Friday, December 14, 2012

The Love of Friends

Last Saturday was Maggie's 37th birthday.  Each year, her birthday was a huge celebration with literally hundreds of friends gathering to feast on food and wine.  She called it the wine party, or officially "Wine: It's What's for Dinner."  Instead of a massive celebration last Saturday, I spent quite some time reading back on my posts and remembering how life was a year ago or longer.  Two years ago on Maggie's birthday (12.9.2010), I was miserable.  I felt more alone and alienated than I had ever felt in my life.  While overwhelmed by feelings of abandonment from folks who I thought would never, ever leave my side, I wrote the following.

“Whacha doin’?” I asked.

“Nothin’” he mumbled, looking up briefly from his work to lock eyes, that warm, friendly gaze ever so familiar.

As he gently tapped another brick in place I continued with my story.  It was like all the others lately, sad and filled with heart-pain and lost love.  I spoke straight from my heart.  The comfort of being best friends for such a long time made it easy to be blunt.  He smiled as I spoke, occasionally looking up and mumbling confirmative grunts.  But he never stopped working.

After a while of me spilling guts and tears, he started talking.  His business was doing great, he said.  The future was very bright, he said.  You wouldn’t believe the success that was happening, he told me.  It was amazing, he said.  And it was.  All he told me was wonderful.  But I felt cold.  As he spoke he didn’t look at me.  The more he spoke, the more distant I felt.  While I heard his words, it seemed like what he was telling me was mumbled and hard to understand, like the message was possibly meant for someone else.

I began to feel alone.

He continued to talk but I stopped listening.  I heard the mumbled tones of his voice but I didn’t hear his words anymore.  Something was between us, something that was smothering me.  It was not familiar at all.  Finally, I stopped him and asked “What’s happening here?  Why do you sound so far away?”

Then I saw it.  It was like I was asleep and suddenly I had awoken.  Where I had only noticed that his hands were busy, now I saw the bricks, so many bricks – each staggered on top of another, layers and layers, ten feet tall and completely surrounding me.  All except for one small space where he stood, brick and trowel in hand, staring at me with warm, friendly, loving eyes.  I can’t imagine how this happened and when all this was done.  Yet here I was, trapped behind an almost-closed wall.

“What are you doing!?!” I asked.

“I’m helping you” he said.

“How are you helping me?”

“I’m protecting you from things that might hurt you.  And from me” he stated.

“I don’t understand.  Why do you seem so far away?  I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, my best friend.  I wish you’d come back.”

Me:  Every time we hang out you just talk about business.  I have so many other things I __need__ to talk about but I feel like you only want to talk about you, like you don’t see me anymore.  I feel so alone and it hurts my feelings.  So I’ve been avoiding you.

Him:  When we hang out, you are so sad that it hurts me badly.  You are hurting and I care so much about you.  To see you hurt, hurts me and I don’t know how to deal with it.  Then, when we talk, inevitably, the things I say end up hurting you more.  I can see you visibly cringe!  I talk about my wonderful relationship with my wife and it hurts you.  I talk about how things are going well in my life and it hurts you.  I don’t want to hurt you anymore.  It’s dragging me down.

Me:  I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to be a fun suck.  I’m so sad though and I just need to talk.  It didn’t used to be this way and it won’t be this way forever.  But I’m so, so sad right now.  You are my best friend and I trust you and we are so comfortable I feel like I can be really honest with you.

Him:  You are so raw and the things you have experienced and feel are so intense.  I don’t have the tools to handle them.

Me:  I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to cause any difficulties.

Him:  I’m sorry that all I’ve talked about is business.  It’s because I’m scared of hurting you more.  I see you hurt when I talk about certain things.  I see you cringe in pain.  It hurts so much to see you hurt.  I just want to protect you.

Me:  You can’t protect me.  You mustn’t try!

