In Grieving, A Trusted Friend Who Won’t “Fix” You is a Blessing

Grieving is never easy, it helped to have a trusted friend who didn’t want to “fix” me. I use the first letter of her name, M, in Dancing Alone: Learning to Live Again. M didn’t cuddle me or hold back when I needed “tough love.” She perfectly mixed tough love and compassion into a healing mix. Here is an excerpt of an exchange between M and me in the early stages of my grieving:

“I sat across from M and said, “Thanks for the coffee, M.” My words came without emotion.

“Talk to me.” That’s all she said.

I inhaled a deep breath. I remained silent for a moment. I wanted to tell M how I really felt. I wanted to swear, but held it in. I can swear as easily as I breathe. Babe would have told you that I don’t swear in public or at people. I reserve my swear words for situations in which no other words could be used as descriptions. I wanted to let go with my best swears, honed over time. I knew they would flow as smoothly as a Mozart concerto. They were the only words to describe how I felt.

Instead, I held back and said, “I hurt like hell, M. Honestly, I can’t concentrate. Normally, I can juggle seven or eight things at a time. It’s now difficult juggling even one.”

“You’re normal,” she said.

“This is normal? I feel like …” I caught myself before finishing.

“No, it is not normal in the way most people you know experience normal.” M replied. “It’s normal when grief strikes. It strikes like a rattlesnake: quick, painful, and intense, releasing its poisonous venom into you. Life is different, Ray. Whatever way you experienced life as before, that’s over. You can’t have it back.”

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Excerpt From: Dancing Alone: Learning to Live Again by Ray Calabrese. This material is protected by copyright

Excerpt From

Dancing Alone

Raymond Calabrese

This material may be protected by copyright.

Nothing But Stone – by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Nothing But Stone

I think I never passed so sad an hour,
   Dear friend, as that one at the church to-night.
The edifice from basement to the tower
   Was one resplendent blaze of coloured light.
Up through broad aisles the stylish crowd was thronging,
   Each richly robed like some king’s bidden guest.
“Here will I bring my sorrow and my longing,”
   I said, “and here find rest.”

I heard the heavenly organ’s voice of thunder,
   It seemed to give me infinite relief.
I wept.  Strange eyes looked on in well-bred wonder.
   I dried my tears: their gaze profaned my grief.
Wrapt in the costly furs, and silks, and laces,
   Beat alien hearts, that had no part with me.
I could not read, in all those proud cold faces,
   One thought of sympathy.

I watched them bowing and devoutly kneeling,
   Heard their responses like sweet waters roll
But only the glorious organ’s sacred pealing
   Seemed gushing from a full and fervent soul.
I listened to the man of holy calling,
   He spoke of creeds, and hailed his own as best;
Of man’s corruption and of Adam’s-falling,
   But naught that gave me rest:

Nothing that helped me bear the daily grinding
   Of soul with body, heart with heated brain;
Nothing to show the purpose of this blinding
   And sometimes overwhelming sense of pain.
And then, dear friend, I thought of thee, so lowly,
   So unassuming, and so gently kind,
And lo! a peace, a calm serene and holy,
   Settled upon my mind.

Ah, friend, my friend! one true heart, fond and tender,
   That understands our troubles and our needs,
Brings us more near to God than all the splendour
   And pomp of seeming worship and vain creeds.
One glance of thy dear eyes so full of feeling,
   Doth bring me closer to the Infinite
Than all that throng of worldly people kneeling
   In blaze of gorgeous light.

Friendship ~ Poem by Gibran


I think a while of Love, and while I think,
Love is to me a world,
Sole meat and sweetest drink,
And close connecting link
Tween heaven and earth.

I only know it is, not how or why,
My greatest happiness;
However hard I try,
Not if I were to die,
Can I explain.

I fain would ask my friend how it can be,
But when the time arrives,
Then Love is more lovely
Than anything to me,
And so I’m dumb.

For if the truth were known, Love cannot speak,
But only thinks and does;
Though surely out ’twill leak
Without the help of Greek,
Or any tongue.

