She was not my sponsor. I wouldn’t have described our relationship as very intimate. Still, the news of her passing was devastating. I didn’t understand my own response. Didn’t feel entitled to the grief I felt.
Chris was a fellow in the Brooklyn Heights community for over 30 years. I saw her two or three times a week, for the two years I’ve been in program; more than I see my closest friends. I sometimes called her when I had a question that concerned a tradition. I often drove her home from evening meetings, especially in the winter, and during those short rides I got to know her a bit.
She passed away on a Wednesday, which is the day of one of our regular meetings together. At the top of that meeting, we took a group conscience to decide whether it was appropriate for one fellow to read the emails that lay out some of the details of Chris’s accident, and her subsequent untimely death. There was some conversation about whether this would honor the 10th tradition. In the end (there were no newcomers in the room) we decided it would be safe.
There were many tears in the room that night, and for weeks to come. Her name has popped up in shares, and before and after meetings. I have to keep reminding myself that she’s gone. I keep expecting to see her shuffle in with her bags and find her way to a chair. I keep expecting to see her open and understanding face across the room. She was one of the best and most engaged listeners I’ve ever met.
She always raised her hand to do service, and was the keeper of unwritten practices, like congratulatory cards when a member gave birth, or the passing of an extra envelope during the holidays as a gift for the church custodians.
The morning after Chris’s death, I had to remind myself that she had passed. I sat and felt what it was like to be in a world – and to be living in my recovery – without her. Still surprised by my own reaction, I tried to make sense of it. Why did I feel this way? Why did I experience her loss so acutely?
In all the years that led to me coming into the rooms, consistency in any variety eluded me. All my life, I’ve had a hard time starting things that interested me, and a hard time following through once I’d begun. This was true of countless diets, abandoned or never begun; and it was true of relationships, career, and creativity. The map of my life is dotted all over with discarded passions. This pattern is something I associate very strongly with my disease. In program, I’ve learned the value of consistency. Through working the steps, and using the tools of the program, I’ve managed to find some consistency in my life. Nowhere more so than in my attendance at meetings. Even on the days when I feel far from program, when my mind feels small, and my heart feels closed, and I’m not living the values of the twelve steps as well as I’d like, I always make my home meeting. In these rooms, I truly have found love and understanding beyond my wildest dreams, as Roseanne’s prayer says. Chris was a fundamental part of that. Chris was one of the big center squares in the patchwork quilt of my OA experience.
She kept coming. She modeled faith. I kept coming, too, and by proxy, I benefited from her consistency, and her devotion to the program. Chris’s very presence in the rooms, her form in a chair, her face reacting with surprise and compassion as she listened to other people share, was a drumbeat.
Chris was, as we all are, part of the heartbeat of OA in our communities. Her absence reminds me of my own obligation to keep coming back. To be that form in a chair. To be the understanding face across the room. To keep the rhythm for ourselves, and for one another, by showing up one day at a time.