Thursday, September 1, 2011

Friends, loss and grief aka Being there

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ~Oprah Winfrey
Today I called an old friend. We didn’t connect but I left her a voice mail. I’ve put off calling to catch up and see how she’s doing. I’ve put off calling to tell her that her grandson is so damn cute.  I put off calling her when I saw something that would have made her laugh.  Today, I couldn’t put it off.  I called in sympathy because her husband died.

As someone who is rarely, if ever, at a loss for words, I am speechless. Sadly, I am too familiar with grief but I truly don’t know what to say. How do you comfort a friend who has lost their spouse and partner?  What message can you send the children and grandchildren? What words can say that even remotely convey how you feel? “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem sufficient but is often all that I utter.

I have watched friends bury their parents, their children, and grandparents.  I’ve seen them mourn for their pets, their friends, aunts, uncles and cousins.  I’ve seen the loss in their eyes and in the way they hold their head.  I’ve sent notes, fruit baskets, flowers, plants and made donations. I’ve made dinners, cleaned house, made calls and done the dishes.  It never seems like the right thing or enough.

Grief is an odd thing. It brings out the best and the worst in people.  It may be full of ritual and tradition but there are no rights or wrongs for those that are grieving. Who are we to say what they should or shouldn’t do – or how they should feel.  For me, it makes me remember why we’re friends and that being there – just being there – is what friends do.

It’s so easy to be friends when things are good. When things are flush and fun – when it’s all about dinner, a movie or a good time.  It’s when things get rough that I believe friendships strengthen or begin to waver.  I’d like to think I’m the Labrador of friends – loyal through thick and thin - offering a shoulder or a wet nose just when it’s needed.  I don’t do that out of any sense of martyrdom but because I want to be the kind of friend I would want in return.

This is not my first friend to lose a spouse. My old friend, C, lost her husband a few years ago. We had long since lost touch when I found this out. I was so surprised at myself when I cried. Not because I knew him and felt his absence but because this was a friend that I really cared about. This was a friend I had embarrassingly lost touch with. This was a friend who was hurting – and still hurts.  And, I am ashamed to admit that I did nothing. There has so many years of silence it seemed awkward to say something at such a vulnerable time.

Today, my heart aches for my friend. She is far away and I cannot help her in any conventional way that I know. I do know that I will keep calling and writing. I do know that when the chaos of what she is facing today is settling into a new normal, I will still call.  We may not be able to meet for coffee, but perhaps the miles will seem less if we each have a drink and a good connection.  And, then, I’ll call again.

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