The Gift of Friendship

I am the one who put forth the relationship challenge this week, and I have to confess, I am struggling with how to articulate my feelings.   Fast approaching my sixtieth birthday, I find I am sentimental, or maybe, it’s that after years of isolation due to illness, I now treasure relationship more than ever.  Either way, how can I do justice to something that means so much?

Our trip this week was to the home of a very dear friends, whose acquaintance dates back to high school days.  L is the anti-thesis of me:  calm, and steady.  Just being in her presence puts me at ease: I feel safe, respected, and accepted.

There are times in my life when L has been my champion.  During an unwanted pregnancy scare, she confronted my then boyfriend as to his intentions.  When devastated by an unforeseen divorce, she hugged me and told me I didn’t deserve it, and then furnished a home for the kids and I.

Recently, she told me that people are naturally drawn to me, that I make them feel better about themselves.  Her words surprised me – are we mirrors for one another?

The gift of her friendship, knowing that I am always welcome in her home, has value beyond words.  Of course, the same welcome is extended to her and her husband, but as I always do, I wonder what I bring to the relationship?

Loyalty, for certain, but I hope something more.  I hope that I bring to her a comparable comfort, a knowing that she is loved for who she is, and a reassurance that she is never alone – that I care always, even when we are apart.

I have struggled with relationships, likely the product of a troubled childhood, and I chastise myself often for not doing enough, for not being enough.  I feel as if I’m overbearing, and a burden, and worry that I have taken more than I give.  Even as we pulled away on Saturday morning, and a warm glow lingered, I felt the doubts seep in.   It is a demon I have to overcome.

Forty-six years of friendship should teach me otherwise, and the text I received when we got home:  Love having you…anytime…any (or no) reason!

How blessed I am.

How about you?  Is there that one relationship that makes you feel better about yourself?

Love to hear from you.

(Featured image is from personal collection.)

Relationship Ruptures

The sign on the community pool clearly indicated that the pool was closed, and the gate was locked, but that didn’t stop my friend from scaling the fence and jumping in.  Our other friend hesitated only briefly before joining her, and I stood by in disbelief.

It was day one of our girls’ getaway, and as I had signed on for the rented condo, I felt the weight of responsibility close in around me.  I turned and walked back towards our unit, listening as the hollers of my fellow travellers echoed through the resort. Regret flooded me.  How did I ever think this would work out?

Friend #1, whom I’d known since childhood, was more of a sister to me.  An extreme extrovert, with a tongue that could win medals for speed, made her the life of any party.  Friend #2, a colleague of mine and longtime neighbour of #1, was quietly confident, and not averse to having a good time.  I, a non-drinker, had been struggling with my health for sometime, and while I enjoyed company and good conversation, I preferred quiet, intimate settings.

“I think this vacation is a mistake,” I told my husband in muffled voice the next morning while waiting for the other two to wake up.

“Well, come on home if it’s not working out,” he suggested.

Except, I had been the one to drive, so leaving meant stranding them, and I couldn’t do that.  I decided to the make the best of it:  be the designated driver, and hopefully, get in some sightseeing.

backoffduckThe fighting between #1 and I started the moment she woke up and announced that she hoped I wasn’t going to be a stick-in-the-mud all week.  I countered that she had a drinking problem, and tempers flared out of control. (Told you we were like sisters.)

As the week progressed, and my stomach turned into a ball of fiery pain, the rupture in our friendship deepened.  I vowed that it was over.

“Let’s go for lunch and talk about it,” #1 said weeks later.  “I can’t bear not having you in my life.”

I acquiesced.  We agreed never to go away together again.  We vowed to resume the friendship.

Maybe I was too uptight, I cajoled myself.  We have been friends for a long time, after all.

“She really does have a good heart,” my husband and I agreed.

And then I got sick.  Really sick.  So sick that I could no longer leave my bed, or even talk with her on the phone.

“Let me know when you can come out again,” she said once during a brief conversation.  And another time:  “Are you better?  When are you going back to work?” And then, more recently:  “I’ve talked it over with others, and we agree you should be working now.”

I haven’t seen her in over a year.  She has no idea what my day-to-day living looks like.

“You don’t need toxic people like her in your life,” my health-care aide once said to me, overhearing our conversation.  “You need encouragement and understanding.”

