I felt chilled. My dad and my sister, Lisa, were standing on either side of me as if we were part of a wedding receiving line rather than greeting guests at a memorial service. The grey day matched the mood of the occasion, but the goosebumps on my arms had nothing to do with the weather.
Earlier that morning, I had attempted to make myself look presentable. I was aware that, as the daughter of the deceased, I, along with dad and Lisa, would be the center of attention, and I was dreading it. All of it. Earlier that week, I had wandered, sobbing, into my favorite boutique. I asked the saleswoman to help me choose something appropriate but not depressing for my mom's memorial service. She was sympathetic and kind, and I walked out with a pair of black capri pants and a top in mom's favorite color, purple. For any other occasion, I might be excited to wear a new outfit. Still, as I dressed that morning and assessed myself in the mirror, I realized I could not go to the funeral dressed in those clothes. The capri's hung on my frame, making me look like a six-year-old playing dress-up. The top I had fallen in love with on the store hanger, a sleeveless tunic with a diamond shape cut out in the back, accentuated my bony arms and protruding spine. I needed to feel confident to get through the day of hugging, shaking hands, and speaking in front of hundreds of people. Instead, I looked and felt frail and tired. The swollen purple bags under my eyes stood out prominently against my pale skin. The week spent looking at urns, picking out flowers, and cleaning out mom's closets took a toll, leaving me depleted and unable to do even the basics of self-care, like sleeping and eating. I needed to pull from reserves to keep functioning. But my emaciated body had no reserves.
"Come on, hon, we should get going," my husband said gently for the third time, "you said you wanted to be at the church early."
Frustrated, I slapped on some waterproof mascara, grabbed a white long sleeve sweater to cover my rail-thin arms, and headed towards the church where I joined my sister and dad at the front to greet people as they arrived. And arrive they did. My mom was dearly loved.
Yet, I couldn't help but notice that intermingled amongst our relatives, neighbors, and dear friends, were other familiar faces. More recent friends of mine. Unlike the core four who knew and loved my mom, these friends had never met her. My tennis teammates, women I worked out with at the gym, and people who worked at our family business. I was confused, like a first-grader seeing a teacher at a grocery store. They were out of context.
"What are you guys doing here?" I asked my tennis friend, Heather, who arrived with half my team, trying to wrap my head around why they were at a memorial service for someone they never even met.
"We are here for your mom's memorial, silly lady," she responded as if the answer were obvious.
"That's so nice," I said, genuinely touched, "you never even met her, did you?"
"We are not here for your mom, Sherri," Heather said, hugging me, "we are here for you."
And they were there for me. Despite a decade's worth of keeping my friends at arm's length. I had over the years declared anorexia to be my BEST friend, closing myself emotionally away from others. I tucked myself safely into a world of food, exercise, rituals, and routines. I hid behind excuses and superficial banter for fear the people I cared about would get to close and threaten my secret relationship, the one I was convinced I needed to survive.
But my friends' presence, from all stages of my life, felt like a soft blanket engulfing my aching body and warming me. Slowly melting the walls, I had so meticulously built around myself. Standing there that day, they made me feel safer and more loved than anorexia ever had.