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Call Them

This seems like the perfect time to bring out my funeral dress from 1990. RIP 2020.

I don’t have a ton of regrets, but as the year ends, like many, I’m looking in the rearview mirror at 2020 (which was full of the highest of highs and some of the lowest lows of my life). Mostly, any regrets I have concern poor behavior, like phases in my life when I was a version of myself I don’t particularly care for. I’m working on forgiveness with that, just as I would try to forgive someone who showed me their worst side or did something that hurt me. Perhaps this is more about letting go entirely than forgiving, just actually recognizing that the past is the past, and each day we all wake up to begin again, take what we’ve learned, and evolve. Regret seems a wasteful emotion, and I generally prefer action verbs. 

But there’s this one thing I do regret that speaks to some bigger issues of false pride, wasted time, and the erroneous sense of invincibility. I had a friend named Will who was my first boyfriend in 6th grade and then went on to become my best friend for the next couple of years. He had clear blue eyes, round and ruddy cheeks, a playfulness our group of friends all gravitated toward, and a kind presence that warmed you. I remember hanging out with him one afternoon at his house, which was atypical as usually we hung out in a crowd or talked by phone, and my dad picked me up later that afternoon (which was in and of itself memorable, as Dad traveled a ton and wasn’t the resident driver even when he was home). My dad asked how my get-together was, and whatever I answered, my dad turned to me with a twinkle in his eye, and said, “well, where there’s a Will, there’s a way.” I blushed, kind of understanding that he was alluding to a crush I didn’t even know I had on Will, and shyly murmured, “Dad, he’s going out with Amy…” Amy was my best friend, and I absolutely adored her, and loved Amy and Will together. They were pretty serious for 8th grade. 

I switched schools in high-school, moved away, and life went on.

This was well before email or cell phones or social media, so unless I physically called Will from a home phone on his family’s home phone, we would remain out of touch. I knew from childhood girlfriends how he was doing over the years and maybe saw Will a couple times after 8th grade. The most meaningful of these times was in August 1990, walking into the memorial service for my parents and sister, and seeing Will in the second row with the rest of my friends, with two tears trickling down his face when he saw me. I remember clearly wanting to walk right out of the huge, packed room with Will, take a walk with him around the lake, just hear his familiar and kind voice, and enjoy a forbidden cigarette with him. Instead, I remember after the funeral, curling up on our huge basement couch with Will and a bunch of my other buddies, in my black Laura Ashley dress (as seen above), just wanting that afternoon to last forever, because everything for one fleeting moment felt normal hanging out with my friends in my basement. Will stands out in that crowd in this memory because he had been such a constant in my life, and always made me feel seen and special amongst the beautiful, cool girls I hung out with.

When I joined Facebook in 2009, I immediately searched for Will. And I found him. His young handsome face looked the same. I “friended” him and waited. Crickets. A few weeks went by, and I looked to see if he had other friends from that vintage of his life. He did. But he didn’t reply to my request. I don’t know why he didn’t reply, and I thought often of messaging him to make the request more personal or whatever, but then I felt silly because, you know, someone may have a huge impact on you that isn’t mutual. I let it go and every now and again looked to see if he had posted a new public picture or something. He seemed to work in the restaurant industry and have a lovely partner.

Several years ago, maybe five, I learned through mutual friends’ posts on FB that Will had suddenly passed. I really don’t know how, and I feel like at some point I learned more, but nothing stuck. I still read the posts on FB where Will’s loving friends reflect back what I remember of him (kindness, humor, big hugs, playfulness, mischief). And I curse myself for not trying harder to be in touch over the years. I thought there was time, that I’d look silly, that Will would be out there when I gained the confidence to try again. But none of that was/is true, and I’ll never know the adult Will; I will always just remember a true friend who anchored me in tumultuous teen seas, and made me smile and laugh. I regret my hesitance to try again, to reconnect with someone whom I loved from many years before.

Incredibly sadly and weirdly, another of my closest male friends died by his own hand about fifteen years ago. There too, regrets. I wish I had let him off the hook more easily about how distant and tricky he was the last year of his life. Dave was like a brother to me, and in his final months, his lack of communication, drinking, and distance hurt me, angered me. I know I could not have saved him from depression, but I do wish I had let him know I was there more and had simply loved him generously,  without judgment or personal hurt. At 28 years old, I, of course, thought this period of our friendship was a bump in the road, a mere pivot in a very long friendship, and that we’d regroup in Virginia on a trip we had all planned, and move on. My last words to him were in frustration on a voicemail reminding him that he owed me $250 for the inn in Virginia. I received a message from him apologizing and actually got his check a week after he died, sick to my stomach over the memo line where he wrote “sorry for being an asshole.”