Black PhoebeI am a dog when it comes to loyalty.  It is hard for me to recognize if a relationship is healthy or abusive.  I am not good at setting boundaries.

We have been home for a bit, and I have not called #1.  I am thinking that I might not bother.  It is causing me grief.

What would you do?

(My poem at One Woman’s QuestA Falling Out, is based on this story.)

 

 

Back to Campbell River

We’ve just had lunch in Comox – a quaint, mostly retirement community, judging by the services that line the main street.  Mary’s, a small cafe with gluten-free options, is where we met up with Pippa for our last day of exploration on the island.

gullcondo.jpgThe plan from here is to head north.  I tag along with Pippa and Sammy (her dog) and Ric follows behind in the pickup.  The day is overcast but no rain yet.

Oyster Bay is the first stop.  We park and follow the short path to the water’s edge.  A few mergansers float at the water’s edge, and a number of gulls squawk in the distance.  These two have found the best perches and are in no hurry to give them up. We take some pictures and deterred by the chilly wind, decide to keep going up the coast to Campbell River.

CampbellRiver.jpgThere are actually two rivers in Campbell River – the one bearing the name of the town, and the Quisnam River.  We stop at the Campbell River for some photos and then drive on to the Quisnam where Pippa and I decide to walk the trails for a bit.  The trilliums and fawn lilies are in full bloom and she wants to show me.  The woods are also full of birch trees, which remind me of childhood and my father’s garden – a favourite.

3fawnliliesRic has stayed back in the truck and when we return, he is napping, so we carry on along the trails on the other side of the road.  This is Pippa’s neighbourhood, and Sammy proudly shows off his comfort with the area.

There is something so soothing about the sound of a river’s flow.   I love this place.

birches.jpgWe stop by Pippa’s house for a tour of the gardens.  Her property – nearly an acre, is surrounded by tall trees, and sloping grounds.  There is a pond on one side of the property, and a roadway on the other, so she has wonderful privacy.  Benches are set at strategic points offering a number of places to sip tea and enjoy the beauty, but today is too cold, so we decide to get tea at a cafe back in town.

Part of Campbell River’s waterfront has been strategically maintained for public use – no development on the water side.  Along the paved path sits a shack on a concrete slab – Fogg Dukkers.

Katiethebarista“It’s a little rough inside,” Pippa warns.  “If it’s too much we can bring out drinks back to the truck.”

It is rough, but it’s a classic.  A barn-like door opens into the large, open area.  A wood stove pumps heat from one corner while locals sit around in plastic lawn chairs.  Signs with funny sayings line the walls, and in a back room a young woman, Katie, waits to take our orders.  Surprisingly, they have a wide range of offerings.  I opt for a mint tea while Pippa orders Americano, and Ric a dark roast.

“In nice weather,” Pippa explains, “people come here with their dogs and sit outside.  They usually have a fire going and sometimes there will be a jam session.”

FoggDuckersinterior.jpgOutside, there are more plastic chairs, some tables and picnic benches.

We linger over our drinks, chatting about everything, none of us wanting this day to end.  When the rain comes, it’s a reminder that we have a fair distance to travel home.

We say our goodbyes.

I am beyond tired, and hungry again.  Ric knows of a place in Nanoose Bay where we can have a decent meal.  I try to sleep but the day is still very much alive in my mind.  Besides, there are so many emotions flooding me right now.

I could see myself living on the island, and yet, I am feeling the tug of home.  If only I could transport my family here with me.

The highway has come to a halt just at our dinner turn-off.  There must be an accident ahead.

rainyhighwayIn the restaurant, I overhear the waitress telling another table that there has been a fatal crash.  The delay could be hours.  So we take our time, lingering over tea and coffee after our meals, and striking up conversation with the woman at the next table – also waiting out the traffic situation.  Apparently there is only one road running between here and Nanaimo.

Finally, google shows the route is moving again, and we head home.  It’s been an exceptionally good, and long, day.

Tomorrow we pack up.

 

What Does It Take To Belong?

We roll into our new neighbourhood cautiously guided by an old-timer, who after we finally manage to maneuver into our RV site, introduces himself as Graham.

th-2“Been here since the park first opened,”  he beams and then proceeds to point to each of the other trailers and run down who’s who:  “The ones behind you like to party,” he warns, “as does the couple just over there.  These people have two little granddaughters, that’s a woman by herself, the next one just lost her husband last year, this one over here had a boyfriend but they broke up, Dean across the way helps out around here like me…” and so on.

