The thing about being a widow is that you become kind-of a crappy friend, at least for a little while. You cry at people’s weddings. You ruin perfectly good barbeques by talking just a little too much about your late husband. You’re never on time. You forget to call people back and you never remember anyone’s birthday besides your own. You never do the carpool and you certainly don’t organize weekly get-togethers. Sometimes when you get together with your friends, everyone spends all of their emotional energy on you.
At times, it’s not a lot of fun to be a widow’s friend. Still, so many people have been good friends to me. I could list them all out, but I’m sure I’d miss a few.
But you know who I wouldn’t miss in that list? My two best friends from college: Kelly and Paige. They showed up for me after Shawn died, staying with me for a week and reminding me that while I was shattered, they were going to be there. Then they came back six weeks later for my 39th birthday. Kelly came for my 90s party that year, and Paige opened her home to me in the Caribbean anytime I needed an escape. They checked in with me daily, they reminded me that my pain might remain but my suffering would ease, and they told me this over and over again: “you are loved.”
Do you know what I did for them? Nothing. I think I sent them both birthday cards this year, but maybe I forgot. Maybe I remembered to text them?
God, when I started writing this blog post I thought I’d lay out all the things we’ve done for each other over the years. But I could only come up with what they did for me.
I want to do things for other people, but I just cannot find the time and space. When it’s 10:15 and I’ve finally finished bedtime and clean-up and a shower, all I want to do is drift off to sleep listening to a podcast about skincare products. Maybe I’ll remember to text my friends and say “hello” but I usually forget.
So when Paige’s friends in the Caribbean sent me an email with the subject line, “join us for Paige’s 40th birthday boat party” I knew I had to make it. Kelly’s daughter started kindergarten a few days after the party, so she couldn’t make it. But I could.
“I’m coming,” I texted her friends, “and I want to surprise her.”
And so we made it happen.
Paige’s friend picked me up from the airport, and we snuck in her office building and called her downstairs. Lots of screaming and hugging and crying followed. We hadn’t even gotten to the boat party yet, but my trip down was already worth it. That night, we made Jell-O shots and danced in her tiny kitchen and cried with laughter.
The next day, we got on the boat – more of a yacht, actually – and settled in for an afternoon of fun. All of her friends showed up. We took some of those Jell-O shots and we laughed some more. I swam with the stingrays. As the sun was setting and we headed back, the DJ turned up the music and Paige pulled me to the middle of the boat. We created a makeshift dance floor and we danced like we were back in college. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.
Damn, if I didn’t feel alive.
The whole afternoon, everyone kept saying how great it was that I had taken the flight down. But compared to all that Paige has done for me, it was a small thing. Plus, it was such fun. Yes, it was great to be in an idyllic environment, but maybe the best part was sitting in her bed the next morning, laughing at ourselves and texting Kelly about it all.
It felt like we were co-eds again. Just me and my bestie.
As I was leaving to come down to the Caribbean, I was chatting with my friend at work, Julie. I told her about the trip, and how I felt a tiny bit guilty that I wasn’t spending the weekend lesson planning. “You should have zero regrets about going to Paige’s birthday!” she texted me later. “Even if the first week is a little chaotic, you’re going to have so much fun and start the year happy. You’re the kind of person who shows up for your friends – that’s one of the many reasons we all love you so much!”
I appreciated the sentiment, but honestly, it’s not correct. I haven’t really showed up for my friends that much in the past two years. They’ve shown up much more for me.
But what I’m learning now is that friendship isn’t so straightforward.
Sometimes, your friends come and pick you up off the floor and then spend years making sure you stay standing. They don’t ask for anything, because they know you’re taking all the energy you have just to keep upright. But every once in a while, after years of holding you up, you may find out that you can do something new.
You can go from standing to dancing.