The locker room was nearly empty at 10:15 am last Thursday morning. Yet, I almost ran into the woman exiting. “Hi,” she bubbled. “How’s retirement?”

“I love every minute,” I replied, surprised she remembered. I hadn’t seen this woman since spring.

We gave each other a friendly hug. I’d always enjoyed our after workout chats, while I dried my hair and she applied her make-up, hurriedly readying ourselves for our work days, glancing at the clock and checking rush hour traffic on the news.

“It’s the one year anniversary,” she blurted.

“Congratulations,” I said, biting my lip as soon as the words left my mouth. Clearly, from the look on her face, this was not a happy anniversary. My mind raced….she just got a divorce? No, she wasn’t married….she….gratefully she noticed my confusion and clarified that it was the anniversary of her dad’s untimely death.

“I have found so much comfort in the story you told me about you and how you felt six months after your mom died. I think of that all the time. I’m so glad you shared that with me,” she said, a little teary.

Now,I remembered. Better late than never. Ugh! I remembered that shortly after her dad died, and she was telling me how well she was doing, I told her the story of the Christmas after my mom died. In between trying to find the necklace that had slipped deep into my gym bag, checking the clock, and trying to make my hair fluff up a bit on the crown and not swirl put to one side, I’d told her about sitting down to Christmas Eve dinner and feeling like I was going to hurl the mashed potatoes at my husband’s cousin, because she sat where my mom always sat. I’d explained that I’d held it together after my mom died, only to feel like I was falling apart, piece by piece, ready to claw my way through the dirt on my mom’s grave, to get to her. How suddenly, my life seemed so long, because the space between the time I lost her and the time I’d see her again was unbearable.

I hugged the woman,again.”I’m sorry….it gets harder before it gets easier, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s comforting to know that other people understand,” she said as she hurried off to work.

I reflected on the encounter,recalling all the times that a story someone had shared with me had given me solace, courage, hope….too many to count. We share stories with each other, walking away, not realizing the impact of our words. I remembered countless times that kids at school recalled stories I told during writer’s workshop….sometimes, to my dismay. I was working so hard to hope they remembered the teaching point. But, we can’t choose what’s going to help the most. So, being 9 years old and scared to death because I was  being chased by a dog, or embarrassed because my teacher held up the troll I’d brought to school or whatever story I told in the process of modeling my writing, stuck.

When I found out my 18 year old daughter was pregnant with my beloved granddaughter, I searched for stories to give me hope. Still dealing with the sudden change my life had taken, from having a graduate headed to the University of Tampa, to helping my daughter navigate her way through the senior prom, graduation parties, and morning sickness, I clung to stories like a life-line. She, had grappled with the weight of her decision and choices, and said, ” I just want you to be happy and excited about being a grandma.” I wanted to, too. But, I was struggling. So I prayed and read and looked for stories to help give me a new vision.

So, last Thursday, when I left the gym, I started writing this post in my head….preparing for my next Slice, knowing that the stories we share with each other have amazing power to heal and help.

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