Unexpected Goodbyes are the Hardest

If you’ve followed this blog for any significant amount of time, or if you’ve gone back through to read some of my older posts, you’ve inevitably discovered that from time to time I have trouble processing things.  And when I have trouble processing difficult things, it usually helps me to write them down.  (This is the case with not difficult things too, but the difficult things are the worst.)

This is another one of those situations.  Fair warning.

I always have trouble with goodbyes.  Loss and I don’t get along very well.  I’m one of those people that gets super sentimental when goodbyes come, and that’s even when I know the goodbye is coming.

When the goodbye is unexpected, my emotions and I really don’t know what to do.

This morning, I received a call from my mom.  As it’s the weekend and I’m not at work, this isn’t entirely unusual.  I thought maybe she needed help with something before my cousins arrive to visit, or maybe something had come up.  I really wasn’t expecting to hear from her that Diane Stanley, our church bell choir director and a long-time family friend, passed away this morning.

There are many pieces that makes this news hard to swallow.  First of all, Diane was quite young–about my parents’ age–and had been perfectly healthy, all things considered.  Second of all, this week she came down with a cold or a virus that made her miss bell choir rehearsal–it was just a normal illness, one much like anything any of us gets from time to time.  And lastly, I’ve known Diane almost my entire life.

Diane and I go way back.  When I was around 4 or 5 years old, Diane was the director of the little kids’ choir at my church for a short time.  I was a member of that choir.

When I was in early elementary school (I’d have to check with my mom to be sure what age exactly), I started taking piano lessons.  Diane was my piano teacher.  She was the person who taught me how to read music, gave me my first foray into the world of instrumental music, and she was a wonderful teacher.  I gave up piano lessons before high school, for time commitment reasons, but that was an important part of my life.

Around fourth grade, I joined the kids’ bell choir at my church.  Diane was the director, and was also the one who very actively recruited me.  That bell choir no longer exists, but I made several friends that I still have to this day–and quite a few of us graduated up into the adult bell choir while we were in high school or college.  Two of us are still ringing together, and we still reminisce about the times we spent with Diane in the kids’ bell choir.

In high school I joined the adult bell choir–the Chancel Bells.  I’ve rung with them ever since.  Diane had been the director of that bell choir for years, for longer than I’d been a member, and those of us who had been in kids’ bell choir with her would still play the same pranks on her that we did in the kids’ bell choir.  It was a thing.

Through all of this, all of those experiences, Diane was an amazing teacher, a great mentor, a fantastic role model, and she became a great friend.  She laughed along with us when we were being difficult and sarcastic during rehearsals.  She was a good sport when the younger group of us would, say, steal her director’s baton or change the tempo on her metronome.  Rehearsals (and lessons) were always fun with her, she was always smiling, and she was easy to talk to.  I saw her go from crazy cat lady when I was a kid to being the crazy dog lady once I’d grown up.  She loved animals, she loved her students, she loved teaching music.

It’s hard for me to imagine the world without her in it, especially since I didn’t expect to have to face that world for many, many more years.  Diane has been a huge constant in my life and had a large impact on my life as well.  She was loved by many, and I know she’s going to be missed.

But none of that, none of it, makes any of this news easier for me to process.

I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are lead to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you.
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun,
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood.
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better
But because I knew you.
I have been changed for good.