Grief has a way of taking over your life: impacting your thoughts, your decisions, the way you feel when you get up in the morning, the way you organize your day. Sometimes I can't think. And so I do some mindless task: dusting, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping the front porch. But I can't help, in the midst of these mindless chores, thinking about and remembering past losses and griefs.
Life is full of them: deaths, illnesses, broken relationships, personal failures, lost friendships. The list of loss accompanied by grief goes on and on.
I've been thinking today about lost friendships in my life and the grief that accompanied them.
Years ago I had a close friend whom I loved dearly. She came from an alcoholic family which affected the way she related to people. Once after a disagreement (Even close friends aren't clones of each other -- they do disagree.), she told me I was the only person she ever kept as a friend after a "disagreement." Several years later, following a second disagreement, she cut me off. Apparently, our friendship couldn't survive a second "strike." I was out!
I remember vividly the day the realization struck me that our friendship was over and she wanted nothing to do with me. I stopped at her house to drop something off and sat at the breakfast bar. Her husband spoke to me. Her children spoke to me. To her, as she puttered around filling the dishwasher, I was invisible and I felt it. She didn't say one word to me. I came home knowing the relationship was over. I decided that day I would not pursue her; I hoped she would reach out to me. She never did.
I cried and grieved for six months.
No relationship problem is ever one-sided and when another friend said, "I know you won't take this wrong, but look to your own sin in the matter," I did. And, of course, I could think of thoughtless words and deeds that helped to kill the relationship. But I would gladly have worked things out if she were willing. She wasn't. Running away was how she dealt with difficult things, and I became one more abandoned relationship.
A few years later I ran into her and her family at a church we didn't normally attend. She said hello with a big smile. I got the impression she was glad to see me and would have welcomed renewing our friendship, but I responded with a hello, a smile, and walked away. I had moved on without her friendship and the thought of making myself vulnerable again was too painful. Lost trust is hard to reclaim. Today our paths rarely cross and when they do, we're friendly, but we'll never have the intimate friendship we once had.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had responded warmly and welcomed her back into my life. I didn't. Today, I can pray for her without pain and without grief, and I can't say I regret not hopping back on that emotional roller coaster. Maybe it would have been okay. We were both older and, hopefully, wiser. On the other hand, sometimes, for your own mental health, you have to get off the ride before it makes you sick.
Relationships are hard. The cost of some is so high in terms of physical and emotional stress that the best thing to do is to pull back and pray. No one is obliged to be someone's door mat or punching bag. And sometimes the best thing one can do is to enter into silence and ponder in her heart like the Blessed Mother. That doesn't mean abandoning relationships, you certainly can't do that if it's a family member. But it may mean changing your own responses. No one can change another person; only himself. Knowing what you need to change is part of the daily examination of conscience: laying all that you are before the Lord and asking Him to reveal your sins and faults. It's an exercise in humility. The sacrament of confession offers a window to your soul and knowing yourself is crucial to the spiritual life.
A person is blessed if he has a handful of friends in his life, friends of the heart. Where I have found those is mostly in the pro-life movement. There is something about that shared love for God's precious infants that forges a deep and lasting bond. I thank God for the handful of friends who are true spiritual sisters, faithful friends of the heart. They make me think of the Book of Sirach and it's definition of friendship:
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him.
Lord, help me to be that faithful friend and help me to appreciate the treasured friends you have placed in my life. And, Lord, remind me to tell them so!
And a song from one of my favorite "philosophers":