My husband left for good on a Saturday afternoon in mid-November. That was the beginning of my crisis.
The rest of that weekend was excruciating. The memories that I have exist in my mind like an old fashioned slide show:
- In my car on the phone with a friend, crying hysterically.
- At my parents’ kitchen counter recounting the details, asking over and over, what do I do?
- Running to the neighbors and asking for immediate help. “Is everything okay Dana?” “No,” I said, with no further explanation.
- Crying out uncontrollably in the middle of the night.
Then came Monday. I needed to get the kids to school. Miraculously, I got up and got my children dressed and fed. They were in kindergarten and first grade. My youngest was three, so she stayed home with me. My sweet babies, they were so little. Still in my jammies, my eyes were red and swollen. I was in no condition to get out of the car and walk them in. I had no plan for the day and no idea what to do. I drove through the drop off line and then headed for home. As I headed back toward my house I saw some cars parked on my street. It didn’t make sense at first, but then I recognized them.
My friends were at my house.
I didn’t ask them to come, I can’t even remember if I told them what had happened. They just came. They had coffee and scones and boxes of tissues and warm hugs. As soon as I stepped out of the car I burst into tears and fell to the cement. And then so did my baby girl. I was so overcome with emotion, and gratitude that they showed up for me. It still brings me to tears, writing about it now. They got both of us up off the ground and into the house. They sat me down, made me eat, and soothed and entertained my child. They listened and offered love and support. What a great day, and an awful day. They showed me what it looks like to be there for a friend. It meant more to me than they will ever know.
And that was just the beginning. This scene played out many times in many different ways over the agonizing months that followed.
My friends have been critical to my health, my survival and my growth. Also, to finding joy and hope again. Here is the breakdown of the types of friends you need in order to survive a crisis, large or small.
This friend is a gem. She knew you long before your proverbial shit hit the fan, and she will know you long after. You have so much history together and have traded off support and crises over many years. She has seen the good, the bad and the ugly. She knows your Starbucks order, where you keep your forks, what your house normally looks like, and what your kids like to eat. This friend may be a first responder; on the scene before you have even come to grips with the reality of the mess that you are in. Let her in (although you probably don’t have to because she knows the garage code and where you keep your spare key). This friend may not be a person who needs to know all the details of your problem, and she may or may not have traveled the same road. It doesn’t matter because she knows you. She knew you before this, she will see you through it, and she will embrace the new you on the other side. She will keep tabs on you and love you, sometimes despite yourself. Her presence is comforting, unconditional, and calming. You will return the favor at some point in the future. Over the expanse of many years you two will have created a mosaic of experiences that you supported each other through. It will be beautiful.
Some people are born to get things done. This friend is a practical genius. She doesn’t see obstacles, she sees tasks to organize, problems to solve, chaos to be tackled. She can jockey up a spreadsheet, organize a meal schedule, or get people mobilized in half of a split second. She gets assigned a task, or more likely just takes a task, and organizes the heck out of it. She notices things that you need that you quite possibly overlooked. It requires almost nothing on your part, and it helps so much. Meals start arriving, errands get run, rooms get cleaned, and kids get carpooled. To the rest of us it seems like nothing short of a miracle. Allow her to make it happen. Communicate what you need and get out of your own way.
This is the friend that understands exactly what you are going through because she is going through the same thing. She wants to listen to all of the nitty-gritty details and you want to listen to hers; you both get it. You can utter a word or phrase and she is right there with you. Lengthy explanations are not required. You are good company for each other because together you realize you are not alone. You can vent, cry, struggle, empathize, compare notes, and feed each other’s’ kids the same crappy take-out pizza. It doesn’t matter. You need each other. Help each other fill the gaps. Check in on her. Call her out when you notice her eyes lose their sparkle or her tone is unusually down. Hold space and grace for this season of comradery. Consider the blessing of this partner in crime.
