The other night, a friend showed up at my front door with supper in tow: a little meat loaf, potatoes, the best seven-layer salad I’ve had since the last time she fed me – and a pot of flowers to fill the soul, just in case the meat loaf didn’t.
The next day, another friend dropped by for a few minutes, just long enough for a quick cup of coffee. She said she wanted to see my new fireplace, but I knew why she was there.
The “love you” when she hugged me goodbye said it all.
I have always known the sustaining power of women’s friendships, and trust me, I have never taken it for granted. It is one of the cornerstones of my life, a gift I recognized early, a lifeline. But these last few months, as I move from the past into the present and even see a few glimpses of the future, have been humbling, indeed.
I have no idea how people without friends do it, how they survive.
A friend from childhood sends me cards and notes every week; another picks up the phone every morning on her way to work, just to say hello. Still another calls in the evening, and we laugh because it is good medicine for both of us. One day a friend arrived with two tea bags in her pocket and two mugs in hand. All I had to do was provide the hot water and a place to sit and talk.
And then there are those who do not let me out of their sight. They know when I say I’m OK that I am, but not always, not really, not all the way. When I look up, they are there, not waiting for me to call, with me in spirit and in person.
Grief is my constant companion these days. It has been since before my husband died, even before he needed more care than I could give him around the clock, even before he moved into assisted living, and there was no escaping the reality of our life together. Some days, I don’t recognize it as such, for what it is: mourning. I am exhausted. I can sleep more than I’ve ever slept in my life, and then I can’t. I meander my way through the day. I mean to get things done, and it feels like I am busy, and I have lists to keep me on task, but sometimes at the end of the day, things are pretty much the same as when I got up. I put off grocery shopping. I hate to grocery shop. I avoid crowds. I cannot read for more than a few minutes. I am too tired at night to call people. I cannot write as many thank-you notes as I should. I don’t know why. I just cannot, and that is not like me.
It didn’t used to be, anyway.
But I have friends – men and women, lucky me, blessed beyond belief – who see me and know my heart and forgive me if they don’t have a thank-you for their most recent kindness or don’t return their phone calls in a timely manner. They still check in and check up on me, I know, as I have them in the past.
There are those who have disappeared, and it is a surprise, but I know they are doing the best they can.
And there are those, probably uncomfortable asking how I am, so when I say hello, they don’t even ask. They just tell me about themselves. I know I am not the center of their universe, that they have things going on in their own lives, and I am not much help to them right now, either.
Like all the books and all the preachers say, there are no rules when it comes to grieving. No right way. No wrong way. No guidelines. No timetable. There is only the advice of Anne Lamott, a favorite author of mine: Left foot. Right foot. Breathe.
Most days, it is the only way.
A dear friend, whom I’ve known for years, called this morning to say she saw a pod of dolphins on her walk while vacationing in Florida and wanted me to know. A new friend sent a note in today’s mail, assuring me it was a pleasure to have helped during an unexpected time crunch. Another called before dawn, knowing I was up, drinking coffee.
Someday, I will return the care. I will walk by their sides, cook dinner, send cards, call and ask if they can meet for lunch in a half-hour; don’t bother even combing your hair, it’s just us.
Someday, I can only hope to be the kind of friend that mine are being to me. Until then, all I can do is thank them and hold on a little tighter to the lifelines thrown my way, and the friendships that save me.
Susan Harrison Wolffis is an award winning writer known for her engaging writing style.