One of my best friends went through the most difficult, most painful period of her life this past year. (And she’s still not exactly “through”–I’m not sure she ever will be.)
Fifteen months ago, her husband of over 20 years announced that their marriage was over. I spent a lot of time with her those first few months, because I could see that something was really troubling her. I asked her out to coffee and dinner; we emailed each other and talked on the phone. But her husband, in the interest of “privacy,” had told her not to talk to anyone about their impending separation. So, through her tears, all that she could tell me was that there were problems in her marriage and they were serious. I held her hand as she wept, and promised to pray, assuring her that God would know the details, so I didn’t have to (in retrospect, I wonder if I should have pressed her).
Twelve months ago, both of our families moved to Colorado together to begin a ministry. Still, I did not know what her husband was planning. I did not know that he never moved in with her once they arrived here, choosing instead to live in a tiny apartment and sleep on a cot. I just knew that I suddenly had almost no contact with my friend. This was extremely odd to me, since we had been very excited to be moving to a new place together. In fact, we’d originally planned to live down the street from each other, go on walks every morning, and alternate houses for weekly potluck suppers. (When they canceled the contract on the house in this neighborhood, their stated reason was financial.)
Finally, after we’d lived here about two months, my friend called and set a date for us to go to lunch. It was at that lunch that she told me everything. I, unfortunately, am a very emotional person. She is not (at least not outwardly). My shock and tears and anger pretty much overwhelmed her.
Over the next several months, my husband, Pete, attempted to talk to her husband, encouraging him to reconcile. It was not well-received. And I continued to try to be available to my friend. I proposed that we meet once a week for Bible Study. But she had retreated and, though she was always kind and loving toward me, we never did get together for Bible Study. And it has been difficult to get her to meet me for lunch or any other one-on-one time.
Now that things are final, she is putting on the bravest face I have ever seen. But I know her, and I know that she is shattered inside. I want very badly to have her come to me again, like she used to. I want to comfort her, to be the person she can be completely open with about her pain and anger and whatever else she is feeling. But whenever I try to go there, she retreats again. I am learning that the only way I can get her to spend time with me is to make it very light and breezy, as if nothing has happened and nothing is wrong.
She has told me not to worry, that she is talking to “someone” about her pain. I am glad that she is not keeping it completely inside, but I am also hurt that I’m not that “someone.” I used to be. Why am I not anymore? Will I ever be again? I fear that, because I have been here in Colorado to observe the disintegration of her family up close, I will always be a reminder of that pain. I fear that she will continue to withdraw from me until, finally, we wind up being “Christmas card friends.”
And then I realize that all of my hurt feelings and worries about the future are completely self-centered. I am not the one whose life has come apart at the seams. I have no real way of understanding the pain that she is in. If I am truly her friend, I need to be whatever kind of friend she wants me to be in this moment and not push her to get things back to the way they used to be between us. Nothing in her life right now is “the way it used to be.” She is adjusting to her new reality, and I cannot expect her to set aside a special little oasis for our friendship that satisfies me.
If she wants me to be breezy, I can do that. I’m actually a bit of an expert on breezy. And when I give her what she wants in that small way, I am showing her that I care most about meeting her needs, not my own. She has had enough of being pulled at and closely observed. She needs to giggle and goof around, and I love her enough that I’m willing to give her that for the next forty years if she needs it.