Every few months, and sometimes once a year, I remember to follow through with the mission of scheduling a phone call with my college roomie from my freshman and sophomore days at the University of Florida. She has steadfastly climbed up her career ladder and now holds a super impressive leadership position at a university in the Midwest. The thought to chat with and catch up with my long time buddy comes to me frequently, and during various distinctive times, often, when I am not in front of my Google calendar. I hear a 1980’s pop song that takes me back to the sticky dance floors of yesterday, or, while I am straightening out my daughter’s bookshelf, I come across The Velveteen Rabbit and I re-read the insert she wrote on the book jacket and I remember the meaningful gifts that we have both shared with each other, when meaning was more important than money, and when ideals were displayed on our picket signs. Then I make a mental note to call her.
This past August, I found out that my roomie’s husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. My heart ached for her and her family, but I followed her request and did not contact her, as she asked for time to absorb the news and, as I imagined, was probably exhausted with telling and retelling the details of this story to her family members, close friends and colleagues.
Instead, I vowed to actively engage on their Caring Bridge journal site. (If you have not heard of Caring Bridge, I am providing a link below. I, for one, think it is a most brilliant tool. Over the years, I have been part of several Caring Bridge journal communities and have treasured the opportunity it provides to keep updated on the happenings of loved ones experiencing medical challenges and/or a terminal illness.) I comment when the mood strikes, there is no forced routine, no expectations. My buddy’s husband and I share the same sense of goofy humor as we are both extreme optimists, so engaging in this type of communication was seamless for me and it satisfied my urge to show some type of support.
A few months had gone by and I reached out with a text a few days ago and asked my buddy if she was up for a chat. She was, so we scheduled a time to connect after she had a chance to wrap up the semester and attend all the graduation ceremonies.
The first few minutes of the call were awkward, I wanted so deeply to say the right thing, and I tried to avoid the obvious, clumsy land mines, and then the idea finally hit me…instead of asking for a detailed update, I am going to ask how I could best support my friend. She began to tell me stories about how some efforts to support her were not working, and used examples from things her co-workers had done in the past. Before long we were chuckling about the ridiculousness of folks…I paused and asked my friend if she had ever told her co-workers what ways would be best to support her? Had she ever expressed what her exact needs were to them? She answered with a “no”. And then we cackled some more.
At that moment, I stated the obvious (one of my true talents). “How can we expect folks to support us with what we need, if we don’t tell them what we need? Most people provide us with the support that would work for them, if they were in a similar situation, instead of asking what would work best for us. It’s like gift giving”, I said, “often we get gifts from people that are so far from the mark, it’s amazing, but then when you think about it from the gift giver’s perspective, the gift makes total sense, because it’s what they wanted for themselves.”
We ended our time on the phone with a greater understanding of where we can go with our communication with each other and with others. We committed to the idea of relinquishing the 14 items on our to-do lists for next week and promised each other that we would blend with our family and friends over the holidays and not attempt to achieve balance. We would take a look at our lists, prioritize the top 3 to 5 items, and then spend the rest of the time with our loved ones who want more than anything just to experience time with us.