I have spent way too much time throwing my own inner pity party over the people in my life who have utterly betrayed me. People who acted like they were being compassionate only to gossip about my grief behind my back, ignore me for months on end, and then make up lies about it all to my face and pretend to be a decent person.
It has made me much more cautious. There are very few people in my life who have pissed me off to the point where I will always remember it. I don't hold a grudge typically. Why waste the energy? I will always, however, remember one person in college whom I trusted. We both connected over very deeply personal issues, like food and body image issues, and then she stabbed me in the back and made all our friends choose "sides". I was devastated. Yet that pales in comparison with someone feigning compassion, love, and interest after the death of my son only to secretly judge me, never jump to my defense around others, and then ultimately tell me the friendship isn't working. Would have been nice to know that before pouring my grief soaked heart out, am I right? Would have been nice if she'd given me some cues as to how uncomfortable I was making her (apparently) rather than play along like a good decent person offering a shoulder to cry on.
I've come to learn that some things are just inexcusable and unforgiveable. And yet, it doesn't have to hold a power over you. You don't have to be held hostage to the negativity. You can walk away. No strings, anymore, ever.
I've come to learn that some people will literally stop talking to you once you've lost a child. I can't analyze it. I've tried. And it makes no sense. Never, ever, ever would I do that to anyone. I've never stopped talking to a friend who has lost a parent to cancer, so I can't relate to just cutting someone out of your life simply because tragedy struck them. There's no rhyme or reason other than to realize that true colors come out of people eventually, and now that I'm 30, I realize more than ever who matters in my life. I'm absolutely done trying to phone and keep in touch with people who could ignore me for an entire year without so much as a flinch. You know what those people are? Baggage. Negative emotional baggage.
I'm feeling a lot lighter these days without carrying that extra weight around. Without wondering when so and so might call, or thinking maybe I should call to try and keep the friendship alive.
I have found some incredible people. And before you assume they are loss people, that's not what I'm talking about. Of course the loss mamas (and papas) I've met on my grief journey are some of the most incredible people I've ever encountered, and they continue to inspire me and fill my cup with love and appreciation for community. But I'm talking about in real life friends that I've made, and only one of them is a loss mama.
The four friends I've made over these past almost two years since our loss have given me this amazing epiphany. They've helped me to realize that I was doing it all wrong before, that my "friends" weren't really friends before, that it doesn't have to be that way. That there are people who will actually call you to spend time together and nurture the friendship on a fairly regular basis. People who work full time, have kids (well, half of them do), have a marriage, have a home, and still make the time in their lives for geniune social interaction. People you don't have to go a year not hearing from but still call them your "friend". Mutual respect with both parties wanting something similar out of the friendship, both parties feeling enriched by the friendship, both parties being able to be open and real about the crap cards life deals you at times, both parties being able to let loose and just have a good time.
I am ever so grateful for my four most recent friendships. They are an investment, and not one I feel I will be blogging about later regretfully. You see, I have clarity now that I didn't before, and I won't allow myself to be easily snowed or let my guard down so readily. I realize that some people took advantage of my vulnerable state. They knew I would spill my heart because my grief was raw and overflowing and needed an outlet.
The grief is there. The pain is there. I will carry it like a rock in my pocket forever, if you like a random movie reference thrown in. But my friends in real life? They don't get to see it, not unless that trust is solid, the friendship is balanced, healthy, and not one-sided.
I am so grateful for new friendships.
My one friend recently met me for coffee and asked me how I've been doing. Do you know how rare it is to hear that? This friend doesn't even have children of her own much less understand my scope of loss, and yet she has been one of the most compassionate people I've encountered. She asks me how I'm doing, and she really listens to my response. She tells me the death of my son is not something I will ever "get over", not something she would ever expect me to get over. Her eyes look down at her coffee as she processes her thoughts, and then she looks at me and says, "And in a way, you probably wouldn't want to get over it even if you could, you know?" Yes. Yes, I know. And yet that is so profound of a statement. Bold on her part, yet so perfectly true. How does she know? How does she know that conflicted feeling? That the love and pain coexist, that the pain in itself is a connection to your child so you could never entirely wish it away, that "getting over it" couldn't happen when your love is and always will be so incredibly profound?
Because she's a geniune human being, someone capable of real empathy, of putting herself in my terribly uncomfortable shoes in order to try and imagine some flicker of what it might feel like to have lived this unfathomable loss. She goes on to tell me about her concern for me, that she recognizes that the loss of a child is something that changes a marriage forever, that she has such complete faith in me and my husband that if anyone can get through it, it's us. She doesn't say it in a way that glosses over my struggles, our struggles. Most of the time she is quiet, and nods, and seems deep in thought. At times she acknowledges, "I just can't even imagine how must difficult this all must be." Otherwise, mostly quiet, never jumping to quickly fill the silence with noise as so many others do in conversations they'd rather run screaming from. Just sitting, listening, thinking, and abiding. It amazed me, it humbled me, and it taught me a lesson about the false assumptions I've been making about the capabilities of others and about friendships in my life post-loss.
Compassion. Empathy. Openness. Connection. Honesty. Encouragement without being fake, without judgment, without expecting anything in return.
Now that I've found people like this, I realize what a waste of time it was for me to try and hold on to people who were walking away from me all along. I realize what a gift real friendship is. I don't feel pigeonholed into this one identity, I don't feel that loss defines me, that the only people I could possibly relate to are other loss moms. Knowing that I don't have to segregate from the land of non-loss women in order to be loved and respected is a huge epiphany for me, because for a while I was really starting to wonder if I could ever "fit in" with people who haven't "been there".
You have to make the decision that you are worth more than investing in people who don't invest back in you. You have to be open to letting a little light in. You have to be willing to accept that some people just won't like you, for no good reason, and that's okay. They don't deserve to live in your head rent free. And letting go of those people makes room in your life and in your heart for people who genuinely do.
I dedicate this post to my real friends, near and far, babylost and nonbabylost. My cup runneth over, so much that there's no room in it for anger or bitterness toward those who have walked away or remained silent in my time of need. Things are as they are, and I have learned so much about how ugly this world can be, but I've also seen so much beauty thanks to each and every one of you.