The evolution of friendship

My friend Greg came over to visit and brought me lunch the other day.  Greg has been one of my best friends for over 20 years.  We met on the first day of Freshman Orientation at Pitzer College in 1991.  He was my suite mate and was soon to be my most entertaining friend and my greatest nemesis.  As he matured (and maybe as I did as well), we became so much closer, he stopped torturing me, and we began sharing a good portion of our free time together as well as most of the important milestones in each others lives.  Greg and I co-host an annual Passover dinner, we have always talked on the phone several times a week, we each signed each other's ketubahs (Jewish marriage contract) at one another's weddings.  When Max was born, Greg and his wife, Ayala, were amongst our first visitors.  When Max died, Greg was at our house every day for almost two weeks straight.  He enlarged the photos of Max for his funeral service, he went on food and beverage runs for us, and he supported us every day.  After Max's funeral, Greg drove people up and down the very steep street to my mother's house from their cars until every one who wanted to pay respects had made it safely up the hill.  Greg is family to me.

While Greg is better at expressing emotions than most men, he is still a guy.  I have never been a super emotionally expressive person though and we have always been able to meet in the middle.  He has been a perfect best friend for me all of these years.  Over the last ten and a half months, I haven't been leaning on him as much as usual.  I have felt the strain on even my very closest relationships, but I have been (and still am) too tired and broken to deal with it.  I have felt a greater need to save myself than I have felt to save my relationships.  I have had the sense that he, like so many others, has been waiting for me to "get better" so we can go out and get a couple of beers or something.  Turns out, I wasn't entirely wrong.  He is a sensitive and compassionate person but he has been waiting for me to be the person I once was not really realizing it may not happen.  Speaking to him about what this terrible journey has been like for a best friend turned on a lightbulb over my head.  For a moment, I understood what it was like to be the friend of someone who has lost a child (or who is in the midst of life altering, deep grief or trauma).  Obviously, I would trade places with him and every other friend I have in a heartbeat, but I do understand a little better that my friends have had their own grief and it hasn't just been for the loss of Maxie (though, in my heart, I wish that was everyone's only grief.  In my mind, there is just nothing worse than him not being here).  My friends have lost me.  The old Abby was special and appreciated I guess.  Sadly, she is gone.

Greg explained to me that for months after Maxie's death, he questioned our mutual friends about whether they thought things would ever be the same, whether we would all just hang out again in our backyard and shoot the sh*t and have big meals and drink beers.  He said that our friend Carmen kept telling him that it doesn't matter, it will be what it will be (Thanks Carm).  I am not sure if he knows this, but I sensed from him that he was waiting, and it pushed me away.  You see, I wonder those things also.  As much as he misses the old Abby, I miss her too.  I would give anything to be that fun, carefree person again, but she is least for now.  She died when Maxie died.  The pressure I have felt from the outside to be myself again has just compounded the grief and pressure I already feel too much of from inside of myself to try and reconcile my loss and trauma.  His gradual understanding that old Abby is gone and that in order to maintain a relationship with me, he needs to accept new Abby, is what has brought me close to him again.  He said he finally understood why I come up with a relocation plan of action every week (Israel, Portland, Seattle, Santa Fe....) - I want to make new friends who don't have any expectations of me, who aren't waiting around for me to be my old self.  The new friends don't know old Abby, they will either like or not like the person I have become.  There will be no comparison to who I once was.  Perhaps new people will even think that the new me is special in her own right - even though she isn't as loud or outgoing or funny - even though she is quieter, more emotional, more introverted.  From time to time I tell Ted, "Let's just go somewhere and make all new friends....start from scratch!"  Greg is not the same person I met in the fall of 1991, but his transformation has been gradual.  His transformation over the time I have known him has been no less dramatic than my transformation over the last ten and a half months but mine happened overnight.  He hasn't had the time to get used to it yet.  It took Greg some time to realize that I am still Abby, I am just a different version and we can still be close, even if we aren't doing the same things together that we used to do.

