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Anyone who spends time with me hears me sing at some point. In church, at someone’s wedding, in a show, or just around the house. Most of the time it’s a part of my nature. Not lately, though. The past couple of weeks, grief makes the thought of singing painful.

Most of the time. There is one exception. I can sing Don McLean’s “American Pie” at full voice. The song always struck a chord with me, at least Don McLean’s version of it. The Madonna remake didn’t resonate as well. I think she tried to make a national anthem out of it, cutting several verses and adjusting the tempo to a dance-pop rhythm. Lots of people liked it – it hit #1 on the charts in Europe and sold a million copies in the U.S. – but me, I missed the pull of the opposites in the original. The singer is angry at what happened, but the tune is unapologetically catchy. The pulse drives forward, but at a pace more manic than joyful. The lyrics overflow with life even as they repeat the refrain, “This’ll be the day that I die.”

Look for the opposites, my singing teachers told me. The tune and the lyrics don’t always agree. Some of the lyrics contradict others, in the same song. Look for these paradoxes. The writer is trying to tell you something. This is music.

This is life.

Eighteen days have passed since I lost my dear friend. Each day begins the same, discarding the tear-stained tissues from the previous evening. Prayers and weeping are two parts of the same whole. There are days when I feel almost okay. There are more days when I feel like I’ll never be okay again. At first, the mornings were the worst, knowing that I had the whole day yet to get through. Now, I find the afternoons more exhausting, having used up all my energy and good thoughts and knowing the day has hours still left in it. Last night I had trouble sleeping as my brain obsessed on all the usual troubles that have the gall to still exist. Isn’t grief enough? When your heart is in pieces, shouldn’t you be exempt from parking tickets?

But life doesn’t work that way. The world goes forward at its normal rampant pace, whether I like it or not. I take care. I seek out friends and take an extra day off once in a while, acknowledging that I don’t have the same ability to bounce back as I might at other times. I give thanks for friends like Jynae, who knew Kimberly as long as I did and can grieve with me. I give thanks for Diana and Ryan, who send texts saying, “Just checking in. How are you?” knowing full well the answer will probably be “not great.” I give thanks for Holly, who has been through this and reminds me that while I will always miss my friend, the grief will change, and remembering her won’t hurt so much. I give thanks for Frances, who invites me to dinner and brings me scones. I give thanks for friends I haven’t talked to for a while who pop up to say, “I heard that a friend of yours passed. I hope you’re doing all right.” On the good days, I realize how much love surrounds me.

Today isn’t one of the good days. I feel distant from the love. But even so, I know it’s there, and that helps.

Life is a series of opposites. Joy and pain, awe and grief, scones and parking tickets. It’s all part of the package. Looking for those opposites may not make the bad stuff good, but it makes it more bearable. As I mourn, I know that this pain will make me a a keener listener, a more insightful writer and a more compassionate human. Grief still completely sucks, but I’d rather love people and grieve when they pass than live in loneliness and have no one to lose.

Kimberly is thankful for the lessons, and for bamboo tissue. Bamboo, like love, is a renewable resource.

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