Many of my friends disappeared after Lydie died. Others hung in there at first, and then eventually said something so hurtful that I haven't been able to talk to them since.
(And yes, a few are still hanging in and hanging strong. Thankfully.)
I have no doubt these women meant well. That they very much cared about me and about Lydie. That they did not know what to say, and as time went on, that got harder and harder.
Lately, I've been pushing myself to forgive some of these friends. Like my friend Jenny. The last time we had spoken was sharing texts about our daughters on the way, specifically how our sons would do with their new sisters. From the doctor's waiting room, moments before the silent Doppler. I hadn't heard from her since but I'm pretty sure she was picking that vibe up from me. I wondered if she might be angry with me because of that. It wasn't her fault her daughter lived. So after 18-months with no communication, I reached out to her and she followed up with an email:
I read your initial blog post recounting the events of Lydie’s birth over and over again. It’s no easy read- losing a child is something no parent wants to experience or see. I felt like by reading it again and again I could somehow absorb some of your pain for you or somehow carry part of the burden (I can’t, I know). At the very least I wanted to honor your daughter and your loss by bearing witness to your grief and experience. I still do.
I’ve felt helpless. Not your intention or responsibility but truly I’ve learned so much about the grieving process from reading your blog. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from it is how isolating it is. It shades everything you do, your relationships, everything- and it breaks my heart. My happy, social, confident friend will never be the same person I played soccer with, drank beer with, gossiped with. But I won’t dishonor your loss by expecting otherwise.
What I will do is tell you I’m very interested in being friends with Heather 2.0-in whatever capacity she wants.I must have read her email 15 times. I forwarded it to several baby loss friends, asking "Isn't this amazing?" (Let's compare it to a friend who told me soon after Lydie died: "I miss you." Yeah, I miss me too. But I miss my daughter more.)
I thought about Jenny when I reached out to another friend last week. I hadn't spoken with her since Lydie's memorial. She told me she has bought me three different cards but never knew what to write. For any of you in this position, a simple "thinking of you" or even better, "thinking of your family of five" is always safe. Then drop it in the mail.
It's a relief that some of my friendships are slowly finding their way back. Still, I seem to hold different friends to different standards. There's a few I just can't forgive for their lack of support. There's a few I just expect more from.
For a while, I thought I would only be able to be friends with other baby loss mamas. They were the only ones with whom conversation flowed naturally. I wanted (and still do, most days) to live on an island where the only inhabitants were other people who lost children. Who didn't inadvertently say things like "it's really hard when you bring your second child home" or "I'd have another if daycare wasn't so expensive." Innocent comments that make me grimace every time.
Recently, though, I've been realizing that I can be friends with women who haven't lost children if they can give me the space to talk about Lydie and recognize all three of my children. Take Erin, whose son is in Ben's class at school. I just got a note from her that ended, "I just love seeing all your lake pics and especially your memories of Lydie. Her name in the sand is just beautiful." I wanted to reach through the screen and kiss her. Erin didn't even know me until a year ago and yet she gets it. She just gets it. I love how she is the one to bring Lydie's name into the conversation. I'm so grateful for Erin and people like her.
Then I think of others: a friend we met playing kickball and shared a couple beers with. Who immediately sent a sympathy card. And who sent another card a month or two later, when the mailbox was back to being filled with only bills. She simply wrote that months later, she was still thinking of us. And she wrote Lydie's name. It was a gesture that meant so much. She's continued to reach out sporadically and was one of the first to sign up for Lydie's Loop.
It's hard for me to understand how someone I might consider an acquaintance responds that way, when someone I was the Maid of Honor for disappears. What I'm finding is that some people can more naturally empathize. While they haven't experienced such a earthquaking loss, they aren't afraid to put themselves into my shoes. They try to imagine it. And others just cannot wrap their heads around it.
Some people can stay in the trenches with you. And others can't, like the close friend who told me she could no longer read this blog because it was too painful for her).
And there's some people in between - who respond to coaching. But even when friends can be coached, the coaching is exhausting. I can't always anticipate what I'll need when I need it. I can't always explain why something is a trigger. I can't always articulate what I'm feeling.
Last week, my friend Amanda flew in from Minnesota for a visit. We connected last fall after she reached out to me to tell me how much she related to this article I wrote. We've talked every day since. Her son is three weeks older than Ben, her daughter Reese was stillborn one day before her scheduled c-section on November 2nd, 2014 (four days before Lydie), and her rainbow son is two weeks younger than Josie. Besides our very similar families, we both work in student affairs, like to run and eat cookie dough (though not at the same time), and often need vent about our husbands.
A while ago, a coworker asked Amanda if she was doing anything fun this summer. She replied, "Oh yes, I'm going to Ohio to meet one of my best friends!" "Where are you meeting?" her coworker asked, thinking she meant meeting up. But Amanda meant, quite literally, meeting. We joked that we were catfishing each other, that maybe I'm really a 70-year-old man, and her husband told her if we don't get along, just go to separate rooms and text each other all day long because that's what we do anyway.
Needless to say, we didn't need to do that.
One morning, while Amanda was still asleep, I glanced out the window and noticed the moving truck at my neighbor's house. She had been one of my closest friends for years, but we drifted apart after Lydie's death. It wasn't one thing that happened. It was a compilation of unintentionally hurtful comments. It was seeing her happy, complete family when I was just trying to get my goddamn mail. It was how she never, not once brought up Lydia, even though she had expected her son to be best buddies with her just as our older children were best buddies. It was how she got flustered when I talked about her.
I felt guilty for the relief I felt when I saw that moving truck.
And then Amanda came downstairs, and I handed her coffee, in Lydie's mug, the one that reads, "We all shine on."
It sucks that a lot of friendships have ended, that many old friends haven't been able to be what I need them to be. Secondary losses. They hurt. Not nearly to the extend that Lydie's death hurts, but they still hurt.
But then there's these beautiful friendships that have formed, that I wouldn't have if it weren't for Lydie.
I'm not as social now. I'd rather be at home in my Fortress of Solitude with my people. Grief has made me much more introverted. But I still need a few strong friendships, and I'm grateful to be finding them in ways I wouldn't have predicted.
I just wish Minnesota wasn't so far away!