I wanted to write about friends, and friendship, and what it’s meant to me over the last 2 months. There’s a lot swirling inside my head on this idea. Some friends have just disappeared, while others have been amazing.
There’s the reaction of his friends. Rick was the kind of person who was easy to talk with, and he was very compassionate. Early on when we started dating he told me that a friend had jokingly nicknamed him “Father” because so many people told him their problems and asked for guidance. It was true. As I spent more time with him, I thought that some of the people whom he considered very close friends were not; that they were always after him to listen to their problems, but never returned the favor. I wanted to talk about how these people never attended the memorial, never sent a card, never called or even emailed condolences. Then there’s the opposite; friends of his who have been extremely supportive, either by listening or, in one case, by helping clear out his house.
All of these experiences have made me think, a lot, about friendships. English is a paltry language for describing relationships; the word “friend” has a lot of ground to cover, all the way from someone you encounter a few times a year to a life-partner. Even before all this happened I’ve wondered why English has so few words to describe personal relationships that we have to make them up; frenemy, BFF, friends with benefits; and I wonder if that lack of specificity in defining a relationship is a sign that, to our culture, those relationships are not important.
I’ve been wondering why it’s so hard for some people to acknowledge that people die, and why they react in ways that are so disheartening to those of us suffering through a loss. I think part of it is that death is so much more foreign to us here in the first world. We’re so very, very lucky; a simple walk though an old cemetery or even a look at current events in other parts of the world bears that out. We expect to lose our parents and grandparents, but the idea of losing a child or a friend or spouse who is under 70 has become strange and unusual. I’ve read enough first-person historical accounts to know that the grief felt by the persons who sustained the loss hasn’t changed any over the last few hundred years; but the acceptance and recognition of death by society has.
Then there’s the positive side; the amazing, amazing reaction of some people. A work friend, someone with whom I’d go out to lunch or get coffee has become a close friend. She listens, and somehow knows what to say, and when to say nothing. It’s a talent, and I’m so grateful to her. A friend of Rick’s who has become a good friend of mine; he’s showed up when I needed help getting the house ready to sell, and spent a full day with me clearing out items. He continues to help with selling items from the house, but even more with listening and talking.
Becoming a widow has taught me what it means to be a friend, and about how important friendship is. More than anything else, I need a chance to be with people. It’s lonely; terribly, achingly lonely. Every minute I spend home is a minute spent alone, quiet, in an empty house. There’s no one when I get home; no one when I wake up; no on to hand me coffee in the morning, no one to eat with whom to eat dinner. Weekends are great yawning caverns of emptiness, and I would love for the phone to ring and someone to ask me over, or to go somewhere. I’m strong and capable; when it’s too hard to handle I’ll call someone or go see a movie or even just walk around downtown to see other people, but it would sure be great to have someone seek me out. There are a few friends who seem to get this, but not many. People ask me “what can I do” and I tell them, call me. Few do.
I’ve learned from this experience. People need contact. They need to feel wanted, connected. The next time someone I know suffers a loss, whether spouse or parent or child, I’ll do more than send a card. I’ll call them, not just week after, but several weeks after, and more than once. I’ll suggest a movie, or meeting for a drink, or going out to dinner. And I’ll understand if they turn me down, and I’ll ask more than once, because I’ll realize that sometimes being alone is what’s needed, and sometimes being with friends is important. And when I spend time with them, I’ll let them direct the conversation. If they want to talk about what happened, I’ll listen; I won’t be uncomfortable and try and change the subject. If they need to talk about how mad or sad or bad they feel, I’ll listen, and I won’t offer meaningless platitudes about what I think they’ll feel at some later point in time, or how the awful thing that happened to them is a part of some higher plan. I’ll understand mood swings, and realize that one day they may just want to laugh and have fun, but another day they just want a chance to reminisce and shed a few tears.
I’ve lucky to have a few, good friends, who are doing exactly this for me. If there’s ever a need, and I sincerely wish not, I hope I can do as good a job for whoever needs it as my friends have been doing for me.