I've wanted to share this story for a long time. And two days ago, on the anniversary, I tried. Sometimes you really just want to keep things close and not share them with anyone, but this year, it felt different. I remembered the journal entry, and then where that journal was, and then for the first time, shared the story with my husband. And now tonight, I share with you, about Berit.
We were probably the most unlikely pair of friends, and if I'm being honest, I'm not sure we even liked each other when we first met. I was the new girl at the restaurant that she had worked at for years, and she was the lifer that was super quiet. Everyone loved her, yet I feel like no one really KNEW her. I could be wrong, but that's what connected to us. You see, we were both walking through a season of life with demons on our backs. What those demons were aren't relevant to the story, but they were deep enough to make us soul sisters.
Our friendship was short, maybe 9 or 10 months, but she was my person. We chatted every day. I would give her haircuts, she taught me how to load music on to an iPod and we would aimlessly drive around in her infamous Jeep Wrangler just talking out all of the things we had held inside from others for so long. I couldn't have been more grateful for someone like her to walk into my life. I remember the time that she made me sugar free fudge, health nut that she was. And when she told me she learned something in class about stretching a muscle out and pulled a muscle in my shoulder using me as her Guinea pig!
We talked about our dreams of independence and mostly, leaving Massachusetts. She had a plan to take a job in Florida, and I an escape to Yellowstone National Park. The days were closing in and the reality of actually living out our dreams were coming!
She left first. MY GOD was I so envious. She would tell me about the sun and warmth and how excited she was to start her new job. I anxiously awaited the 3 more weeks it would take for me to pack up everything I owned into a 2002 Chevy Cavalier and hit the road.
"I get to teach Zumba with a guy named Alfredo tomorrow. Getting paid to work out, great right?" That was the last text message that I got from my friend. I still have the 11 year old phone that I received it on. Had I known it was the last text I would have ever gotten, I would have slowed down and replied...
The worst day of my life started off like any other. I woke up in my tiny studio apartment, was about to shower and head to the restaurant to complete one of my last dozen shifts before my big trip out west. I was just about to jump into the shower when my phone rang and Berit's name flashed over the screen. Not thinking anything of it, I ignored the call and said out loud... "I'll call her later". I worked my lunch shift and as the crowd slowed down, my manager asked to speak to me in her office. All I could think of was "What did I do now?!" I NEVER fathomed I would hear the words that came out of her mouth.
"I don't know how else to tell you this. Berit passed away this morning."
Everything fell completely silent, yet everything around me still had movement. That couldn't be possible. She JUST called me. She's not dead. She's teaching zumba with some guy named Alfredo. You have this wrong. What a living nightmare. My friend. My sweet care Ber. Gone. Just like that.
And what I found out later was that phone call was not her. It was the person that was trying to reach someone to tell them that she was gone. I was the last person that she had called. For a long time I was angry for missing that phone call.
The coming week or two was a blur. I vaguely remember her funeral. I remember her sisters and mother asking me if I wanted to join them in their final good bye to her. I couldn't. I needed to hold on to what I had. If I walked in there and said a final good bye I knew it was really over. I remember her mom asking if I would drive her Jeep home from Florida. I couldn't. I don't know if any of us could, that was as much a piece of her as her platinum blonde hair.
What I do remember is getting ready to leave for Yellowstone. I took my semi annual trip to visit my grandparents grave and say goodbye. I was sitting there writing in my journal and asking them for a sign. I didn't know if I believed in heaven but I believed that my Nana and Papa were always looking down on me. I wanted to know that she had made it where ever they were and that she was safe. And happy. And as I spoke those words aloud through my tears I turned and looked to my right. And not more than 2 feet away was a robin. Just sitting there basking in the sun for a fleeting moment. And just beyond that beautiful bird, were two more. That was my sign. It seems like such an impossible story to believe, but as that robin took flight, a feather fell. I still have that feather. I've looked at it once a year for the past 11 years.
I swear anytime spring comes I can't see one robin, I see three. I've been hiking 18 miles deep in the back woods of Wyoming and seen a robins nest with three eggs in it. I've sat on the bay of the Mississippi river and seen three robins. Every year at our home in Tewksbury, we would have a robin build a nest on our deck and lay 3 eggs. I know, that the three people I've lost that were closest to me, are always with me.
I think what is the craziest part of all this, I don't even have a photo of us together. We came together as friends before social media was there to prove how close of a friendship we had. We didn't need to exist around anyone else. I didn't know her friends, and she didn't know mine. We were just... us.
Over the last 11 years of her being gone, I've watched her sisters become beautiful women. I even got to photograph one of their weddings! I've only ever had one memento of her and that is the prayer card from her services. On the back it says "Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality" - Emily Dickens. I remember the PANIC and DEVASTATION I felt when the wallet I carried that photo in for 8 years got stolen! Never been more grateful for amazing friends who found me a replacement.
Life is a gift. And we don't know how long we get to hold on to that gift. And some people are just too special to last on this earth. I know that Berit Grace walked into my life when I needed her the most. And I know that I walked into hers when she needed me the most. And unlikely pair, tied together by only memories. No physical mementos, or boxes of photographs. Simply the words shared between two Jeep seats on quiet roads late at night.
Love and Light,