Amen, Amen, Amen

An exploration of how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a gift

Top Ten

Counting out how this moment could be calm.

Top Ten Reasons Why Losing Your Best Friend to Cancer Doesn’t Have to Suck

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  1. Stop thinking of it as “losing your best friend” and start thinking of it as “gaining an unpluggable hole of loss and grief where your best friend used to be”
  2. Maybe she left you that funky purple shawl you always borrowed
  3. You can always go and play with her kid (as long as you leave the room when she reminds you so much of said best friend that you have to sob)
  4. Remember that time twenty-three years ago when you guys fought about who had better skin? Aren’t you still mad at her a little for being pimple-free?
  5. Now you can tell all your secrets to people who are not your best friend and never seemed trustworthy before and see what happens!
  6. At least you didn’t sleep together
  7. She introduced you to seitan, so there’s that
  8. If you just don’t look at old pictures and don’t daydream, you can forget her face momentarily
  9. Every tear has a beginning, middle, and beginning again

Okay, I actually didn’t finish this list even though it was mildly helpful to write. I haven’t really known how to mourn my best friend, and since she was one of the most hilarious people to ever walk the planet and had an X-rated sense of humor, this seemed like a kosher enough exercise.

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Also, list-making is my favorite coping strategy. Just sticking out my fingers one by one and naming whatever is brightest in the room or counting out breaths can feel miraculous. Still have to work on paring down my daily to-do’s, but the ritual of naming my tasks always soothes me.

My 5-year-old daughter loves making lists too. And while they are charming, full of floating hearts and misspellings, I watch her carefully to make sure she’s not becoming consumed or obsessed with them.

Last night, sadly, I saw the list get too long for her. She was inconsolable about so many things, she didn’t know what to cry about first. She was scared about some story she’d heard with a troll in it; mad that I left her with a babysitter for dinner; and already concerned about a possible flu shot that may happen in a few days. It was all too much to list, name, or process. Not to mention that as she wailed through her bedtime story, there was construction going on outside our apartment window. The spotlights were so bright we felt like we were on a Club Med beach at high noon and my son kept singing, “Jack hamma you are very very louuuuud!”

My mind was reeling between frustration and fear of all the incurable diseases or mental disorders that could be causing this tantrum. I told both kids we needed to take some deep breaths or the lights were going out, which we all knew was impossible. I made up a story about the moon telling the trucks to shut up and go to sleep. And then, when the noise in the room and in my head reached its peak, something released.

I can’t really name it, and to be honest, I don’t want to because it could lose its magic. But it felt like a collective surrender.

My daughter fell asleep, my son started humming a soft gibberish, and I felt myself smile as the street shook our whole apartment, breaking up the ground just outside.

In the roar of everything being uncontrollable, upside down and broken, there was something to name:

  1. The mystery of life and death, illness and rebirth is exactly that—a mystery. We can never truly control it. No matter how tightly we cling nor how loud we howl. We are on a crazy, wild ride of love and loss and fear and hope. The ground will break below us—that’s for sure. Our job is to free fall.

*Note: in what I like to see as the miraculous cycle of life and death and life again, I will be on maternity leave through the end of the year. So I will try to post here again before 2014, but I’m not sure when. I’m very excited to give birth to a new person (or turkey—due around Thanksgiving) and see how he or she breathes and roars and sings.

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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