Him:  I can keep from hurting you by avoiding talking about things that do hurt you.  I keep conversations light and on topics that can’t possibly cause you pain, like my business.

Me:  How can you possibly anticipate what’s going to hurt me when, heck, I don’t even know myself?

Him:  I want to keep you safe but it’s so hard.

Me:  Please don’t try to protect me.  There’s no wall you can build that could save me from the world.  Besides, any wall you might build would only cage me in and separate us.

Him:  But I don’t want to hurt you.  I don’t want you to hurt.

Me:  Just talk to me.  Be my friend.  I give you my word that I won’t be angry at you for anything you might say.  I trust you.  Please give me permission to hurt.  I promise I’ll be ok.

Him:  But….

Me:  If you see me hurt, just give me a minute.  If need be, give me longer.  I’ll be ok.  Let me take the pain, sit for a second and regroup.  I _will_ regroup.  I’m strong.  But you have to give me a chance.

Him:  But if I say something that hurts you badly….?

Me:  I’ll still be ok.  Give me permission to hurt.  Then have faith in me that I’ll be ok.  This is how I heal.  This is how I’ll grow.  If you protect me, you are keeping me from healing.  If you protect me, you are stopping me from a return back to normalcy.  If you keep you from me, then you are starving me from our friendship, something I need more than anything else right now.

Him:  This is scary.  You are telling me that it’s ok that I hurt you?

Me:  Sort of.  I’m telling you that it’s ok to be you.  And I’m asking permission to be me, hurt and all.  If you’ll let me, eventually, I’ll be stronger and you won’t see me hurt so much.

Him:  It’d be nice to see you again.

Me:  It’d be nice to be me again.

Him:  I’m glad we are friends.

Me:  Me, too.

Him:  So, me and my wife were hanging out the other day.  Have I mentioned how much I love her?…..


  1. Just talked to a widowed friend about this for over an hour today. The gulf we feel between us and those who haven't experienced this yet. The guilt we feel for not being able to support our non widowed friends in their pain b/c we have too much of our own still, the fact that our non widowed friends are worried about hurting us more. It's such a tricky and confusing situation to be in and it makes sense that relationships falter and shift so much along this journey. Doesn't make it any easier.

    1. I literally had a friend tell me I was a fun suck and he didn't want to hang out any more. Actual words. :( It was at a time when I needed his friendship the most. But how can II explain how hard this was. All he saw was that I wasn't "getting over it" or "moving on." It was hard to deal with and in a way I can't even explain to him. So true that those who haven't been on this journey have no idea how rough the road is. And I'd rather they never know.

  2. Wow! I have never read something that so eloquently expresses with visuals how I have been feeling in with a few friends. This is one of the "secondary" losses that has hurt me deeply. It has been surprising. I have tried to "fix" it and tried to understand it and I can't. I can only be me. The "new me". The me I don't want and not sure anybody else does either. Honestly, it's almost as if my whole set of friends has shifted and the friends who "get me" now, do what you talk about - they are not afraid of hurting me, even though they may; there is so much grace given because they are still hanging with me, almost two years later. The friends still with me, have figured out a way to be with me - whether naturally or with some effort, we have come up with ways that don't put it all on me to arrange schedules. And they aren't afraid to share their hurts - we all agree, NOTHING compares to my loss, but that doesn't mean I don't want to know if they are hurting too. So many have quit sharing with me, preferring me to "tell all" and then they don't share anything?? I have found that when I close my heart and don't share, that I come off as cold; and yet when I open my heart, I share too much and others share nothing. That's not right but I have not figured out how to change that yet.
    The biggest thing that I realized is that in some cases, I was, or at least I felt like I was a line on someones "to do" list that they neatly checked off after we spent time together. I hate that friendship has been reduced to that.
    Losing my Marty was hard enough, relinquishing so much else, losing so much else adds so much more pain, as if that could ever be.
    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I am forwarding it to my adult kids as it so well describes what I have been trying to say.