Chris Toomey and I met in Sunday School when we were six years old. In addition to going to church together, we were neighbors and schoolmates. In many ways, he was a brother. My friendship with him spanned 41 years, never wavering, always a constant. Chris never met a stranger. He loved people and when you were in his presence he gave you his full attention. I have no memories of Chris being on his phone when we were together, and of course, when we were little, that wasn’t an issue. I have 1000 memories, yet it feels impossible to convey his impact. We walked through so many of life’s ups and downs together and more recently even shared resources around our similar career paths in ministering to church leaders. On June 7th, I was in California for my doctoral residency when Kelly (Chris’s sister) called to tell me that he had passed away. Life will never be the same for those of us who knew and loved Chris.
When I stop to think about ways in which God has brought me comfort, I think about my community. When I found out Chris died, my roommate – a friend & fellow doctoral student Shonda, packed my stuff while I tried to find a flight out of Los Angeles back home. Hank and Chrisy were at the airport waiting with arms open when I landed so I could see safe people the second I got off the plane. My mom drove down and was waiting when I got home with hugs and groceries. Michelle brought me food, books (my love language), and liturgies to pray. Beth called and even showed up at my gym to give me a hug as she was passing through town. Mary Cate brought lunch. Pegs, Chastin, Jen, and Mary Kane came over for a prayer night to get me through that first weekend until I could be with friends who knew Chris. Eric came to town with his 7-week-old son and holding that baby and talking to my other closest guy friend was a timely gift. My priest called and said no need to call back but that he was checking on me. Debbye cleared out her morning to sit with me. Carol came while I was in my bed crying and just crawled up there with me. Jane offered to drive four hours just to go for a walk together. Kristen and Jen planned an overnight, arranging all the details, including childcare just so I have a safe place to be after I speak at a retreat on the 16th about God and our pain which was planned long before Chris passed. On my first Sunday back at church, I blubbered through the whole thing and no one made it awkward, but in fact, prayed for me. I missed a major week of my residency, but my professors extended deadlines, and classmates recorded every single hour of teaching, texted, called, and sent cards and emails. Beth, Haley, Casey, Jen, Kristen, and my sisters still check in every day. My dad & mom patiently wait until I am able and ready to talk and they keep showing up. Emily and her kids give me levity & make me laugh. I was held. I am held. I’m banking my whole life on the fact that Jesus is who he says he is and that death doesn’t have the final say.
I’ve been reading the poet, David Whyte’s words about grief, heartbreak, and friendship. He says, “The ultimate touchstone of friendship is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.” I’m thankful for my dear friend and how we were witnesses to one another’s lives for 41 years. His friendship has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I am trying to wrap my head around the truth that there is a gift in the mourning, but some days are more challenging than others.
An example of what I often looked like when Chris told a story.
An example of what Chris often looked like when I told a story.
For those of you walking through your own time of grief, I’d love to share some things that are bringing me comfort right now.
There’s a book of liturgies on grief, death, and hope called Every Moment Holy, Volume II. You can purchase it here.
I’ve made a playlist here – to help me when I have no words.
Hearing Chris’s voice and watching this three-minute clip of his life gives me comfort – watch here.
This week I’ve been trying to reenter a normal schedule again and have to travel for work, but I am thankful. And as I try and go about my day, I hear Chris’s voice and see his face in one memory in particular. Every summer, from 7th grade until our junior year, our youth group would go to Pennsylvania for a mission trip and we stayed at this janky campground that we LOVED. The camp had this rusty old swingset and every morning, after breakfast, before we parted ways for the day, we would run off to swing for a few minutes. We marked time on those swings. Then we’d hop off and run to the bus or van, waving bye to one another with big smiles on our faces. I see him waving to me this week and saying, “Beth, I know this is hard and I can’t really believe it myself, but keep going. Not much longer! I’m cheering you on. You can do this!” Tears roll and they probably will for a while, but I want to live my life as Chris did – so open to the world, possibilities, people, and the Lord, who was his greatest love. I miss you, my friend. I’ll be playing REO Speedwagon until we meet again.