A man may love the truth and practise it,
Beauty he may admire,
And goodness not omit,
As much as may befit
To reverence.

But only when these three together meet,
As they always incline,
And make one soul the seat,
And favorite retreat,
Of loveliness;

When under kindred shape, like loves and hates
And a kindred nature,
Proclaim us to be mates,
Exposed to equal fates

And each may other help, and service do,
Drawing Love’s bands more tight,
Service he ne’er shall rue
While one and one make two,
And two are one;

In such case only doth man fully prove
Fully as man can do,
What power there is in Love
His inmost soul to move

by Khalil Gibran

A Mile With Me ~ Poem by Victor Hugo

  O who will walk a mile with me
       Along life's merry way?
     A comrade blithe and full of glee,
     Who dares to laugh out loud and free,
     And let his frolic fancy play,
     Like a happy child, through the flowers gay
     That fill the field and fringe the way
       Where he walks a mile with me.

     And who will walk a mile with me
       Along life's weary way?
     A friend whose heart has eyes to see
     The stars shine out o'er the darkening lea,
     And the quiet rest at the end o' the day,—
     A friend who knows, and dares to say,
     The brave, sweet words that cheer the way
       Where he walks a mile with me.

     With such a comrade, such a friend,
     I fain would walk till journeys end,
     Through summer sunshine, winter rain,
     And then?—Farewell, we shall meet again!

Friends of Mine ~ Poem by James Foley

Friends of Mine

Good-morning, Brother Sunshine,

Good-morning, Sister Song, I beg your humble pardon

If you’ve waited very long.

I thought I heard you rapping, To shut you out were sin,

My heart is standing open, Won’t you


right in?

Good-morning, Brother Gladness, Good-morning, Sister Smile,

They told me you were coming, So I waited on a while.

I’m lonesome here without you, A weary while it’s been,

My heart is standing open, Won’t you

walk right in?

Good-morning, Brother Kindness, Good-morning, Sister Cheer,

I heard you were out calling, So I waited for you here. Some way, I keep forgetting

I have to toil or spin

When you are my companions, Won’t you

walk right in?

James W. Foley.

Chapter 39 ~ Joe Gets Some Tough Love

Chapter 39 ~ Joe Gets Some Tough Love

Sam held the iPhone elbows length in front of him and squinted. He said, “Keep your eyes on the road. I don’t want to end up at the bottom of a canyon.”

“Read the email, please?” asked Joe.

Hi Joe – I went to my mom’s birthday party a week ago. She lives in Worthington. My uncle Vinnie was there. He’s the pastor at St. Brigid’s in Dublin. We got to talking and I told him about what you’re doing. BTW, he said he missed you doing sports. It’s not the same. You’ve got a lot of fans who are begging the station to bring you back. Anyway, he remembers Joe Ritchie and the Flamingos. He saw them play when he was at OSU before he went in the seminary. I filled him in on what I know. I told him how everything seemed to dead end in Vegas. No records, no nothing. Here’s where it gets crazy. Yesterday, I got a text from him asking me to call. When we connected, he told me he put out a message on a message board priests and nuns use looking for ideas or asking for help with problems at their parishes. He put out a message he was seeking information on the whereabout of Joe Ritchie. He explained why. He got a hit. A priest friend of his, get this, in Vegas, tells him he knows Joe Ritchie. He’s sure it’s your Joe Ritchie.

Here’s the deal, Joe. I want to come and be with you when you find him. I know where he is and I know enough of the story. I’m not playing fair, but I’m not telling you where he is in Vegas and I’m not even hinting at what else I know. The only way you get the information is to tell me it’s okay to join you. I tentatively booked a 5:40 a.m. flight. I’ll land at McCarran by 7:10 a.m. What do you say? Hugs, Jody.

“Hugs?” asked Sam. “You decide to turn around all the dominoes are gonna topple. First, you gotta decide if you’re gonna invite the president of your fan club. She is not gonna let go of the man she wants. She’s telling you she wants the story, that’s not all she wants. That’s the kind of stuff I step in when I go deer hunting and I’m crossing a cow pasture.”

