the saddest apology. though never too late….
I still remember the phone call. I had a brand new baby, a baby whose birth had not been without one of those moments where the doctor calls you by first name, slaps you to attention, and with eyes darting between your unblinking gaze and the monitor measuring the baby’s dropping-down heart beat, she tells you this is what you’re going to do: You’re going to get that baby out in the very next push.
And you, knowing the vast canyon of cold chiseled truth nestled into that statement, knowing that she’s telling you you have a few breaths and one push to get this baby out whole and without harm, without your life’s dream whirling into the darkest abyss, you call on all the angels and saints and powers within and without, and you do just what she told you: You birth that baby in one triumphant, I’m-not-losing-him-now force beyond nature.
And then you wait. Wait through unbroken silence, seconds that feel like an hour, the quicksand of time. And then, from the shaft of light slicing through the darkness, his lungs fill with air and you hear him wheeze out a cry. A cry that deepens. A cry that says, without waver, “I am here.”
And from that blessed second on, you cradle that baby like nobody’s business. Not one ounce of his being here was ever expected, he is wholly a miracle.
But the voice on the phone that day, not long after you’d tumbled home from the hospital, she was shattered by your dream come true.
She, too, had wanted a baby. Wanted a baby more than anything. Had undergone more medical twists and turns than you ever thought a doctor would allow. She’d been poked and prodded and shot through with stimulators and repressors and countless variations thereof, all in the hopes of that one impossible moment where egg meets sperm and the dividing begins.
It hadn’t worked, not for her and not for her dream. Not in any of the last many, many, many rounds (I won’t say how many). She, like I, had one baby already. He was in second grade, as was my firstborn at the time and that’s how we met. It was the second baby she wanted. It was the second baby, with no medical wizardry, that I got. And not for one instant did that not feel anointed, feel blessed, feel beyond my grasp.
From the moment I realized there was a heartbeat pumping within, I was washed through with hushed holding my breath. The minute I called my doctor (at home on a Saturday afternoon) to tell her what the little pink stick from the home pregnancy test was telling me, she laid out the cold hard statistics for the “advanced maternal age” of 44 and counting: Odds of Down Syndrome, odds of miscarriage before the first trimester ended. Odds, odds, odds.
Not for a day, not for an hour, on the long road to delivery, did I forget those odds. Nor did I take one moment of any of it as a given.
But the voice on the other end of the phone could only see it through the pain of her bottomless wanting what I’d somehow gotten. And so, she told me, in bitterest words that she could never talk to me again. Never wanted to hear from me again.
I remember cradling the phone, feeling my knees about to give out. We’d not known each other for years and years, but she was big-hearted, huge-hearted, my friend. And we had found some solace in our shared hoping for one more round of mothering a baby. And, besides, she’d smothered my firstborn with her dollops and dollops of tender attentions — not to mention, killer matzah ball soup.
But the road forked — heartbreakingly so — when I found myself with child. I’d tried, oh I tried, to shield her from the pain that I knew would slice through her, in the quarter hour when I pulled her aside, held her hands tightly, and told her I could hardly believe it myself, didn’t know how long — or if — it would last, but my prayers seemed to have been answered.
In using those words, she would tell me in the bitterest phone call, I’d all but told her, she thought, that my prayers were heard, and hers were not, hers were not worthy, she construed it to mean.
From my end of the phone call, I said over and over how sorry I was. How I would give anything for her to have the baby she so deeply, desperately wanted. And I was so sorry the words I had carefully chosen had only made it more awful. She repeated, emphatically, that this would be our last conversation, that she never wanted to speak to me again.
Months earlier, when an adoption agency had called to ask for references, I told the questioner, with all my heart, that I knew my friend would be a magnificent mother, would wrap her very huge heart around anyone blessed to be slipped into her arms.
And once, years later, I wrote her a letter. Told her how many nights I lay there thinking of her, whispering prayers to stitch back together her shattered heart. Asked about her baby girl, the one who’d come — yes — from far, far away.
I never heard back. Never once heard her voice after the terrible, awful heartbreaking phone call.
