Grief and Loss: On Losing Friends

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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York with that one famous tree, nearly a half century ago, which makes me at least a half century old (give or take a few centuries). One of my closest friends at that time was a girl named Beverly who lived diagonally across the street  from where I lived. She was very,very bright(what we called an egghead in those days) kind, good, and my dearest friend. My parents loved her and her family. lthough we didn’t attend the same schools, we did things together whenever we had some time,in between our studies.Image result for a tree in prospect park

Beverly’s life couldn’t have been more different from my own. She was one of three children and she had two brothers who were born profoundly developmentally disabled. One of her siblings lived at home and because he could not care for himself, Beverly’s mom had to do everything for him. Daily, her mom and dad would lift the brother to put him in his chair or bathe him or to carry him to the many physical therapy activities that he was a part of. Beverly’s parents’ life was difficult, but through it all their complete pride and joy was their daughter.They were very proud of Beverly as she was extremely book smart,worked very hard in school and won many scholastic awards.

Her dad felt that because of the circumstances of their family, he could not recognize any holidays. He felt that God had dealt them a raw deal and therefore there was no room for any celebrations of any traditional holidays. Their house was quiet but for the sounds that Beverly’s brother made,as his only way of communicating was by screaming or grunting. The atmosphere was cold ,very austere, sparsely decorated and somewhat devoid of good cheer, but Beverly managed to thrive as this was the family she was born into and she did not know from anything else.

My home, on the other hand, consisted of four very noisy  children, me being the oldest. Completely the opposite of Beverly’s as we were always busy, and at any given moment the house was filled with all kinds of music from jazz to classical, political meetings, music from the piano that my sister played so well, holiday gatherings and parties celebrating some academic achievement, a communion or a birthday. When holidays approached, us kids were always filled with excitement in anticipation of the tree, the Easter bunny, or some out of town relative who just dropped in unexpectedly. When we were happy, we were happy, no half stepping about it, and Beverly would soon be a part of our happy times together. It wasn’t long before she would join us regularly at Christmas.When I gave her a Christmas gift one year she said she’d never received one before. My parents came to love her like a second daughter and her parents looked at me as the same.

Sometimes, Beverly and I would do things with our dads.Packing a picnic, going to the Philharmonic in Prospect Park and listening to Leonard Bernstein was one example of how we would hang out together during our teen years.Although I was never allowed to attend neighborhood parties, I recall the time Beverly was invited to a party given by a school chum and she asked my parents if I could come along. My parents said it would be okay and they decided that her father would drive us and my father would pick us up. I remember I made a cute little black velveteen dress to wear to this party and I was so looking forward to going. Well as fate would have it Beverly’s dad drove us to the party and we got stuck in traffic (but we had to be back home by 12 midnight, kinda like Cinderella). There were no cell phones in those days and so we weren’t able to call my father and tell him that he should arrive a little later. We finally arrived at the party at about 11:30 and at 12 midnight on the dot my father was there to to pick us up and take us home. We were so upset but that was life in those days with no cell phones and a limited, very managed social life.

She and I also shared family ties, well, sorta. Her aunt and uncle lived in the suburban town of Hempstead, N.Y., coincidentally, as it turned out, directly across the street from my Aunt Eloise and Uncle Rupert. So we sometimes traveled on the Long Island Railroad together, or one of our dads drove us out to the island, she visiting her relatives and me visiting mine. Since my Aunt and her’s traveled in the same Links, Jack and Jill, Boule social circle, that made our family ties even more acceptable, especially to my aunt.

As time progressed Beverly and I maintained our close friendship throughout our undergrad and graduate schools years. She would one day introduce me to someone who would become my new best friend as the ensuing years transformed our own closeness.

Beverly would get married twice, the first time I was her maid of honor.As time wore on we eventually went our separate ways, both of us pursuing our own paths,making new friends, becoming entrenched in our professional pursuits, pursuing the dreams that were important to each of us.

From time to time, I would think about Beverly and wonder what she was doing. About a month before my husband passed away in Dec. of 2008, I was at a party and met a young woman who had graduated from Bryn Mawr. I told her that one of my dearest friends had graduated from there  many years before, and I wondered about her whereabouts. Not long after that conversation this young woman sent me Beverly’s current information. I was surprised to learn that she had moved to Seattle. I took the info,tucked it away and promised to revisit it at some point.

My husband had been ill, subsequently died and I was soon caught up in my own grief vortex. I would look at that paper from time to time, and tell myself I’d get to it until one day when I decided that I would give her a call I could no longer find the information.

A few weeks ago I decided to Google her and after trying her name several ways, I decided to add PhD. You can only imagine my surprise when up popped her obituary. I was stunned, as I read the short notice which gave few clues to her life for the past few decades.

