Last weekend I attended a memorial service for a close friend. As I stood in a small room surrounded by the deceased’s friends and family I took a moment to reflect on the event and walked away with a few lessons that I hope to keep close to my heart.
1: Don’t let your friendships fall by the wayside. When I first graduated from college I asked my former housemates to join me once a year, (around the holidays), to catch up with one another. For the first year or two we met once a year just before Christmas. It was a royal pain in the you-know-what to get all of our schedules in sync so that we could set a date on the calendar. Despite the difficulty I refused to let anyone skip out on this yearly meeting. After all there were only five, (sometimes six of us), how difficult could it be to find a time that worked for everyone? One year as we sat around our friend’s new dining room table we ate and laughed and had such fun that we asked ourselves “why don’t we get together more often?” From that point on we started getting together every three or four months to laugh, chat and discuss the chaos that is our lives.
Eighteen years after we first met we are still good friends. Some of us are closer than others, but we keep in touch and know that if the need arises we are just a phone call or text message away. When our friend got sick we all leaned on one another for support. We piled in the car and drove a few hours to visit and made a point to clear our schedules whenever her husband brought her back into town. It was easier to face the harsh reality of her illness when we were all doing so together.
At the memorial I talked with a friend from college that I hadn’t seen since graduation. He said, “I’m jealous of how close you stayed after all these years.” His comment brought the value of our friendships to light. There are a lot of people in the world without good friends to lean on and we’ve not only managed to stay friends, we’ve managed to stay close friends for over 17 years.
I must say that it’s a hell-of-a-lot more difficult to coordinate schedules these days. With spouses, children, babysitters and jobs it often takes a trail of emails to settle on a date to get together, but somehow we always make it work. I’m so glad I forced us all to get together all those years ago. From those initial holiday dinners our friendships have strengthened and blossomed and I know despite all that is happening in our lives we will always make time for one another.
2. Forgiveness is vital. Hold love in your heart. I was not always the best of friends with the step sister of my friend who passed away. To be frank she hated my guts for reasons that were never quite clear to me. Ten years before she became ill my friend asked her sister and I to be bridesmaids in her wedding. I didn’t want negativity to crowd the big day, so I drafted an email to her sister and asked her to put aside our problems. Her sister agreed to meet for drinks and as we chatted about events of the past it was clear that she held a lot of resentment and hate towards me. I did not feel the same way. I actually hadn’t thought about those incidents since long before we graduated from college. I remember walking out of that bar on a very cold day in November feeling relief that the war between us was over, but also feeling absolutely dismayed by the amount of hurt and anger that she held towards me nearly ten years after the events had transpired.
If you make mistakes in life own up to them. If you feel you have been mistreated speak up about them, but try your best not to linger in the past. It is entirely unproductive. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but throughout my life I have reached out to those I wronged. More often than not the stories in your head are worse than reality. In my experience most often the issues are simply a matter of misunderstanding.
Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances my friend and her sister stopped speaking years ago and I actually delivered the news of her passing. I was unbelievably thankful that we met so long ago to put aside our differences. The universe is a strange place. Imagine telling someone who once hated you that her sister had passed away.
It’s unfortunate that the two sisters had stopped speaking. Life does not continue forever. Make amends with the people you love. Find forgiveness in your heart whenever possible.
3. People who made you happy in the past will probably make you happy in the future. A good friend from college flew in to attend the memorial service. When I think back on my college days I cannot think about my freshman or sophomore year without thinking about him. We hung out a lot and I learned years later that he had a crush on me during that time we spent together. I was completely oblivious to the fact at the time. We caught up with one another without missing a beat. To be honest I felt a bit ashamed for smiling as I chatted with him and other old friends from college, but then I realized that’s how I would want others to celebrate my life. I would want people to spend their time together smiling and laughing.
4. Think of the good in your life. Despite her illness my friend never complained about her life. I never once heard her say a negative thing about the cards she had been dealt. If she could face a debilitating disease without a complaint than surely I can remain positive about the world around me.
5. It’s never easy to say goodbye. We each grieve in our own way. When I heard the news of my friend’s passing I burst into tears and cried for a bit, but I thought about her for days and weeks afterward. Grieve however you need to grieve. Some need a room full of people, some need a quiet corner. There is no right or wrong way to deal with your emotions or to say goodbye.