A few months ago, as would occasionally happen, I started to think of her. Wondered how she was faring, she and her two boys (husband and son), and her beautiful girl, now 12 or 13.
I googled her. I found one of those pages for someone who’s sick, very sick, and is seeking donations. I gasped for breath and clicked “Donate.” Didn’t know if she’d return the donation. Didn’t know. Couldn’t believe.
She was too sick to write but her husband, the gentlest man, wrote a very sweet note. He said thank you.
I knew from one more blast email he’d sent that, by the end of June, she was back in the hospital, back in therapy to try to relieve the slicing-through pain that comes with late-stage cancer. They were hoping, he wrote, that once the pain subsided, once “the numbers” improved, she would begin a science-bending assault on the cancer.
And then I heard nothing. Not till yesterday afternoon, when I clicked on my email, and there was her name, first and last. I opened the email, and I started to read, the words tumbling one on top of the other, not making clear sense.
Here’s what I read:
“I know it has been a very long time and many years needlessly gone by. I am reaching out to you…I hope you don’t think it presumptuous of me to contact you at this late date, but I have spent a good part of the last three months reaching out…Trying to mend fences where possible, with the hope of finding some type of closure for everyone involved. I don’t have any answers as to what happened, nor any great insight. I do know that what transpired was wrong, you were wronged and that I was unable to effect the out come.”
I wrote back:
“i am breathless. i always loved [her]. she was so hurt by the way i told her i was pregnant with T. i only MEANT to shield her from the pain i feared the news would bring. and clearly i bungled it horribly…….and i have been so sorry for so many years. for years i would lay awake at night wondering if i could yet write to her…..”
And then I googled her once again. Up popped her name, first and last, with the final addendum: “obituary.” She had died, back in the summer. I don’t know the date, don’t know the details.
All I know is what came in the last email from her gentle-hearted husband:
“She passed away peacefully in my arms after staring down cancer for seven and a half years. She had been through a heavy ordeal, seven chemo therapies, three major surgeries and two clinical trials.…We were waiting to start [a newfangled] vaccine when she passed unexpectedly, we both thought she had another year or two. We were a couple at the end, I made sure she was not in any pain. She asked me before she passed, what happens now? what happens next? I told her, I don’t know baby, but what ever it is we are going to face it together and then she smiled and closed her eyes. She was not afraid at the end and neither was I as we were together. I have to stop writing now as i cant see through the tears.”
And I sat there, staring and shaking, shaking and staring. All I could think was that it was the saddest apology I’d ever read, the one that wasn’t too late, not at all. Not one minute too late.
I wrote back: “[she] was pure love. she died with me loving her. and i will pray that she knew that…..”
And I will pray. And I do believe that she knew that. And that she knew that I knew she was sorry. And I was, too. I was, I am, so sorry.
For those friendships that shatter. For words never spoken again. For years lived with distance, with silence. For sparks that don’t get to fly between eyes, between hearts.
For all of it, for my dear blessed friend who never met my miracle boy, nor I her miracle girl.
It is the sorriest saddest apology. And it might have come late, but I am so deeply grateful it came.
Rest gently, dear friend. All is at peace where our hearts beat as one.
because this one made me nervous, because i wasn’t quite sure how i could say it and protect my friend, i typed it first in draft form. thus, today’s rare capital letters throughout. it still scares me a bit to write this. but the point is it’s a meditation on forgiveness, on friendship, on heartbreak and stitching those hearts together again. it breaks my heart that as i type this my friend isn’t here to read it, to see it, to know that the love never died. it breaks my heart that all those years, i never heard her voice again. i think i called once and left a message, so she heard mine. the aching all those years. the bittersweet whole truth of life: in my arms, i cradled pure joy. yet it cost me a friend. that’s a steep price. an equation i’d not weigh in a balance. instead, i am offering up all my sadness, my heart, to the friend whom i pray has found, at long last, the peace she so deeply deserves.
are there apologies in your life that you would wish would be spoken while there is time to stitch together the brokenness?
