Imaginary Friend


July 2023
How do we cope with loss, and keep moving forward? How to not forget, but not be paralyzed by remembrance? Some thoughts on this on the 1 year anniversary of my mother's death, and some inspiration from singer Nick Harper.

Normally it would’ve been a brief stop, some water and a snack, nothing exciting, nothing out of the ordinary.

But, with this group, I should have known: nothing is normal, nothing is ordinary.

Around me, scattered on rocks and boulders and benches in Syangboche, Nepal, sat 37 people, all cancer survivors, care givers, passionate crusaders for a cure, as well as a veritable who’s who if the 1980s pop scene: Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats, Cy Curnin and Jamie West-Oram from the Fixx, Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze, and more, all the brainchild of Mike Peters of the Alarm and his creation, the Love Hope Strength Foundation.

It was an amazing scene as is, but then, without warning, singer-songwriter and guitarist Nick Harper, with backup from Jamie West-Oram, began strumming away, emotion filling the air, tears streaming down faces, gringo and Nepali alike.

Nick’s song, Imaginary Friend, was written by him on the way home from hospice after his mother, Monica Weston, passed away from cancer.

While I felt the emotion at the time, and was sympathetic and empathetic to Nick and his loss, I struggled - having not lost someone as Nick had - to fully understand, to grasp the depth of absence such a loss can create.

Today, July 26, 2023, marks a year since my mother, Alice Norton (more), passed away from Acute Myeloid Leukemia. It’s been a challenging year, one of feeling, embracing and digesting, contemplating, trying to understand and fathom and process the loss, the absence, the void left behind when someone instrumental in your life is - poof - gone.

My mother, Alice Milnor Norton, and I in the woods about 1977.
My mother, Alice Milnor Norton, and I in the Massachusetts woods, circa 1977.

I keep telling myself, and often counsel others, to celebrate the existence rather than mourn the absence. Remember the life, not the loss. And, most days I do that.

But some days I don’t.

And that’s when it’s hard. Like this morning, running a beautiful trail high above Telluride, seeing the morning sun dab warmth onto the San Juan canvas, birds chirping in the aspens, Butcher Creek babbling. Sublime. Perfect. Wonderful.

A beautiful morning on the Sneffels Highline trail above Telluride, Colorado.

I thought without thinking: “I’ll have to bring Mom here one day, she’d be in heaven!”

Funny how our minds revert to patterns, something deep inside refusing to accept the reality of loss.

Or maybe it's reminding us of something more important, more real, more healing? I realize I don’t need to bring my Mom here; she’s already here, she always has been, and always will be. She is everywhere, all around, in the ether as she said in her final moments, ubiquitous so long as well allow it.

Maybe that is what my brain was, subconsciously, trying to tell me: she’s here, they all are, all those I’ve loved and lost, you've loved and lost, we all have loved and lost, deep in our hearts, minds, souls.

They are our imaginary friends, singing to us from the ever-present beyond. We need but listen.

Full live recording of Nick Harper performing his ballad Imaginary Friend in Syangboche, Nepal, on October 15, 2007 while on the Everest Rocks! trek. Lyrics below.

I've been talking to my
Imaginary friend, more than anything
She, is positively,
Someone that's always helpful

I know that's not livin' how it is
But how, I'd like it to be
But all I ever do is dream,
All i ever do is dream
That you, are here, with me

And when I need my,
Imaginary friend, more than anything,
She, preaches to me and
Teaches me to be, someone I like.

I know that's not livin' how it is
But how, I'd like it to be
But all I ever do is dream,
All i ever do is dream

I'm gonna be your
Imaginary friend, stronger than anything
I'll be singing for you, just when
You need me to, isn't it an incredible thing?

But all i ever do is dream, all i ever do is dream
But all i ever do is dreeeeeeeeeeeam…

- Nick Harper, "Imaginary Friend"

6 comments on “Imaginary Friend”

  1. Beautiful.
    I’m struggling thru the first/year anniversary of a life-threatening emergency ailment a year ago, followed by the tragic loss of my Border Collie girl, then major surgery.
    The rest of it is okay, let it go, move it on, then somebody writes a song about Good Dogs (don’t live long enough) and it’s anguish. I’ll be ok, I always am, but the first year has an extra sting.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. Such a tough year, but you're moving through it with grace. Keep going, and I guess we can let the pain not overwhelm, but be a welcome reminder of all that is worth living for. Be well, and take good care.

  2. Jake,
    When I lost Jon I was lost. But I had the friendship of your Dad and Sue, They knew him, my kids and were such a help for me. Family and friends are what gets us through all of the down and out days. I love following you and have reconnected with Sue this past December… your family!

    1. Hi Sandy, Thanks for your note, and so great to hear from you. I think of Jon a lot, and you and the kids of course, too, and so tough to imagine that loss. But, you and they made it through, and did so beautifully. I'm sure Jon is out there, smiling with love and pride at you all. Love to you and the family!

  3. Jake ofcourse your heart still breaks. My daughter was no more 24 years ago on July 29th. I could not imagine life without her then. It tome awhile but eventually I built a new, wonderful life without have seen that life. Do I still grieve. Of course. But less often. You will alwaays honor her memory.

    1. Thank you, Carol. I can hardly imagine the pain you went through, and still feel from time to time. I guess it is good to know it remains, perhaps not as fierce, but remains to keep reminding us of life and living it. You have done that beautifully. Say hello to all my friends in Sigomere, and hope all is well!

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