Is this all devastating? Yup. Sorry, but it’s 2020, folks, and the lows are indeed low.

What I want you to know is that I learned from all of this, and what I want to share with you is this: just call them. In the last six months, I have emailed a friend who, following the divorce from another close friend, didn’t speak to me again. I loved this friend mightily and miss her desperately. I know she’ll never reply as the divorce and what led to it was divisive, but I realized, during a pandemic with the accompanying concern about time and life, that I needed her to know I loved her and wished her nothing but peace and joy and health.  Two nights ago,  I reconnected with a dear friend from Philly whom I lost touch with when we moved to NY several years ago. I had tried to plan a visit and connect in past years, and my friend didn’t seem as interested in sustaining a long-distance friendship so I just let it go. But when she called me a week ago to say she was thinking of me and missed me, I didn’t dwell on any past rebuffs; I just called back, so eager to hear her wonderful voice and learn about her kids, her job, her world. LIFE IS SHORT.  The people who make an impact on you, bring you laughter, change you, or connect you to parts of your past are precious. Reach out. Again, maybe. Whatever happened before, just cross the bridge to them. They might not be there waiting, but, holy smokes, you gotta at least try.

So why all the epiphanies? Well. 2020.

The year of epiphanies. But also this: at my age, my mom had only four more years to live. What would that have changed if she knew? Who would she have reached out to, become, done? As I creep up on her age, I feel so insanely lucky that I, presumably, have so much time left. And yet, I also feel more aware than before how much can change so quickly. I don’t regret moves, schools, houses, investments, etc., and I generally grab life by the horns, travel to corners of the world I long to see, and love big. But I do regret letting go even when I wanted to hold on, not always sharing love when I felt it, and letting pride dictate the path of a relationship. I’m not doing that anymore. 

A few nights ago, I was fading off to sleep when I realized Michaela, my eldest kiddo (14), was concerned about my grumpiness earlier that evening. She kept trying to cheer me up, asking what was wrong, and was clearly worried about my bad mood. It had nothing to do with her, of course. I was just tired, sick of cooking and cleaning, and “off.” But Michaela was feeling it, as we’re extremely close. My heart sort of skipped a beat, and I jolted up, and ran upstairs to her.  Barely awake, Michaela said a surprised hi, and I crawled into her bed, snuggled in close to my girl, and I reassured her that we were absolutely fine, that I so appreciated her touching base through the evening to see if I was OK, and that no mood or tough day would ever change how much I loved her.  Michaela has learned already to check in and regroup, which I admire, and I am learning to better understand how fragile the moments can be, how fickle time is, and how temporary we mortals truly are.

So, this blog isn’t about babies, parenting, or family per se, and I’m sorry about that. But it’s about life, and if you’re reading this, you’re alive. How about no regrets going into the new year, just looking forward in 2021, reaching out more, connecting better, and loving more consciously. 

Happy New Year Baby Botanica Family!  May it be a whole better thing.

(Michaela, my photographer, wanted to end with something silly. Which is fine since this is the face I’d like to make at 2020.)

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29 Responses to “Call Them”

December 31, 2020 at 10:06 am, Marina Dayton said:

Loved this. Thanks, Jeni! Big hugs to all of you. Xoxo

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December 31, 2020 at 10:12 am, Ramsey Lyons said:

Love this so much! Will was beyond the cutest guy ever. So sad. Love you! Miss you! Xo

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January 01, 2021 at 3:19 pm, Jeni Howe said:

He really was. I so hope to see you in 2021!! xoxo

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December 31, 2020 at 10:26 am, Lisa Turner said:

Love it Jeni!

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December 31, 2020 at 10:44 am, Krista Hendrickson said:

I love this. So moving. So many lessons. Thanks for always sharing you so beautifully. Happy New Year & so much love to you and your family.❤️

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January 01, 2021 at 3:19 pm, Jeni Howe said:

Krista, we love you dearly. Thank you.

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December 31, 2020 at 11:10 am, Sona said:

What a heartfelt post, Jeni. Thanks for sharing you vulnerability. Even though you’ve experienced some of the worst losses in your life you seem to maintain a joyous spirit. I wish we lived closer so we could be a part of each other’s lives. It’s touching that you still have the dress you wore to the funeral of Mike, Judy and Jodi. That was a terrible time. I have my own memories. On that tragic day I went to Aunt Ann’s apartment to be with her, Robin and your grandmother, Aunt Bea. We were bonded by pain and loss, but better for being together that day.