There were those who instinctively knew from the moment of Maxie's death that the person that they had known was gone.  Those people have met me where I am at throughout this journey.  It has been a relief to me that those people exist.  They have been the few that I have felt safe with.  There were those who have tried to accept it and have done their best to meet me halfway.  I need to be in a special mood to connect with them, but I love them and appreciate them nonetheless. There are those who are still waiting around for me to return to my old self and that has pushed me away as much I have pushed them away, as they have wondered why I don't want to be around them.  After I posted about the "normal night on the town" I had with Suzy and Spencer a couple of weeks ago, I got several invitations to go out.  It was in some ways, my worst fear realized.  Are people waiting to re-engage in our friendship until I am old Abby again?  I pictured a collective sigh of relief had been let go - thoughts of "oh good, time to put this all behind us".  But, like I keep saying, it's not behind me.  It never will be. My son was the most important, most wonderful, most lovely person in my life.  Things will never be the same without him.  Our time out with Suzy and Spencer a couple of weeks ago was colored by our new normals.  I have been wondering for ten and a half months if people will love me anymore now that I am not the fun, funny Abby.  The new Abby can only really accept those who are ready to accept me, as I am now.  I am not ready for those who are still waiting around for an old version of me to resurface.  I don't want our friendship back as it was any more than many former friends want me back in my more broken form.  Those who are waiting for the old Abby have no concept of the impact my son and losing him has had on my life.  It has been that lack of recognition that used to (and sometimes still does) feel like a dismissal of Maxie and a belittling of my grief.

What a relief it would be for me to know that you accept me as I am now. That you accept me knowing I may never be my old self again.  How nice for me to know that you might reach out to me and not just wait until you see me again at the next dinner party, or book club, or holiday celebration or wedding or night before Thanksgiving ritual.  How reassured I would feel knowing that we connect somehow without having to "do lunch" or "get drinks" or "go out on the town".  I may never see you again if you are waiting for me to show up at occasions or be ready for an activity.  What a relief it might be for you too if you could allow yourself to stop waiting for someone to show up who no longer exists.  How much easier might it be for you to realize that you don't have to figure out how to make me smile or laugh and distract me from who I am now; that all you have to do is say you are thinking about me, or spend some quiet time with me, or hang out in a more casual setting with few expectations.  How much pressure it must be on you to try and make me forget the unforgettable by coming up with jokes and stories and activities for us.  No wonder I never hear from you.  What an incredible burden that would be!  Do I know if we will ever drink beers and shoot the sh*t in our backyard with you again? - Probably?  Does it matter?  Can we still be close if things are different?  I hope so.  I can't be pushed into becoming the old me suddenly.  I may get there again but it will take time.

* By the way, I only use Greg as an example because I so thoroughly appreciated his honesty with me about how the loss of "me" has affected him.  He is one of many people who have felt this but he is one of my favorite people and also one of the first to try and relay to me his "grief" about losing me.  I am grateful that he is reconciling his loss (of me).  The thought of not having him in my life is too overwhelming.  So I thank him, ahead of time, for being a good sport about letting me use him as an illustration of how my various relationships have and have not evolved since the death of my baby.  Thanks Greg.  Love you lots.


Tallie Fishburne said...

I love you, Old Abby. I love you, New Abby. I am just so sorry and sad that we even have the distinction.

Tiffany said...

i understand this so well. i shut down after i lost Julius. only "socializing" with other BLMs and those who accepted my darker self. after i had our little girl, i got emails, etc from people who i felt were just waiting for me to be "happy" again. some days when i'm feeling my new version of happy i think about if i will ever feel like that carefree tiffany. i doubt it.

our girl definitely helps bring color into our world again. i do feel like i am now learning to live instead of just survive. and i think about the future, whereas i couldn't before. but i know that i will never again be as happy as i was when i was with Julius. that person stopped existing the day my son did. i just hope to fill the rest of my life with as much love as possible.