Saturday, November 21, 2015

Crossroads (On old friendships)

Now that the anxiety of Bowie's pregnancy is behind me and I've settled into somewhat of a rhythm as the mom of two living and one dead children, I'm starting to realize how many people I have cut out of my life in the past year.

Friends who had living babies.  Friends who said the wrong thing.  Friends who weren't particularly sensitive when announcing their pregnancies.

And friends who said nothing at all.

In most of these situations, it wasn't with intentionality that I cut out these friends.  I didn't set out to no longer have these people in my life.  It just kind of happened.  I was operating in survival mode for a long, long time.  A lot of that meant protecting myself from friends who had normal, seemingly carefree lives. Or friends who didn't think they had carefree lives, but compared to the death of a child, really seemed like it to me.

Some of these friends have reached out to me since Josephine's birth.  In some ways, that frustrates me.  You can't go radio silent during the hardest year of my life and then expect to come back in when a little bit of joy comes back into my life.  It also gives me the impression that these friends think I'm better now.

(And to clarify: I am better now that the most harrowing nine months of my life are behind me, now that Josephine is hiccuping in the swing next to me.  I am not, however, better in the way that Josephine fixes the loss of Lydia.  In many ways, the safe arrival of Josephine has made my grief even more acute.)

In other ways, I'm wondering if I should grab the chance of connection while I can.

I know it's not my friends' fault that all their children are here and healthy anymore than it's my fault that one of mine died.  I know I can't expect my friends to change their family planning based on my tragedy.  I even know that my friends were trying to help when they said hurtful things.  I know I can't always expect others' to predict what might be triggers for me.

I'm finding that I'm more willing to forgive the friends who said the wrong thing than I am willing to forgive the friends that said nothing at all.


Couldn't have described it better myself.  Thanks Buzzfeed.

Truth.

There's a few old good friends that have done exactly this.  They have sent cards and flowers and gifts in the days following my daughter's death.  When I was still in shock and numb and unable to leave my home.  They told me to call if I wanted to talk.

(Apparently, they did not recognize that one way my grief manifested itself was by being absolutely physically unable to talk on the telephone.)

And I have not heard from them since.

This shocks me.

A year later, some of them have reached out to offer their congratulations on Josephine's arrival.

So what now?  Where do we stand?  Do I let them go, know that if they couldn't stand with me in my hard days then I am better off without them?  Or do I recognize that sometimes people can't give you what you need, and I try to forgive them?

Case in point:

Martha.

We became friends in January of 2004.  After living and working together at a YMCA for months, we road-tripped from Colorado to Ohio, then flew to Hawaii to vacation and visit a Marine with whom I had an on-again off-again thing with for far too long.  It didn't last with the Marine, thank goodness, but I thought it did with Martha.  Four years later, hoping to heal my heart after a break up with another not-the-right-man, I jumped on a plane to Australia, and Martha and I had adventure after adventure.



I thought we would have seen each other again by now, 8 years later.  But it turns out Australia is a long way away when you have a full-time job and a husband and a mortgage and children.

Martha emailed right away after Lydie's death.  She told me she had no idea what it was like to lose a child.  But that she did know me and she did know how strong I am.  I cried.  (But I cried all day long back then).

She sent Christmas presents, and in response, I emailed her a photo of Ben unwrapping his book (about a wombat!) and a photo of her ornament hanging on Lydie's tree.

And since then, radio silence.

If she read this blog, she didn't let me know.  She liked some things on Facebook and Instagram but never commented.  In June, I emailed her and never heard back.

I wondered if she even knew I was pregnant with Bowie.

In the middle of the night recently, I thought about Martha.  I thought about how easy it would be to say, fuck it.

But instead, I tapped the button on my phone, opened up a new email, typed the subject line, "calling you out," and told her how I felt.  I told her that I've been shocked that when I needed support the most, she seems to have run in the opposite direction.  I told her that I never wanted extravagance.  I just wanted her to check on me.  I needed to feel like she cared, and I haven't felt that way.  That I'm not sure what I hope to accomplish by writing that email but I'm doing it anyway.  And then I hit send.

She wrote back immediately.  And here was her response:
I am so sorry you feel this way, I feel horrible that I have let you down as a friend, that was the furthest thing from what I wanted to do.
I know I am possibly the shittiest person in the world at communicating, and I will really try and work on that more. I think about you so often you can't even imagine. I have literally NO idea what you must've been going through in the last 12 months, and I guess I've been so afraid to say the wrong thing...so I've done the wrong thing & not said much at all. I feel from your posts etc that you were getting heaps of help from support groups & other mothers who had had stillborn babies (see I don't even know if that is the right say to put it??) that they obviously know what you are going through & know what to say and not to say that I feel like I wouldn't be of much help - and again please don't think I've been running in the opposite direction ...maybe I've just stepped to the side onto the pavement a little and let some expert angels swoop in and be the #1 team there for a while...but I'm definitely keeping an eye on what's going on from the sidewalk.  I've never left the sidewalk Heather.  I tried to read your blog but cried so much after the first few I could barely function...