I readily began to mourn my childhood friend of long ago.You see, although we had been out of touch, she had been an integral part of my adolescent life. We were best friends, parent approved,and shared secrets and dreams and trips together. She even took a trip with me and my grandmother to Montréal one summer and we had a really wonderful time. I remember going to visit her in Philly when she was still in undergrad school and meeting up with mutual friends, spending the time having fun. I was young, I was free and I had my whole life ahead of me and Beverly shared that part of my life with me. I mourned the fact that Beverly had been a part of my world when I was very young and we were both at the beginning of everything. I mourned the memories as I wondered what her life had been like.

Luckily, I was able to connect with a friend of her’s who filled me in on the past several decades of her life. She had lived in various cities in the Northeast, she continued her work as a practicing psychiatric social worker and teacher. She married again, divorced a second time and finally settled in Seattle.Beverly was principled and well-respected. She’d even adopted a son. She battled various forms of cancer in recent years which finally consumed her.Her son was her life and she put in place people to look after him as she realized that she was not long for this world.

I appreciated her friend’s recounting and sharing with me Beverly’s life that didn’t include me. We had gone our separate ways but the impact she’d had on my life came back to me in a flood of memories: picnics, tennis, many outings sometimes shared with our now long gone dads, horseback riding, Links luncheons every year the day before Easter, and visits to our respective families together. Fun filled times with common adolescent girls’ chatter,hiding insecurities,sharing hopes and dreams. She was able to find love twice and pour all that she had into her work and her son. I am happy that she created a good life for herself and that she made her parents proud. I am happy that we shared time together on this planet in our youth, before we stepped into the lives that awaited each of us.

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In 2019 I lost 2 very good friends finding out about both deaths after the fact.My friend Patricia LaPlante Collins, and my friend Bruce Williams.They were both an integral part of my growing up life, at various times in my life. Patricia and I favored each other so people always thought she was a part of my family. And although she was not an easy personality, my parents embraced her and she loved my family so much that she was flattered when people mistakenly thought she was a daughter. She came to all my son’s early birthday parties and was a great auntie to him. We shared many amazing times together as she was a grand party hostess, a very capable gourmet cook and and fun to be around, albeit in small doses. I remember one evening, when my baby son Karim was in the hospital with the croup, my mother and I were leaving the hospital on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. It was a freezing night and the streets were so icy that the 5th Avenue bus kept slipping onto the sidewalk.What a scary ride! As it approached the transverse that would lead us home, the bus driver announced that it was closed. My mother and I got off on 86th St. and 5th Ave. I called Patricia from a phone booth (no cell phones in those days) and she invited us up to wait for awhile. I went to the now long gone Madison Avenue Deli bought some pastries and we spent the next couple of hours in Patricia’s lovely apartment laughing, sharing stories and enjoying time together.

Bruce was an early boyfriend fromthe early 70’s and although we would eventually part ways, he remained a part of my life, reappearing now and then.When I was in my first apt, and my roommate left to live with her boyfriend, leaving me in a lurch, it was Bruce who offered to take me away on a short vacation because he knew that I was under great stress, having to move suddenly out of the blue. After all, he had helped me move into that Brooklyn brownstone and he felt badly that I was suddenly scrambling to find new digs (which I did find readily in Manhattan ).When my parents were in the Peace Corps and I was gathering items to send to them, he took the items to them in Jamaica where they were stationed. When My dad was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, Bruce, who was then an occupational therapist, would come and check on him and make sure his mobility devices were up to code. He would remind my dad of when we would all played tennis together. So many memories of my friend who’s friendship I had cherished.

I have a bit of regret that I was not able to connect with Beverly, but knowing that her life was full in all the areas that she desired does give me a sense of satisfaction. As for Patricia and Bruce, whom I loved, I wish them all  well where they’ve landed next, and as I weep for my friends, gone in the prime of their lives, I know that they are free of pain and soaring in that infinite place of calm and serenity that we all  wish for and seek, even here on earth.

 

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To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5

The Past is the Past No Regrets

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I don’t know exactly when I stopped regretting past decisions in my life, but one day I decided that whatever my present life was, I would be grateful for each moment and look forward to the future. When it comes to one’s future, we’re usually blindfolded. It is an unknown, that we cannot see so why worry about an outcome that has so many possibilities, but people do. I watch people regret their pasts, believing if they’d  just married so-and-so or majored in such and such or moved away after college their lives would surely have been different ( different the code word for better or amazing). What people tend to forget is that you are always bringing yourself wherever you go. So no matter how much  brighter or how much more  wonderful we think our lives could have been, the fact is that if one had married so-and-so it doesn’t necessarily mean that our lives would have been better. People just imagine that life could’ve been much greater than one’s present situation, especially if the present has hit a lull, and so they live with regret. For example, if Nancy had married Dan instead of Dan having married Susan then maybe, one falsely believes ,Nancy’s life would’ve been like Susan and Dan’s wonderful life together, but life doesn’t work that way. For one thing we’re all different, and any of the many combinations of two people are not always going to have the exact same result. This is because we all have our own unique personalities, and we bring our various baggage and energy wherever we go. All of these variables impact the circumstances and outcomes of interpersonal  human relationships. The same goes for career choices, where we live, having children or not. Ultimately, we create and change our own circumstances. Then as we live our lives and go through the highs and lows, particularly the lows we begin to fantasize about the what ifs. After all, fantasy is far better than reality, far easier than fixing one’s present situation.

