“Tomorrow you are having coffee with Jacqueline and then Heather will join you in the evening. On Wednesday Delora has you covered , Jess and I will meet you later.”
As my friend Robin rattled off my schedule for the week, I tried to resist. I am accustomed to working things out on my own, partly out of necessity and mostly out of habit. I don’t like asking for help and I hate being needy. I had trouble finding an emotional box for this overwhelming display of affection from my best friends. I didn’t want to be the center of attention. I didn’t want them to make a big deal over my grief and I didn’t want them to change their plans just to hold my hand.
When my mother passed away a month ago, I was a mess for the reasons that you would expect. However, our complicated relationship and my sudden orphan status elevated my grief to a place that was both challenging and painful. Nothing about her death was usual — there was no funeral or burial or sitting shiva. She was cremated followed by a one-hour memorial service in another state. Some of my dearest friends went out of their way to attend. Later that evening, I asked people to stop by. I wanted to wrap my arms around everyone who walked through the door. I was so grateful to have my daughters, husband and mother-in-law by my side, but I knew that they would be back to their own lives in less than 24 hours. I thought I could handle the aftermath on my own. I’ve been faced with death before and watched how it can splinter a family. I am a survivor. I would be fine.
Turns out, I wasn’t fine. Robin’s schedule allowed no time for me to sit alone and think about my crappy situation. It was one of the greatest gifts that she and my army of amazing friends have ever given me. I am the kind of girl who plans her own birthday party (can you say control freak) and wants everyone to have a good time. I am the type of friend who loves to check on my besties if they are struggling or need advice. That’s the place where I am most comfortable. If my friends are happy, then it makes me happy.
I felt guilty telling Robin I was fine, so I just went with it. After the first day, I found out how badly I needed the attention. I waited anxiously for someone to knock on my door. Looking back, I don’t think I would have made it out of bed without these amazing humans. When I couldn’t breathe or think clearly, someone was there to do it for me.
When my mother was ill, I had daily communication from many people that I adore. I had meat pies from Nancy and potatoes from Barbara. Laura made me dinner. Jen offered her dog for some extra love. My inner circle kept daily tabs on me. I was feeling tragically lost one day so I drove to Cape Cod and stored up on deep hugs from my beloved beach pals. I received sage advice from friends who had lost parents and blessings from religious souls. Friends from far away were in plain view. I didn’t have to answer texts or calls if I didn’t have the strength because these people don’t judge. they got in bed with me, held my hand and let me cry. We learned how to bake challah together; they took me to the movies. Heidi read my eulogy at midnight while she was visiting her son at college. Debbie, Laure, and my other close friends made checking in a priority. I had no idea at the time, but having people to warm my broken and confused heart was the reward for choosing quality friendships. Not one of these women questioned why I was feeling this way after a rocky road with my mom. They let me be whatever I needed to be.
In the end, their collective energy gave me the strength to make it through my mother’s illness, her death and the complicated grief that followed.
It doesn’t matter how many friends you have in your army, as long as they know how to love you in bad times as well as good ones. I challenge each and every one who is reading this to take stock of the quality friendships you have in your second act. As I have written about in the past, I have made mistakes in choosing the wrong kind of friends – some who were so off the mark that they did mean and ugly things to the sanctity of friendship. But now in my second act of life, I no longer worry that I have that kind of instability. Relationships ebb and flow, but they should never be so complicated that you wonder if he or she will be present for you in the darkness.
A personal army of friends can combat life’s most challenging moments. Over the past few months, I have felt loved, surrounded and safe. My grief continues to linger, but I won’t let it break me. Instead I’ll keep relying on my friends to save me.
I would love to hear about your friendship army and what it does for you. Please share your stories in the comments section below.
Mimi L. Golub is the Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Living the Second Act, an online magazine for women in their 40s and beyond. She is the author of the someday-to-be-published novel, Boxed In. Mimi is also the writer and a staff editor of From Our Kitchens, a cookbook to be released in 2018. In her spare time, Mimi loves to workout, drink tequila, and volunteer her time with many local causes. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband and has two college-aged children. You can find her former work on: tequilainbed.com