When my blogging friend Dee Ready told me about the most recent loss of her friend John, she was remembering how John, his wife Lois and their three lovely children had given her mentoring, warmth and a sense of safety and familial love when she needed that so much, only a few months after she had left the convent.
Dee is remembering John as a man of great generosity and integrity, mourning his loss in death and, years earlier, at a time when it seemed that the friendship had become complicated, even toxic, and she had ended it.
And yet, the recent death of another friend had prompted Dee to write John and Lois a letter a short time before John's death, thanking them for the gift of their love and friendship all those years ago and letting them know how much they had meant to her.
Her feelings are shared by many of us: at a time of life when all our days are dwindling, what matters most is love shared. And so Dee is grieving the loss of a dear friend, both grieving and celebrating the good times and the blessing of what she remembers as a loving if complicated friendship.
We all have complicated friendships in our lives. There are friends who are difficult, moody, critical. There are friends once close who have grown apart from us -- and these differences can be a source of conflict. There are friends who were once close who have disappointed us by failing to keep in touch after a major life change. There are friends who can be toxic but whose shared experiences with us may keep us from letting go.
While there are some complicated friendships we keep, there are ones we let go along the way. Quite often, we finally let go because a friendship has become toxic, more sadness than joy, impeding our own growth. Sometimes it's a natural progression -- growing apart, going our separate ways. And sometimes it's a clear and mutual decision.
When I was in my twenties, I had a treasured best friend who was an actress. She started hitting the big time -- as a regular in a popular, long-running t.v. series -- about the time I decided to quit acting and concentrate on my writing career.
As I saw it initially, her career success was win-win: well-deserved after all her hard work and dedication and a joy for me to see. I loved seeing her so happy, loved hearing everything about her exciting new life. Though we were very different people, I had always enjoyed our differences. The mix worked: I was a calm Californian, she a frenetic New Yorker. She could be a drama queen and I enjoyed her occasional outrageousness. She encouraged me to express myself more directly and forcefully. We laughed a lot and shared both insecurities and dreams.
It began to change after several years -- when she was a true celebrity and I was closing in on 30 and on the brink of my own career milestone moment: the publication of my first book. I was growing in confidence, relishing my own successes. And I began to notice then how my friend diminished these new landmarks in my life.
When I bought my first piece of furniture -- what I considered a wonderful desk that converted from cabinet to desk with many drawers, cubicles and file areas -- she grimaced. "Why didn't you buy yourself a nice little antique desk?" she sniffed. "It would have been a better investment and much more attractive."
Oblivious to my needs and to my growth, she scoffed at the modest money I was making as a staff writer for a national magazine. "You could do much better working as a secretary to my co-star," she said. "Better yet, I'll hire you as my personal assistant for $100 more a month than you're making now. And you can come live in my maid's room instead of that dumpy little apartment of yours." When I turned down her offer during our last tense evening together, she looked at me as if I had lost my mind. She couldn't understand that my career goal was not just about making more money, but in making a difference, in following my passion -- as she had followed hers. At one point, she had understood what that meant. Now she merely looked exasperated.
And, after that evening, we both decided to go our own ways. There was no rancor. There was no huge blow-up. Just a sad letting go and moving on.
When a friend no longer truly knows us, when he or she no longer supports our growth or begins to see us as a lesser being, it is time to move on.
Moving on is painful, though. When we let go of a complicated friendship, the aftermath is complicated, too: there may be a feeling of release and relief mixed with sadness and wistfulness as one misses what was once so good. There is an end to the pain, but there may also be an aching, empty space for a time -- or forever -- that was once filled with the warmth of that lost friendship.
When a lost friend dies, there is new grief: grief over the loss of a person once treasured, a person who made such a difference at one time of life. And there is also the loss of the chance to re-ignite the friendship, to begin anew -- as remote a possibility as that might have been.
At this stage of life, with the death of friends both close and lost, it is best to remember the love. It is best to remember both our pure and complicated, enduring and lost friendships with gratitude for the good times, the precious moments shared, letting go of the rest.
In the wonderful classic How To Survive the Loss of a Love, written by Dr. Melba Colgrove, Dr. Harold Bloomfield and the late poet Peter McWilliams many years ago, there is a poem McWilliams wrote that addresses this.
Sifting through the
ashes of our relationship,
I find many things
to be grateful for.....
And he proceeds to thank his lost love for a variety of things both large and small, material and emotional, ending with:
But how, in my grasp of
the English language,
faltering as it is,
can I ever
Sifting back through our own memories of friendships we still enjoy and those that are just a memory mixed with joy and pain, it's important to remember what was good and how our friends, both current and past, have enriched our lives.
So when I remember my long lost, though still very much alive, actress friend, I choose to remember the laughter, the tears and triumphs shared, the excitement and vitality and insights from someone who was very different from me and yet touched my spirit in a singular way. I choose to remember all this instead of the friendship that dwindled and died and made us strangers to each other.
Similarly, Dee, in her grief and loss, remembers how pivotal her friend John was to her at a challenging time in her life and what a difference John, Lois and their family made. She is warmed anew by his generosity of spirit at a time when she needed that so much.
May such memories bring Dee -- and, in time, all of us -- comfort and peace now and forever.