If I am not the friend I could be to you, it’s not because I don’t think of you often. I remember the days when we’d chat on the phone, catching up and maybe engaging in idle prattle. But we spent time together. We sent handwritten notes on the inside of sentimental Hallmark cards every birthday. We’d meet for coffee (tea for me) or maybe lunch, sometimes catch a movie or wander around downtown during the hot summer evenings when festivals abounded.
We both invested in our friendship, knowing that whatever is not nurtured ceases to flourish and instead perishes. I sigh when I reminisce on those days, because friendship feels distant and one-sided. I cannot reciprocate the way I want, the way I used to.
It’s not that we’ve necessarily moved in separate directions. Sometimes that’s the case. But for the most part I’m confident our roots are still buried somewhere under the soil of what we carefully cultivated so long ago. We bear different burdens now, many we couldn’t have predicted when our relationship was young and new.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not think my life is more difficult than yours, nor do I spend hours comparing my crosses with everyone else’s. I merely wish to say that I am more than a mom now; I am a caregiver, possibly for a lifetime.
I never used to think of that word much, because it always belonged to someone else – an aging adult caring for her elderly parent or a nurse visiting her homebound patient to cook, to visit, to put salve on wounds and balance feeble arms on the way to the bathroom. I’m not really this type of caregiver, not in the traditional sense, anyway.
But the child you’ve come to know as my daughter requires a great deal from me, often more than I believe I can offer. My mental and emotional reserves are depleted by day’s end. No intelligent thoughts or deep conversations form in my psyche. I’ve spent my morning convincing my daughter to get dressed as she cries for 45 minutes and fails to do so without significant verbal cues. I’ve spent my afternoons reviewing notes from her doctors, results from x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and psychological exams, suggestions and concerns from educators and occupational therapists.
There are weeks I take my daughter to three or four specialists beyond the three standing appointments she already has. There are daily meltdowns, fights she instigates with her siblings over trivial matters (“The blue bookmark was in my book, not the red one!”), provocations from repetitious words or phrases or questions she already knows answers to (“Mom, what was your cat’s name?”).
In between, I think of you and days gone by when I had both time and laughter to give to you. Sometimes I lament the reality that my poverty translates into empty hands but not an empty heart – just a weary and broken one. I wish so much for you to know that I am still here, my friend, to pray for your needs, to listen to your life story, to visit from time to time.
But I need you to know that I am desperate for you to keep reaching your hand out to me, keep asking and keep trying to penetrate a life that appears stony and unfeeling but that is actually so malleable that it collapses with the weight of the life I’ve been given.
Right now, being a friend to me will not mean reciprocity. It will not feel fair or balanced. You might retreat or withdraw, because I no longer respond to you the way I once did. You might feel hurt by my inability to contact you for weeks or months. Guilt settles as you want to share your troubles with me but believe you can’t, because I am somehow burdened enough.
Friendship between us now looks different, has taken a new shape. It’s delicate and unusual. Neither of us understands it or knows how to act or what to say. But I hope you know I am still me. I’m just caught between two worlds I so desperately want to unite – the world I did not choose and the one I still long to be a part of, with dinner parties and dance recitals and couples’ nights and soccer games.
If you invite me to these and I say no, it’s because I am exhausted and my grief has worn me down. Please keep inviting.
If you ask me how I’m doing and my reply ten times in a row is with tears and exasperation, please don’t assume I can’t be satisfied with what I have. Please keep asking.
Your invitations and questions and outreach are an indication to me that someone understands where I am right now and yet isn’t looking for sunshine and roses all the time. Your sunshine clears my clouds. Your presence is a powerful gift, a testament that we can still share what little we may have to give, that something good still exists between us.