I like the sidewalk analogy.

I don't know how to respond about this blog being too difficult to read.  Martha's not the first friend to say this to me.  And if it's too difficult to read, then imagine how difficult it must be to be the one living it.  (And so, I must say, if you're one of those people, I'd like you to try to find approximately 7 minutes a week to abide with me here).

Martha and I have always had an honest relationship and I'm glad I could be honest with her now.

Because I don't want to say fuck it.

I'm beginning to realize that I need my old friends.  Even though my fellow baby loss moms have been my lifelines, I don't want my only remaining friends to be the ones I met when I was 33 and my daughter died.  I would like to hang on to a few of the old ones too.

I'm beginning to realize that they didn't mean to cause me more pain.

I'm at a crossroads, and for the first time in a year, I'm going to try to make some effort to repair the friendships* I think might be worth saving.


* And yes, this goes for cousinships too.



________________________________

And on a separate note, if you're wondering what these friends should have done, I would tell you it would involve checking in regularly and often, even when I don't respond.  It would be remembering certain milestones and dates as well as recognizing that certain days like Mother's Day and my own birthday were particularly difficult for me.  It would be continuing to ask about my grief as the months went on.  It would be bringing up Lydie and how much she is loved and missed.  It would be asking about her garden or tree.  It would be restraining from the platitudes and never beginning sentences with "at least..."  It would be just abiding with me, that trite old expression of "being there," without expecting much in return.

"Empathy is feeling with people." -- watch more here.


6 comments:

  1. Keep Martha in your life. I think she deserves it and I think it's a testament to your friendship that you wanted to call her out because you missed her and she responded immediately and in my opinion, appropriately. I think now you may even realize you feel better about initiating contact with old friends. That took awhile for me, but sometimes it's nice to reach out, and often about nothing related to loss. The friends that hung in there, on the sidewalk, or otherwise, deserved me to start putting effort back into my friendships but understood that it took awhile to do.

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  2. I think it's so important to remain honest to yourself and honest to your friendships by putting exactly how you're feeling out there. Martha seems like so many friends and family in my life who just didn't know what to say, or found it too hard to say it. And while I know that their heart was in the right place, it doesn't make more palpable to just take the silence. I'm glad you reached out and I'm glad that she was able to articulate to you why she's been "gone" for so long. I also really appreciate her sidewalk analogy. Stillbirth is a lifelong marathon and we have to start pulling the bystanders off of the sidewalk to run it with us at some point. I hope that Martha and so many others can do that for you.

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  3. That sidewalk comment that Martha made...I can see that so much. I get it.

    From what I can see...it's so so hard to respond to tragedy--for a lot of people. I think a lot of it has to do with if you've ever lived through it or not. If not, I think, lots of people feel like outsiders looking in...they're not involved in the details, but they no longer see where they fit in. So they give up. It's not bout how much they care.

    Obviously, not everyone is like this. But I don't think it always means they don't care. They just don't know how to care in the right way.

    But this is who you are now. We're forever changed by what happened to us, so if they are ok with sticking around and acknowledging you're not the same, then wonderful. If not...that's ok too.

    It's a struggle, for sure. And Caroline's right--you might feel ok reaching out to people again about things that had nothing to do with loss soon. That's something that definitely changes over time.

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  4. You know how ruthless I am with people! I think you did the right thing calling your friend out and her response was appropriate. I just don't feel I have the energy and am kind of liking my new, edited friendship group. Makes me wonder about certain friendships in the first place.

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  5. Just in case I didn't message you, I hope you know I was thinking of you and Lydie. On mother's day, on your birthday. Most every day.

    Your blog is horrible to read. :) You're really gifted at conveying your feelings. It's some of the most emotional reading I've ever done. There were times where I couldn't read at the time you posted because of some things I'm going through (which I know sounds so silly compared to what you we're going through, but a similar, lesser self preservation thing), but when I was feeling strong, I went back and read every word. I couldn't not. We're not close anymore, but you'll always be one of the most important friends of my life.

    And whatever you decide to do with these friendships, I've lost people over calling them out for saying the wrong thing about my grief. At first it was hard, now I'm glad I called them out. I think you're right to go with your instincts.

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  6. Just in case I didn't message you, I hope you know I was thinking of you and Lydie. On mother's day, on your birthday. Most every day.

    Your blog is horrible to read. :) You're really gifted at conveying your feelings. It's some of the most emotional reading I've ever done. There were times where I couldn't read at the time you posted because of some things I'm going through (which I know sounds so silly compared to what you we're going through, but a similar, lesser self preservation thing), but when I was feeling strong, I went back and read every word. I couldn't not. We're not close anymore, but you'll always be one of the most important friends of my life.

    And whatever you decide to do with these friendships, I've lost people over calling them out for saying the wrong thing about my grief. At first it was hard, now I'm glad I called them out. I think you're right to go with your instincts.

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