La Piñata

The tenth time they asked, I finally agreed to meet Francesco and Molly at La Piñata in Alameda for dinner. They wanted me to get out of the house and take a break from grief. We met in the handicapped parking area because of Molly’s mobility problems from her brain tumor. 

When my wife died unexpectedly from a heart attack in her 40s, I didn’t know how to grieve. Because my friends were young and hadn’t lost anyone close, they didn’t know how to help and most stayed away. But a few, like Francesco and Molly, basically said, “Look, grief really makes us uneasy, but we care about you and want to help.” Even with their own struggles, they watched over me.

At a time when I found it hard to care about anything, they encouraged me to take care of myself—eat nutritiously, drink water, and get exercise by hiking in nature as often as I could. They also gave me a free pass to be emotional and cry, so I did, although it was hard because I wasn’t comfortable talking about feelings. Being male, I never learned how to handle emotions, and grief was sending me wave after wave. They were a good sounding board, and I shared whatever grief did each day. 

As we ordered chicken enchiladas and dipped our chips in picante salsa, Molly said, “We like how you have opened up. We’ve been waiting to see this side of you.”

Our friendship has deepened.

Because they had the courage to listen, I found the courage to face my grief and transform it into a source of strength.

By Mark Liebenow