Oh Barb. This is beautiful, heartbreaking and beautiful again. We have all been to this difficult place with friends, and your grace and wisdom is a beacon for all of us. xo
thank you, sweet blessed heart. your words are an especially comforting balm on this morning, when the words and the silence between are so very raw….
Weeping, heavy-hearted for you. Thank goodness he wrote. I believe she knew too.
Bless you for both sharing this story and turning its ache toward the question you ask.
A few years ago I reached out to a long-lost friend after more than 20 years of silence. Asked for forgiveness. Received it, in nine words that landed as one of those rare moments when the undeserved, overflowing grace of God is truly, deeply, wholly felt: “I forgave you — and myself — a long time ago.”
But to answer your question forwards rather than backwards, yes. There are. I will. Thank you for encouraging all who read towards reconciliation.
it is the silences that leave us so hollowed, so heavy of heart. and then days pass, and the only words left to be shared are the ones that come in the form of the prayer. where no time and no distance stand in the way…..
bless you for gracefully, tenderly beholding this story.
I’m so sorry the reconciliation couldn’t have taken place while your friend was still alive. But I agree, she knew you still loved her right through to the end. Her husband was so gracious to reach out to you. (But I must confess I feel a little defensive on your behalf! “What the hell did Bam do wrong?!”)
G’s dad read me his letter of amends a couple of years ago. It was interesting that an apology was not a part of it, not in so many words. He had said he was sorry so many times that he knew those words would ring pretty hollow to me. But he did take responsibility for what he had done. Most important, his actions since he got sober — stepping up and finally becoming a father to his son — have been all the apology I could ever want.
amen to the apology that comes through actions. amen that a letter of amends was written and received.
amen to any stumbling toward the hard-spoken words, “i am so sorry…”
Some years ago I started trying to mend the relationships I had torn in one way or another. Called or wrote. Said I was sorry. It didn’t necessarily re-start the relationships; I just didn’t want to leave them bitter. People think me kind, but I can be very judgmental. God saved me one gigantic regret by putting me back in the life of a friend with whom I’d grown up, shared an apartment, and split with over her abusive boyfriend (and later husband). After a long, hard suffering with breast cancer, she died a week after her 50th birthday, with me, another friend, and her sister-in-law all in the bed with her. She was like a sister to me, and I’m crying as I write, though it’s been five years. I hate October because I can’t get away from the pink everything.
The kind of pain you’re talking about, the sadness, the ache, I get it. I’m so glad that you received the apology, and that you know she heard yours. When we hear through our own filters, our own pain, so much can be misconstrued. All of us know you of the very kindest heart of all would never wound with intent, not ever, never. It’s a shame, such a shame, that she missed all those years with you and the boys. All her pain is gone, now, and she knows everything.
Holding you tight, tight, tight, with lots of love, bam, wishing I could do it in person.
oh, honey, your story about your friend….what a miracle that you had circled back to your friend, and were there literally in her death bed.
i think part of my reason for mustering the courage to tell this story is that all of our lives — no matter how hard we try to live heartfully at every turn — have tattered places, places that demand mending, apologies offered, apologies accepted.
i keep wondering why we have to live through so many heart-breaking and aching chapters to gain the wee bits of wisdom we gain. but i am so grateful for the wisdoms that come — at whatever point, in whatever portion.
i feel your tight, tight, tight, my beautiful friend, and return the same. xoxox
I wonder why I can’t get past the pettiness in my soul that feels wounded by so much. Yes, “wee bits of wisdom.” But I sure wish I could learn faster … love you.
Oh, Barbara. . .
As I read this poignant, heart-breaking post, the words of Frederick Buechner were on repeat in my head, saying to me softly again and again, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Some people grow strong and resilient as they navigate the unexpected, unasked for vicissitudes of life. Some withstand life’s storms, but alas, far too many are diminished by them. We all know that every journey has its share of joy and heartbreak. I’ve come to the slow realization that some hearts will not, or simply cannot, mend.
I am sorry for your poor friend, for the dream that would not come true for her. I am sorry for her husband and her children, sorry for the lost years, sorry and saddened that so many stories do not have happy endings.