I still have a shiny, metallic blouse that Robin wore to her 40th birthday party, six weeks before she died. It hangs in my closet and I see it daily. ❤️

Here’s to a brighter 2021, cousin! Love you, Sona

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January 01, 2021 at 3:18 pm, Jeni Howe said:

Oh wow Sona. This means the world to me. I wish we were closer and I could see you. I love your words about Robin and am so touched to hear about the day of the funeral for my extended family. I never really knew what that day was like for the rest of the Spears – devastating for so many. Sending so much love to your crew. xo

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December 31, 2020 at 12:55 pm, Jada R. said:

Hi! I like the flowers in the backround! Pretty dress. 😉

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December 31, 2020 at 2:27 pm, Jenn said:

I love it – thanks for the advice jeni!
Happy new year to you and your crew. Give them all a giant hug from me.
Cheers to a brighter and better year ahead – I’m hoping 2021 is filled with Howe-visits!

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January 01, 2021 at 3:16 pm, Jeni Howe said:

We miss you guys! Love you. xoxox

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January 01, 2021 at 12:42 am, Rebecca Brown said:

❤️❤️❤️❤️

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January 01, 2021 at 12:45 pm, Stephanie Trovato said:

Love this! All of this! You are such a beautiful, reflective soul.

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January 01, 2021 at 3:16 pm, Jeni Howe said:

Thank you so much Stephanie! xoxo

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January 01, 2021 at 5:11 pm, Amanda said:

Jeni, this post really hit home for me. It’s honest, heartbreaking, touching and I so needed to hear it. You are a beautiful soul!

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January 03, 2021 at 6:34 pm, Jeni Howe said:

Love you Amanda!

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January 02, 2021 at 12:31 am, Nancy Hoit said:

Jeni this is beautiful and so very true. When I look back at times in my life I regret, it’s usually not trusting my own instincts or reaching out in ways that might have been “intrusive”… but also might have been essential. Love you.

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January 03, 2021 at 6:34 pm, Jeni Howe said:

Nancy, you are a model of reaching out. Love you.

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January 02, 2021 at 8:13 am, Amy said:

I love that…and you. Beautifully written and truly hit home for me. Xoxo

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January 03, 2021 at 6:33 pm, Jeni Howe said:

Amy, so nice to hear from you. All love your way!

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January 02, 2021 at 11:14 am, Beverly Reifman said:

Jeni,
What a moving and poignant message to all of us who are blessed with a connection to you. Your spirit of truth, deep love, wisdom and vulnerability is a gift. I think of you often and send you the biggest hug. Bev

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January 03, 2021 at 6:32 pm, Jeni Howe said:

I am not sure any comment could mean more to me. Sending you so much love.

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January 03, 2021 at 6:08 pm, christine hyde said:

Jeni,
You’re one brave lady and I love your fearlessness. Life just never ends with the challenges and heartache it sends us but equally joy if we are open to it. You are right to enjoy all the love you have had and will continue to have for that is life. Miss you all dearly and was only thinking of all of you coming all this way to see us here. What a joy to have and share with you!!
Hi to everyone!
Love you,
Christine

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January 03, 2021 at 6:31 pm, Jeni Howe said:

You were there for those crazy days in August ’90. We love you and your girls and can’t wait to all see one another again. xo

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January 03, 2021 at 7:40 pm, Arlene Jones said:

Happy New Year! Love your honesty and perspective on life.
Let’s reflect on what love truly is. It is “The Golden Rule”, do to others as you would have them do to .you.. If we all love ourselves ( which I think we all do), that would be all there is to a life well lived. I try to live by this (sometimes easier said than done) and just wanted to share this.
Peace and love to all!

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January 08, 2021 at 4:47 pm, Ginny Baldwin said:

Jeni: Thank you for your beautiful and inspiring words. You have illuminated the universal language of love and reminded us in the age of Covid that the most important thing in our life forever is to reach out to give and receive love. For that, in the end, is everything.

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January 09, 2021 at 9:51 am, Jeni Howe said:

Love you Dinny! Thank you. xoxox

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January 14, 2021 at 7:38 am, Jess said:

Jeni ,
You found another calling- (blog) it’s so important know to let our family and friends know that they are loved and cherished. Thanks for the reminder to live life without holding back- Jess

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January 14, 2021 at 8:08 am, Jeni Howe said:

Thanks so much Jess! Sending love to your crew. xo

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