I joined an on-going spiritually based support group a few years ago. When I first joined I was a very unhappy, if not broken person. I was in the process of filing for divorce and leaving a thirty year marriage. It was more painful, and more challenging than I ever imagined. I clung to my group as the one sane hour, the one refuge I could count on in an otherwise insane time.
I was lucky to make a very deep and abiding friendship in those early months. I talked to my friend most every day. She, too, was going through a divorce. She, too, was challenged with creating a new identity for herself, with creating a whole new life without her husband. She told me it would get better with time. I felt so deeply in the dark at that time that I couldn’t even tell I was in a tunnel, never mind that there was a light at the end of it. I will be forever grateful for this friendship.
For the first year or so, everything was fine. We talked and talked. Sometimes we shared a meal together, or went to a movie. I invited her to my house for Christmas that first year, the first Christmas after my divorce became final. My kids spent the day with their father. It was a lonely holiday indeed, but I had a few friends to share it with. It was my first whole year in my new house. The first year I’d much used the oven. Somehow I turned the oven off in the middle of cooking the roast, so it never got done. Christmas dinner was shrimp cocktail and pie. Funny though that was, it made me sad. At least I had my new friend, Arlene, with whom to commiserate. I changed her name to protect her privacy, but all the facts here are true as I know them.
Over the next couple of years things got strange. When I talked to Arlene about working with another friend on a project she was organizing, Arlene came out point blank and told me, “Oh, no, you’re not allowed to have another friend.” She said it in a laughing voice, but I was to learn that the fact that I had relationships with other people put a strain on my relationship with her. As I mentally and emotionally picked myself up off the floor where I had landed after my divorce, I learned to assert myself again and make choices that felt better to me. I didn’t want to lean on Arlene for everything, all the time.
When I had a major surgery, I asked a different friend, someone who was a nurse, to spend the night with me on my first night home from the hospital. A second friend showed up and surprised me, filling my refrigerator with goodies a couple of hours after I got home that first day. I was to hear later that this was deeply insulting to Arlene, as she had planned to stay with me and cook for me and “take care” of me. She had not talked to me about it first, however. When I asked her to give me a ride to the doctor’s office after the surgery because I wasn’t supposed to drive yet, she did help me, but she wasn’t her usual warm self.
We never did get to talk about it directly. I just noticed she started to become short in our phone conversations. Things became so uncomfortable between us we basically stopped talking. Sometimes she gave me the cold shoulder if we ran into each other at group meetings. I heard of events in her life through others. I stopped calling for updates.
A couple of months ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I got the details from a mutual friend, who said Arlene didn’t mind if people wanted details of her condition. She had surgery to remove a few hot spots, and then they discovered that the cancer had indeed gone to a lymph node. She had to have more surgery. Now she’s going through radiation. It was as if the more I heard about her condition, the guiltier I felt for not calling, so I didn’t. I did write her a couple of cards and tell her I was thinking of her and praying for her.
Finally, yesterday, I “got over myself” as they say in my group. I dialed the phone and Arlene answered. “It’s wonderful to hear your voice,” I said. It felt good to listen as she told me about her journey. I remembered how much I owed her in the support she had given me when I needed it. She has to go through radiation, a bit every day, for a number of weeks. I know she lives alone, and her adult children aren’t nearby. I told her if she gets to a point where she can’t or doesn’t want to go alone, that I would be willing to take her and wait for her and bring her back home. It felt good to mean it when I said it.
After I got off the phone I thought for a bit about how dumb it is not to make a call, or volunteer to do something, or take a step to heal a relationship before it gets so strained as to be non-existent. This was once a valuable relationship. Maybe we have grown differently, and maybe we’ll never be as close as we once were, but that is no reason to let the relationship fall by the wayside. That phone might seem to weigh fifty pounds. It might be hard to remember the number I dialed every day for months. That’s no excuse, however. Even if you feel like an idiot for not doing it sooner.
I’m sorry it took a cancer diagnosis for me to get my act together. I should have picked up the phone and called her months ago and at least made an effort to reconnect. I am pleased with myself that I finally did it, however, even if it’s kind of late in the game. It felt so right to listen to my friend talk. There are plenty of other people I might just pick up the phone and call now, too. Or go visit. Arlene is teaching me yet another valuable lesson. “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” the saying goes. It might just help with my procrastination.
“We aren’t promised tomorrow,” my heart reminds me. Yes. Today I get it. Thank you.