was a strange twilight zone: a time warp of memories of my youth and proof that I’ve aged, dreaming big dreams and settling for lower standards, so much celebrating and so much mourning. Read More