You Gotta Friend In Me

Friendship“You’ve stood by my side when any monkey in his right mind would have flown away.
The Great and Powerful Oz

To say my friends are a blessing is an understatement; in fact, I hit the friendship jackpot! All my life, friends have challenged and inspired me, shown unconditional love when times have sucked and been there with wine when they’ve been happy. My friends laughed with me, but even more importantly, they cried when crying was all I could manage. This post is a long due thank you to all my buds (and family) who’ve seen me without make-up, without words, and without a clue — and somehow love me anyway.

Marlene Dietrich once commented that it’s the friends you can call at 4 am that matter. I love mine way too much to test that too often, but I totally get it. When grief came calling, nearly every one marched right in and never left. That’s a pretty big deal. Grief is no picnic even for those on the periphery. Heck, if anyone sucked into that dark funnel cloud had a choice, we all would opt for door number two. But we had no choice; our friends do.

I think Oprah put it pretty well when she said “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.” Even the most super deluxe limo can break down, and if it does, you might just land in a ghost town where you don’t even speak the language. Awkward. When life-changing events come calling, even the closest friendships can be challenged. Maybe they’re daunted by the hurricane of your desolation and just don’t know what the heck to do for you. Some friends are too afraid, some will exit stage left and some, those strong, plucky souls, will bring you grace. No one can stop the storm but if we’re lucky, friends and family walk through it with us.

Unfortunately, there may be friends, even family members, who just won’t get it. I suspect that before own own knee-capping loss, many of us were also clueless. Having been rocked years ago by my brother’s death, I should have been more enlightened. Oh,  I did the wake, sent the cards, flowers, donations, hugs and said all the right things but I still didn’t know what I know now. The funeral is just the beginning.

It’s damn uncomfortable to be so close to mortality; even worse to feel its burn first hand.  We don’t wish that pile of broken on anyone we love. If some seem oblivious, even casual in your after, it’s not by design or to inflict more hurt. Some have struggled through their own suffered losses and are terrified of losing ground again through yours. Many just plain miss the old ‘us’, and subconsciously wish we’d push fast forward on the grief button so things could be the way they were. Sorry, that just ain’t happening. Relationships might change — because you have.

Those I’ve been blessed to call friends luckily didn’t need a major knock on the head to understand. They didn’t believe grief was contagious. They just kept being themselves, loving unconditionally and that is a gift more priceless than words. Friends like mine are the ones take grab your hand and sit with you through the storm. They are the keepers.

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend;                                                  I’ll help you carry on, for it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need                                         Somebody to lean on”

At some point, in some way, we all need someone to lean on. Through the years, my husband endured a barrage of crappy cancer stuff yet not all of them were a distinct crisis to rally around. Still, many friends never forgot that a lot of those things were losses in themselves. One sweet friend, living a distance away, sent weekly emails and ‘thinking of you’ cards to let us know she cared, which touched and buoyed us more than she’ll ever know.

Then there’s the friend who came with the marriage package. Both my husband’s ex-girlfriend and client, we were both a bit wary yet, through the years, she became a good friend. That first year after my husband died, she called every week and made a point one day to drive two hours just to spend the day with me. The morning after my husband died, my 40 year BFF and her husband were on my doorstep with bagels, tears and hugs — and again the next day. Like she always has, she listens to my angst and encourages my joy. Like Grey’s Anatomy Meredith and Cristina, there’s also my ‘Person’ who held me as the EMT’s did their thing, helped clean out my guy’s office, and has been my fierce shadow every single day since.

Driving headfirst into a volcano is not on any of our wish lists so I never take friends who do that for granted. More importantly, I vow that when they’re in the midst of their own grief moments, I’ll take the same leap. Like raising a child, helping someone up from the depths of loss can take a village; a village that honors grief, witnesses struggle, and become not only our cheerleaders but indomitable, healing warriors.

Every day, people get sideswiped from loss of jobs, love and life. When loss grabs you by the throat and stops you in your tracks, it can also (hopefully) cause a paradigm shift in understanding.When that loss is as big as a billboard (think Michelin Man), it makes you raw and vulnerable. You can’t outrun or outsmart it but you can transform it. That vulnerability can create greater empathy for others, allow you to become more compassionate and yes, be an even better friend.You don’t always have to know what to say; just being near is often gift enough.

True friendship means listening, reassuring, comforting and validating. No, I’m not ‘over it’ (huh?) and I may never be but, thanks to my village, I’m not stuck on the side of the grief road either. This past year and a half has changed me in a myriad of ways, but, despite the chills and spills, my pals, and family have ridden that roller coaster with me.  Friends are vital on this journey called life. It’s up to us to return the compassion, understanding and love we receive. So, my friends, count on me in to ‘bring it’.

“You’ve been my friend”, replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.” E.B. White


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