21: Tesi

21: Tesi

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls


A friend accepts us as we are yet helps us to be what we should.

~Author Unknown

I could tell the pretty stranger wanted to come in as I peeked out at her from behind my half open front door.

She introduced herself politely. “I brought you some books.”

I accepted her gift and looked over my shoulder, doing a quick survey of my living room. It wasn’t “company clean” but it would have to do.

“Excuse the mess,” I said as I stepped to the side, inviting her into my home.

So this was Tesi Pugh. She was certainly not what I had imagined. She was cute and really put together. The exact opposite of how I appeared at that moment. I suddenly felt self-conscious as I looked down at my ratty terrycloth sweats and remembered the messy bun on top of my head. She didn’t seem to notice my disheveled appearance.

I had shared a single phone conversation with her at the insistence of a mutual friend and now here she was. I hadn’t expected that we would actually meet.

“How are you doing?”

“Good,” I lied. “How are you?”

Tesi selflessly shared her story, one that was so very similar to my own. When she finished we hugged. I waved goodbye to her from my front porch as she drove away.

I went into the house and collapsed on the sofa, exhausted.

Tesi’s story, just like my own, was one of great loss. She’d lost her seventeen-year-old son, Alex, only nine months before my own daughter, Kyley, died in a car accident.

I half-heartedly placed the books, designed to help me through my grief, on my nightstand. I had no real plans to read them. It had been very sweet of her to reach out to me but I wasn’t interested in making a new friend.

I had no intention of solidifying my membership in the “Grieving Moms Club” by hanging out with other members.

Months passed and as the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s death neared, I threw myself into a local community outreach program. I arrived at my first volunteer assignment and found myself working alongside the pretty lady with the books, Tesi.

I knew I would be seeing her again so I went home that night, found the books, and started reading. I didn’t want to have to lie to her if she asked me about them.

Tesi invited me to lunch one day. I accepted with some reluctance. What would we talk about? Would we talk about our loss and the accompanying pain that seemed so intense at times it threatened to swallow me whole? I didn’t talk about that with anyone. Nobody understood what I felt. People were uncomfortable with my grief and so I maintained a good distance from family and friends. I couldn’t really blame them. I was pretty uncomfortable with it myself.

I met Tesi for lunch. Three and a half hours and four glasses of sweet tea later, we emerged from the restaurant smiling and with plans to meet the following week for a fun-filled day of shopping.

“I’m going to call and cancel. I’m having a bad day,” I told my husband.

“Don’t do that. Just go. It will be good for you to get out of the house.” I reluctantly gave in and headed for Tesi’s.

She did most of the talking on the thirty-minute drive to San Antonio and that was just fine with me.

We arrived at a cute little shop, just the kind of place I would have loved before my world had been turned upside down. As I sat in the car, staring at the quaint storefront, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I sat in the car and grieved my loss. Not only the loss of my daughter, but the loss of the life I’d imagined for myself, the loss of that feeling of joy I had once found in the little things, like shopping trips with new acquaintances. I burst into tears with Tesi sitting next to me.

I waited for her to tell me not to cry. She didn’t. I waited for her to start listing all the reasons I still had to be happy. She didn’t. I waited for the pep talk designed to lift my spirits. It didn’t come. Instead, she grabbed my hand and sat with me in silence, in understanding.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this woman was becoming my friend.

I began spending more and more time with Tesi. We found we had many common interests: decorating… writing… family. It was nice to be able to share those things again with someone.

We spent many therapeutic hours visiting about our lost children. We spent many hours visiting about our faith. Tesi eagerly shared about God’s mercies during her struggles. When the time came that my grief turned to anger and I no longer wanted to talk about God, or our loss, Tesi quietly stepped back, whispering, “I’ll be here when you do.” And she was.

We shared times of light heartedness and plenty of “laugh ’til it hurts” moments, too. But the sacredness of the friendship being forged between us came from our mutual life experience and the bond we shared in our understanding of how precious this life really is.

Tesi was there with me the day a near stranger wrapped her arm around me and offered to pray for a sign that I might find comfort despite the upcoming anniversary of my daughter’s death. Tesi was there with me when I received the e-mail from Chicken Soup for the Soul informing me that the story I had written about my encounter with the prayer warrior had been chosen for publication in one of their upcoming books. We laughed, we cried, we laughed some more.

Tesi celebrated with me when I felt good enough to host a gathering for friends in my home. After the invitations were sent out I remember saying to myself, “What was I thinking? I’m not ready for this.” Tesi arrived before the other guests, her famous enchilada dip in hand, and went about the task of ensuring everything ran smoothly, allowing me to sit and visit with old friends.

When a local television station asked to come to my home to interview me about my story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Tough Times, I couldn’t help but feel more than a little overwhelmed at the thought of talking about something so personal on TV. I looked around my house, which was nowhere near camera ready. Tesi arrived, removed her jacket, and began cleaning, offering encouragement as we worked together.

It’s been four years since Tesi showed up on my doorstep. I was prepared to go it alone on this journey; I thought at the time I would have preferred it that way.

As I emerge into the light at the end of the tunnel, I do so holding the hand of the woman who has walked beside me through the darkness. She is my God gift. She is my best friend.

~Melissa Wootan

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