Words are inadequate to express the profound way this story – your story, her story – has impacted me today. We have many things to talk about someday, you and I. In the meantime, I’m sending a sheltering hug.
Peace to all hearts, “peace where our hearts beat as one.”
one of the things i love most about chair folk is the deep understanding that the terrible and the beautiful can walk side by side, DO walk side by side. and somehow infuse and magnify the majesty and mystery of each….
i love your offering from buechner. i love all your offerings from you…..
“Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood
Others may deceive you
You decide what’s good
You decide alone
But no one is alone”
― Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods
After I read your most heartfelt reflection and question, this song just kept floating through my mind and heart. I love this show beyond all others as it speaks so beautifully to the wild, twisting paths we take through loving family, friends, and sometimes even strangers. My dad’s 28th passing anniversary is tomorrow and it parallels the actual weekend he passed. It was a complicated relationship. I did get to talk with him on the Friday evening of that weekend, just a random phone chat, but we spoke of love, not knowing it would be our last conversation. Perhaps that was just the blessing we both needed. So that is my “good”. I hold onto the memory of perching on the kitchen counter, twisting the phone cord around my finger, laughing and caring, on a dark fall evening. I am just happy I can remember his voice and some of the conversation. And, yep, not one of us is alone. With you in love and spirit Bam and with all those pulled up in reflection and prayer.
i love that you have that memory to hold onto. the perching, the twisting, laughing and caring. you are blessed to remember his voice. sadly, i can barely conjure my dad’s. and he died long before nearly every breath of our lives we could record…..
much love on this, the 28th morning….xox
Dear Famous Author,
You are someone whose heart and art are so open.
I know you would never intentionally hurt anyone.
Not your fault that your friend was so hurt and angry at the universe not being able to have a baby when you were.
I am so glad you connected with each other before her death.
All the best,
that was the saddest thing: that i didn’t intend — that i tried so hard NOT to hurt. as you’ve all said, because you are all wise, we cannot determine how what we do and say is received. and we have to live with the emptiness. ever after…..
i just stumbled on this wonderful passage from the ethereal writer rebecca solnit. this is from her collection of essays, the faraway nearby, and it explains more beautifully than anything i’ve read just how it is that sometimes we put into words on paper (or screen) what we wouldn’t know how to say aloud, a seed of which lies at the heart of some of what happens here at the chair….
“Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?”
–Rebecca Solnit, “The Faraway Nearby”
so so beautiful. so beautifully articulated…..a butterfly of thought into the lepidopterist’s net…
Love that book.
Last weekend I was at amazing, impossible-to-describe gathering of one outpost of the arts and faith tribe, where another writing Rebecca, Rebecca Reynolds, gave a talk on longing. One of the things she talked about was the German word “sehnsucht,” one of those things we have no clear concept of because we have no equivalent word for. One of the ways she explained sehnsucht was (and I am paraphrasing because I can’t find it in my notes) wanting to tell something to someone dear to you, but not knowing who it is.
oh. i love that! i am forever flabbergasted that human language has volumes and volumes of secret passageways and tunnels and channels where words have already been crafted for concepts we can barely get our heads around? and someone else — who knows how many centuries or decades ahead of us — has not only already traveled there, but pinned a word on the tail of the donkey to say what we’ve yet to realize we need to say?
somehow, laura, i know that makes sense to you….
thank you for sehnsucht. and thank you all rebeccas…..xoxox
Oh, my … this is so amazingly perfectly true. Thank you so much for this. xo
“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep”. Romans 12:15
It’s human nature to want to share our happiness with those who are closest to us, but her unhappiness overshadowed your joy, dear one. In the end, I believe the Holy Spirit of God Himself led you to Google her name. You reached out ~ she reached back ~ she knew. She’s free now, and you can be also, beloved friend. Much love. xox
pvj….I just love you to pieces.
ok…pjv! still feel the same.
Oh lamcal, you sweetie pie … you just made my day. Much love to you! xoxo
Ooh, this is beautiful and heartbreaking. I’m so sorry for your loss.
dear alison, thank you….