Friday, November 7, 2014

Keeping in Touch with a Friend Who Died

Delle Chatman
I was helping my mother sort through old papers yesterday morning: bank statements, tax returns, paid bills. The shredder simply stopped twice, overheated and tired. On one of its breaks, I picked up two envelopes addressed to her in my handwriting. Puzzled, I opened them both to find copies of emails I had shared with my parents: emails from my friend, Delle Chatman.

When I realized what they were, I had to smile. You see, today is eight years since Delle died. I’ve felt her presence on occasion – so strongly at times I’ve heard her voice and once even felt her arms around me. My first thought upon seeing the emails was, “Gee, you’ve been quiet for a while. Where have you been?”

Those of you who have read my books or this blog for a while will recognize the name. Delle is the reason I’m a writer. I told her when she was in remission from ovarian cancer that I wanted to write a book about people who are grieving the death of a friend. She was enthusiastic about the idea, and made me promise to do it. It took a while, but I did.

The first email was dated New Year’s Eve, 2004. I won’t go into detail about it. It was deeply personal, reflecting on both her cancer battle and that of my father. She closed it saying she wanted us to get together the following week for coffee because she wanted some guidance from me on a new project.

I’m struggling to remember that project. It might be one of several; she always had something percolating. But I was a little surprised to see in print that she had asked for my help. I know we’d ask each other for input on various things, whether related to our daughters or our work. But still, it gave me a little comfort to see confirmation of her respect for my opinion.

The second email was dated Feb. 18, 2005, exactly four months before my father’s death. Delle, herself, was just out of the hospital after another recurrence of what she called “the beast”. While the first email was only for me, this one was sent to “Delle’s Elves”, those of us who had rallied around her since her initial diagnosis in 2002. It was one of her occasional emails bringing us up to date on her condition, outlook and needs.

As usual, she cut to the chase and related the bad news first. But most of the three page email was devoted to good news, exciting projects and her love of her daughter, The Remarkable Ramona. And she ended it as only Delle could: giving hope to those who sought only to hold her up:

I just wanted to let you all know there’s fresh cause to give thanks and to praise God. I wanted to share the depths of it all with you because for a few years now for some of you (thank Heaven for new friends!) you’ve walked with me in spirit, truth and love. I’m grateful for your company and your friendship.

This is what matters.

This is all that matters.

As you pray for me and Ramona, know that we are praying for each of you.

God has given us to each other.

And I, for one, am very, very glad about that.



Like I said, I’ve “heard” from her many times since her death. Whether it was a candle flame sparking a fire on the side altar at our church during a Mass being said for her, or the sun blinding me through a stained glass window during my daughter’s confirmation (Delle was supposed to be her sponsor), each occurrence has been marked by a certain…theatricality. That’s how I know it’s her. Nothing subtle will do.

“God has given us to each other.”

I know all of Delle’s friends feel that way.

And we always will.


kathleen pooler said...

So beautiful, Viki. Delle is always with you and I have no doubt she is smiling right now, proud of your success with your collaborative project. Her spirit lives on through you and your work. Brava and hugs,

Friend Grief said...

Thanks, Kathy!

It was so odd to read those emails, but obviously, I was supposed to!

Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. said...

Viki, How beautiful to have a friend who is a glowing soul while she was in the flesh and now that she is in the spirit. Those emails were very intentional. Savor their message and the sense of joy they bring.

Friend Grief said...

Thanks, Flora. I'm very lucky!