Present Tense

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Grief is vicious, not because we shouldn’t grieve, but because we grieve in the present, and remember in the past.

We’re torn between what was–and therefore can no longer be–and what so incontrovertibly IS right now.

And now always wins.

I don’t know how you bring those good memories up to the fore, to maybe rival the grief, or at least commingle with them enough to help you process, but I’m trying.

My friend Heidi died this week. She was (see, that damn past tense again) one of those people with an irrepressible smile and attitude. Not fake, mind you, but someone who looks at the bright side without ignoring the bad. She saw clouds and rain and a silver lining.

I’ve been a clouds kinda guy my whole life, and I miss her already. And again, the damn present tense lurks around every single word of grief.

I’ve only had a few “immediate” friends in my life. Heidi is one of them (I’m keeping to the present tense here, subject-verb agreement be damned). Possibly her first full sentence to me was “How have we not met yet?” I’m pretty sure most people had a similar experience, too. There was no lag, no getting to know, just a friend that listened right away.

It’s worth noting that HG (she shouted “NC” every time she saw me) and I are about the same age, and at the time, our general social circle ran about 10 years younger than either of us. We each loved having someone that understood the same references. We both went to an “80s” party and noted we were the only ones who actually dressed ourselves during that era. We were the most sedately dressed as a result.

In 2012, Heidi invited me to a party she was having, and I had to decline. I told her to watch Facebook that night, there would be a nice surprise sometime after 8 or so. Immediately, she asked if I was proposing to my girlfriend (now wife). Of course I was. And of course HG knew right away. She paid attention to people and even though she’d barely met Jessica (if at all), she immediately took to her as my person. No strings, no worries, just an immediate “if he loves her, so do I” kind of thing.

Every conversation we ever had after that (often by text) involved her asking about Jessica, and then, eventually, asking about Collins. She met Collins with a friend who was babysitting her, actually. The photo at the top is from that day. She unfailingly asked me to squeeze those cheeks for her, especially when chemo meant little germ-laden kids couldn’t be around her.

Did you see how easily the past tense crept back in there? You can’t avoid it. Our time is linear, one-way only. We can only remember a certain way.

I want to stop that. Stop it now. I want Heidi’s present tense back.

And, If I’m willing to be just a little esoteric, I (we) can have it. Maybe. Bear with me.

Today, tonight, as I read Facebook, it is filled with remembrances of her. A lot of past tense. Her smile, her attitude, the words she said and celebrations she had. But mostly, it’s just the people affected by her love. And they are affected right now. Present tense.

Heidi Green’s legacy is long, and it is real, and it is always present tense.

With me, friendship and laughter are the legacy. We smiled when we were together.

But I have good friends that look at their spouse and children and know Heidi’s encouraging words are the catalysts for that joy. (she wasn’t a matchmaker, but she had no qualms encouraging the right relationship.)

Others feel her every time they go to work, go to church, go back to Haiti and find children that need love and attention and mentorship.

Some people sit, just like Heidi, with a heartbroken friend, and ask for nothing from them, just the offer of shoulders for the crying and a corkscrew for the wine.

And some of us order tater tots in dive bars, knowing that Heidi’s connoisseurship of such deep-fried delights is the fuel for friendship.

Her legacy means that every time one of us loves with abandon, recklessly, and just that little bit more than we should, Heidi is here and now, present and accounted for.

I miss her in the past tense, but I remember her in the present, always and forever.

Wait for us up there, Green. Keep that happy hour running until we get there.

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