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Life is like riding a wave and after we’ve had several years of living out in the world under our belts there are going to be times when we feel dissatisfied, or even unfulfilled. Often this is when many  bring out the bag of regrets. We begin to falsely believe that had we just made a different choice our lives would be so much better or further along or blah,blah,blah. Guess what, we can never know in advance how the path we’ve chosen is going to unfold, but we always imagine the choices we forfeited or just didn’t make as being better. However, it’s just possible that the choices we did make saved us from a truly disastrous life,but alas we will never know. Sadly, many people end up with one foot in the life they have and the other foot in the life they want.

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The night before my husband died, I’d  had a very exhausting day. Chuck was very restless that evening and I promised him that we would get to the hospital in the morning, but I just needed to get some sleep. I wanted him to try to sleep but he was not feeling himself, in pain, and having very unusual sensations. For example he said he felt,” as if he was being pulled from out of the top of his head .” I thought he had a headache, but later I would come to know, that he was actually getting ready to pass on. I held his hand that night and woke up briefly in the morning, and then, with what seemed like a veil over my eyes, I fell off back to sleep only to awake and find that he was gone. I cannot tell you how full of regret I was about the things that took place that night before. I wished I had remained awake with him to watch him, I wished I’d understood what he was trying to tell me, but he didn’t really know and I didn’t really know what he was describing. I reassured him that  in the morning we would get to the hospital and they would be able to explain everything. For the longest time after Chuck’s death, I would feel guilty and full of regret over how our last night together was spent. So part of my initial grief was tinged with guilt and remorse, and I held onto those feelings for a very long long time. I told very few people and of course the very  few I did tell reassured me that Chuck was in a better place, it was his time and I should not add guilt to my sorrow.

Months later, I had a dream and in it my husband was letting me know that he loved me, that I had done nothing wrong and that I should let it go. After that I realized that I was only hurting myself more by thinking of how the evening would have been different had I been awake to save him. I also understood it was not meant to be, and that it was his time to go. In addition, I realized that I was not suppose to be a witness to his death and so events played out the way they were meant to. It was a while before I came to terms with all of these feelings and emotions about that last night. I know now it wasn’t going to go any differently, the outcome would’ve been the same, Chuck would’ve died and I would’ve still grieved sorely.That dream gave me permission to live in the present instead of compounding my grief with feelings of remorse. It wouldn’t have done me any good to have continued to replay that last evening, over and over again and probably would’ve added  a layer of guilt to my anguish and heartache.Whether Chuck really came to me in that dream, or whether the dream was conjured up from my subconscious, either way the message was clear that I should let it go.

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None of us will get an opportunity to relive our lives, and when I see folks repeatedly lamenting how their lives could have been better, richer, fuller, had they made different choices, I cringe and feel for them. One can never know how life would’ve been different had one, to paraphrase James Taylor, “ gone home another way.” It’s easier to run in place while looking in the rear view mirror of our minds. We must give ourselves permission to let go of our past and the choices we did or didn’t make. Rather than holding onto these ideas, pulling them out every now and then, dusting them off and mourning these perceived losses, we must learn to let them go. Remember, these are just ideas and experiences that no longer exist and lamenting them regularly can interfere with the lives we’re presently living. The tighter we hold onto them the more we miss out on being in the present, and the more we miss out on being in the present the more we miss out on our real lives.No matter how tough life gets, we always have a choice and we want to avoid those choices that imprison us. In fact,what people create by living in the past are stumbling blocks, obstacles, blockages that prevent them from saying,” Hey I want more out of this life and I am going to grab onto the brass ring.” Who knows, we might actually decide to make changes in our present lives that will enrich the here and now and, change our future.

When you grieve, should there be any regrets that you have about your lost loved ones, broken promises, things undone, words unsaid, let it go. If you imagine those you have lost as being in a place of all love and all-knowing, then understand that they are in your corner and want you to continue to live with vitality and enthusiasm. Those who are dead do not hold you responsible for anything, period. Experiment with being present and you’ll find that eventually, when you begin to move past the pain and sorrow, you will experience a life filled with possibilities minus the regrets.Life is not over ’til it’s over, but for some it’s over everyday that they live.Take this challenge, change one thing and begin to have the life you want, as the past is done and the present is all we have…..so be brave, step in with two feet and live your life with no regrets.

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To read more about my grief journey and how you can  navigate yours read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse, available on Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu

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