We have landed right in the middle of a pre-established click, and I feel my insecurities rising.  We are outsiders.

The rain follows us, and trapped inside, I watch as others arrive, pull into their units and even before unlocking their own doors, hustle through the downpour to greet old friends.  Voices rise in excitement and laughter lingers in the air, and I am feeling 12-years-old again, like the year we moved half way through grade eight and my new classmates examined me as if I was some repugnant specimen that had crawled out of the gutter – an unwanted intruder.

The next morning I watch as people emerge and gather in the road way, cups of coffee in hand, and then later as trays of food are carried to a potluck that doesn’t include us.

How will we ever fit in, I wonder?  These people have a history.  They have stories and rituals and relationships that have evolved over years of coming together.  I have legs that sometimes work, a sensitive palate, and a non-alcoholic habit.  Even if we were invited, I probably wouldn’t be able to attend: I’m in bed most of the day. th-3.jpg

I resign myself to the role I’ve always played:  the loner.  They will tolerate me, and I will remain comfortably on the periphery, I decide.  Ric is just like me.  We’ll be loners together.  It’s what we do.

Then my granddaughter comes to stay, and as we walk her to the playground we pass a group of people.

“V.J. and Ric, right?”  a woman waves.  “Might as well get acquainted, we’re neighbours now.”

Names get thrown around and before we stop her, Sloane has joined the circle and made friends with another little girl.  Then another woman stops and says she lives directly across from us and we find out she’s from Ric’s hometown, and when we meet the next time, I’ve remembered that she’s the one Graham said lost her husband and I offer condolences, and we sit and she tells me her story, and it turns out her husband had the same cancer as mine, and we cry together and suddenly we’re no longer intruders… we belong.th-1

Turns out it’s not the beer we drink, nor whether or not I can eat pasta, nor any of the other reasons I might think someone might dislike us – it’s about making connections:  opening our hearts and seeing the people around us and letting them in.

 

The Nature of the Beast

Tale as old as time,
True as it can be,
Barely even friends,
Then somebody bends,
Unexpectedly

I awaken every morning with a song playing in my head, like an internal radio that self tunes.  Typically, it is a line or two which follows me throughout my day:  a personal theme song, I like to imagine.  For days now, it has been the intro from “Beauty and the Beast”.

Normally, I take a moment upon rising to write down any dreams, however; I am currently under the influence of antibiotics and pain killers –  treatment for a sinus infection – and my nighttime missives are elusive.  I only have the song playing over and over again in my head.

I wonder if, like dreams, it is a message from the Self.  I wrote a poem once entitled “Beauty and the Beast Revisited” in which the heroine marries a bear who claims to be a man, only to realize the nature of the beast remains.   At my age, I am quite cynical about Disney renditions of love:  call it experience.th-2

I do believe, though, that the nature of relationships can change.  “Then somebody bends….” has a ring of truth.  Recently, I sent an email with the subject line:  “An olive branch”, to an old friend I haven’t spoken to for sixteen years.   Life is too short, I decided, to hang on to hurt, so I decided to take a risk.

We had been close friends for many years, raising our kids together, and supporting each other through trying times.  Then, one day, without any explanation, she asked me not to contact her anymore.  Two other friends did the same.  What had been an inseparable foursome disintegrated abruptly.  It was a very painful time, and for years I have wondered what sin I had perpetrated to cause such an extreme reaction.

I also built a wall to keep others out, withdrawing from all social circles and convincing myself that friendship is overrated.

I did reconnect with one of the women about eight years after, who told me that I had not been at fault, but I found her reassurance empty:  why then had I been punished so?  We remain estranged.

My husband does not understand my gesture:  “If she was such a good friend, then no matter what you did, don’t you think she’d address it first, give you the benefit of the doubt, instead of just turning her back on you.”

This is the nature of the beast:  abandonment cuts deep.  Maybe I am a hopeless romantic, setting myself up for another fall.

Or perhaps, I’m an aging woman, struck down by illness, who is willing to admit fault if  it mends but one path in my broken herstory.th-1

We’ve talked on the phone and met for tea, both tearing up with sentimentality, and agreeing to meet up again.