Joe had the cruise control on 80. The mountains east of Kingman were no longer visible. They were passing through grazing land. The golden grasses blew gently in a southwesterly wind. Joe said, “You think if we turned around we can find him if we dig real hard? What if I checked in at a Catholic church and asked the pastor’s help?”

Sam said, “What’s the right thing to do, Joe? You’re thinking about the convenient thing to do.”

“You don’t make anything easy, do you?” snapped Joe.

Sam came right back at Joe, “I’m not making it hard for you, Joe. You’re making it hard on yourself. Answer this question and I’ll leave you alone. Why do you want nothing to do with Jody? You’ve used her to dig up information. She didn’t have to keep digging. But she did. It has to be something big for you to want to have nothing to do with her.”

Joe stared straight ahead, off in the distance a big rig traveled in the passing lane. He checked his rearview mirror and caught a glimpse three other cars well behind him, all in the passenger lane. A green sign on his right read, Anvil Road Exit 10 miles. He gave himself until he saw the two mile mark to Anvil Road to make a decision. 

“Well?” said Sam.

“Well, what?” said Joe.

“How long you gonna keep the tape worm alive in your belly?”

“I don’t have a tape worm in my belly.”

“You know what I mean. I’m the safest person in the world to tell a story. I don’t have family. I don’t write for the newspaper. I’m not on the Internet. The only people I can tell are some fools drunk enough to listen to me and they won’t remember a word. I can’t hurt you. You might feel a bit better when you’re done.”

“You should have been a salesman, Sam. You got this way you can sell anybody anything before they know it they bought it and they don’t even need it.”

“I’m not selling you anything. I’m a window washer. Think of me washing your windshield so you can see a bit more clearly.”

Joe smiled then said, “It’s not complicated. Jody and I came to work the same year at the station. I was about six months ahead of her. You haven’t seen her, she is beautiful. I mean, Hollywood kind of beautiful. She didn’t flaunt it. When I met her she was dating an OSU football player. Joel Foreman. He was senior and going through all the NFL combines before the draft. Joel played linebacker. You play for OSU you’re good. You start for OSU and the pros are watching. You excel for OSU and there’s a multi-million dollar contract waiting for you. Joel was all the above. Everybody said he’d be picked toward the end of the first round. His stats at the combines were off the chart. Two weeks before the draft Joel decides to play basketball with some of his friends at his apartment complex. Joel was great because the competition gene was all over his DNA. They’re playing three on three to twenty baskets. The losing team buys the beers. I think it was 18 to 18, something like that when Joel went up for a rebound, he came down on the side of his foot, his knee popped, he tore his knee so bad, his football career was over. Know what else was over? Jody and Joel split up three weeks after his operation. She’s a gold digger. All she wants out this is a story to make her look good. She doesn’t care anything about me.”

Sam chewed on a few pretzels. He finished a coke and popped the top on another can taking a long swig. He turned his head a bit toward Joe, “You certain it was her fault for breaking up with Joel? He tell you what happened?”

Sam snapped, “He didn’t have to. It was written all over his face. He was in severe depression. He hardly talked to anybody. See what she did to him. She took his soul away.”

“You sure about this? You ever live with anybody who’s in deep depression and doesn’t want to come out of it?” Sam reached in the console and took hold of the iPhone. “Joel’s number in here? Give him a call. Ask him why they broke up.”

Joe said, “I can’t. That was six years ago. He’s married to a really good person, Jill Masters. They have two boys.”

“So, it all worked out for Joel, no matter what Jody did. I got that right?”

Joe hit the steering wheel with his hand, “Stop acting like my conscience. I don’t need it.”

“What you need is a pretzel,” said Sam sticking the bag in front of Joe.

Joe looked at Sam with unbelieving eyes and began laughing. He reached in for a handful of pretzels. He saw the Anvil Road 2 Miles sign and signaled his intention to exit.