If you are going through a serious crisis you must have a lifeline. This is a person that you will contact if you feel like your ship is going down. Here are the requirements:
- They are willing to take a call or text at 2:00 am, no guilt, no hesitation.
- They know the difference between when you are struggling versus when you are genuinely going down.
- You trust them enough to tell them if you are going down.
- They can tell you hard things (i.e. you need to see a Dr., you need to come over, you need a break).
- You listen to them when they tell you.
If you don’t have a friend who is your lifeline, stop right now and get one. And then, promise you will use them if you need to. In crisis mode, we want to find a way to ease the pain. These ways aren’t always healthy. You will need help at one point or another. Please use it.
The Line Leader.
You need someone who has faced what you are facing, and is living to tell the tale in an authentic, healthy way. Someone who totally gets it, but is a little further out than you. They can see the light and remind you that it is there. They are close enough to your reality that they can give solid advice based on experience, but they aren’t as clueless and heartbroken as you currently are. They recognize signs of when you need help and where you might be getting stuck, and they can call you out on them…lovingly and potentially with a glass of wine in hand. They are a valuable person to bounce ideas off of. Most importantly they provide a lot of hope. They might even seem happy. That doesn’t make sense to you right now, and it doesn’t have to. It is just out there in the realm of possibility. At some point that might be you. Also, you remind her of where she came from, and how far she has come. That is a gift to her too, a gift of hope and perspective.
This person is in a different phase of life than you. She has survived a crisis similar to yours, but it was quite some time ago. Along the way she gained a level of wisdom and perspective that you aren’t privy to. Maybe her crisis is far enough in her past that you didn’t even know about it. Hopefully this is someone you already know, but it may not be. Maybe she stepped out of the crowd and said, “I have been there. I am willing to share my story and walk alongside you.” What an awesome gift. She is calm and collected when you are panicked and emotional. She is candid and vulnerable when you need to hear truth. There isn’t judgement. She sees the strength that you have and reminds you of where you are going in the long run. Maybe you remind her of herself? She has a chance to guide you to do it better or differently than she did, and she realizes how far she has come. You are a blessing to each other. Reach out to her. Keep her. Look up to her, learn from each other, encourage each other. Also, remember her. You will need to be that mentor for someone else someday. It will be an opportunity, an honor, and a blessing. Don’t worry about it right now, but be ready when it is time.
The Holiday Buddy.
When you are in crisis, things come out of nowhere and hit you across the side of the head. You didn’t even see them coming. All of the sudden you are down on the ground wondering what happened. This basically describes me at each holiday for two years. Any holiday. It didn’t seem to matter. I thought I was fine, I had a loose plan in place, the holiday came along, and wham. Flat on my back. Each time I would be frustrated and feel defeated. What is wrong with me? Nothing. Holidays just opened the gap of sadness and grief for me. The comparison of what “should be” versus “the reality of my life.” You need a couple friends to spend time with on holidays. Maybe it is your family, but maybe it isn’t. Sometimes your family is hurting too, and you end up grieving in different ways. The combination can be too hard. Maybe they are too close to your crisis and being together will only highlight your loss or struggle? Give yourself permission for that to be okay. It is where you are now, not for ever. Either way, you need people who will ask you your plans, hijack them if necessary, or invite you into their plans. They have to be good friends because frankly you might not be that fun to be around! It’s hard, you know it, and they get it. Do the thing together. You are not a burden or an imposition. People love you and want to be there for you. If they don’t offer, then put on your big girl pants and ask. It will get better, you will get stronger. You don’t want you or your kids to look back and remember holidays as days when mom was crabby and short tempered and cried in the car do you? (That’s hypothetical.)
I leave you with two challenges:
- If you are in crisis, find these friends. Name them, tell them what you need, appreciate them, and hang onto them like your life depends on it (it does).
- If you are not in crisis, be one of these friends for someone who is.
PS. Those of you who are in my 7, you know who you are. Thank you. I wouldn’t have made it without you. You know that.
Where do you fall in this? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below and let me know!