In the meantime, the beast has reared up roaring against the injustice of a collaborative betrayal.  Can I live without knowing what happened?  Will I slaughter any chance of reconnecting if I bring it up?  Does it matter after so many years, or is forgiveness, without question, the higher road?

(Featured image from techgnotic.deviantart.com)

Illness and Isolation

Prolonged illness almost always equates to isolation.

Initially, kindness reveals itself through visits from friends and coworkers, meals dropped off, and many offers to help in any way.  Not yet adjusted to my rapidly changing situation, I was overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed by such an outpouring, having always considered myself strong and independent.

Perhaps, I pushed others away.  More likely, having been forced off the highway of life, everyone else moved on.

In the past, I defined a relationship in terms of responsibility.  If I felt needed, then the relationship had value.  In illness, I no longer have much to give. I now recognize that my former definition was not necessarily healthy, yet still struggle to imagine who would find my friendship worthwhile: another barrier to connecting.

Professional relationships have almost all disappeared.  The commonality of ongoing training sessions and shared education-related challenges are no longer part of my life.  Annual goal-setting reports absent, I am focusing on new goals now:  baby steps really.  Who can relate when aspirations equate to meeting daily hygiene requirements and hoping to publish one blog post every other day?  Hardly inspirational.

Illness changes a person.  From the outside, the transformation must be incomprehensible.  Having grown up with a sister plagued by life-threatening illnesses, I know I interpreted much of her behaviour as selfish.  Only now (long after she passed away) do I understand that it is self-preservation that drove her actions, not selfishness.  I suspect most outsiders lack that perspective.th-1

Add depression into the mix – a natural response to such dramatic life change – and there is another wall to interacting.  I find myself battling with hypersensitivity, analyzing personal comments and twisting them into evil rejection.  I am anxious of conversations that involve justification of how my life turned out so pathetically.  I fear judgment.

Isolation is seldom listed as a symptom of chronic disease, but it certainly is a component.  The need for human interaction is very real, in fact, psychologically, I would say it is essential.

Making a conscientious effort to reach out to others, balancing social activity with limited energy, and valuing myself enough to keep the negative self-talk to a minimum, is how I am currently countering isolation.

(Featured image:  jessica-art.deviantart.com)

Things Are Looking Up

Had my third Ozonotherapy last week, and apart from feeling flushed and slightly dizzy afterwards (I then realized I was likely dehydrated) I have felt increasingly stronger.  th

“Or is it that you have a new granddaughter?” my husband likes to play Devil’s Advocate.

Having a new grandchild is definitely an energy boost – the motivation to hold that newborn baby has pushed me into to go mode, for sure.  And when my daughter indicated she was feeling overwhelmed and needed me, I came as close to jumping into IMG_1650supermom action as I have in a long time – calming the baby while she slept, cleaning the kitchen, and whipping up a tuna casserole – all tasks I have not been able to do, without severe repercussions.  (Okay, admittedly, as I write this – one day later – I am still in bed at noon, with severe neck and shoulder pain and legs that won’t cooperate.)  But I did it!

One of the hardest things about having a chronic illness, such as ME/CFS, is the mindset that it will one day just disappear – like a bad case of the flu – and I’ll be able to pick up where I left off.  Such fantastical thinking is only a detriment to progress.

If I look back, a year or two years ago, I can see that I am undoubtedly stronger, can do things I wouldn’t even entertain back then.  There has been movement, although it is a slow incline. th

In the past four weeks, since my husband’s heart attack and subsequent surgery, I have had more social interaction – thanks to caring hearts who volunteered to help out – than I’ve had in years.  Two years ago, I had to limit phone conversations to fifteen minutes or less, and even a year ago, I would only see one friend a week for a limited time.  Now I am sharing meals with friends, and able to stay the course of the visit (for the most part).
My husband likes to say that I was having wild parties while he was away.

My doctor would say that socializing is good medicine for the soul.

“You are like  midwives,” I told the two friends who have been here the most.  “overseeing my social rebirth.”

Hard to pinpoint the source of improvement, and does it really matter?  Life is th-1more often than not, one Great Mystery.  With willingness to try and an openness to possibilities, I push forward.  Suffice to say that things are looking up.