Tag Archives: Friendship

When You Got a Good Friend

When You Got a Good Friend – Robert Johnson

My amazing kids, taken by "Hunny Bee Photograpy": Amy Renz
My amazing kids, taken by “Hunny Bee Photograpy”: Amy Renz

I talk about trials, tribulations, trevails, and a bunch of other “T” words I probably don’t know in this blog on more than one occasion.  People often ask “how do you do it?!” which bugs not only me but a number of other widows and widowers I know out there.  How do we do it?  We just do it, it’s that simple.

But I have to admit, humility and pride are two things I learned a lot about in the last year.  Pride went out the window.  For a guy . . . a guy who grew up in the Midwest, with its staunch ways and harsh winters, you don’t really emote a lot.  It’s not a criticism of that way, either, it’s just what you’re used to doing.  But after I lost Andrea pride disappeared.  You get help . . . a lot of help.  Some of it comes without asking because you need it.  My parents helped me in so many ways I cannot really count.  I just have to say that in the outset.  Pride disappeared in the hospital when I broke down in a horrific torrent of emotion and tears.  Pride fell out when I cried with my children having to experience their loss with them.

Humility came when I realized very, very early on that I couldn’t do this by myself.  Not all the time.

But that’s where the song up there comes in.

When you have good friends, and I do mean the good friends, life proceeds.  I have those.  I’m fortunate.  Others would say I’m blessed and I wouldn’t really argue.

Couple examples: one month to the day after losing my wife, one of Andrea’s good friends from high-school emailed me.  She’d held off to spare me the extra comments and tide of emails, calls and cards.  This friend lost her husband nearly two years prior and she’d been through it.  Everything she wrote was dead-on perfect and just what I needed to hear.  I wasn’t alone, but she and I both noticed that where I was “Andrea’s husband” and she’d been “Andrea’s friend,” and now we’re good friends.  Period.  She, her kids, her boyfriend, all excellent people and ones I can count on for a laugh and encouragement when I need it.

I have a family that called me just the other day . . . and said if I need anyone to pick up or help with the kids they are there.  I needed them tomorrow morning . . . because I have work very early.  They came without hesitation.  Another family, friends and parents of one of Hannah’s best friend, gave me bags and bags of clothes that will fit the boys.  Another offers to help, holds a musical jam every fall . . . all these people are good people, ask nothing in return, and I’d do anything I can for them.  I survive because of them.

I don’t write this for sympathy or the “aww…shucks” factor.  It’s a tribute to these folks and the fact that I have friends and you know which people are true friends that help you survive.  When Abbi, my oldest, goes to college in the Fall, the dynamic will change drastically, and I don’t know if it will be harder or much harder.  But I know we’ll do it.

Because you just do . . . when you got a good friend.

Baby, don’t you pity me . . .

It’s not a literal line, that title, it’s a line from a Freddie King song, one of my favorites: Someday After a While (Live) by Clapton from the LP From the Cradle

It’s an appropriate title because it’s something that seems to weigh on myself and those around me an awful lot.  I talked a bit yesterday about Joel Sartore’s segment on CBS’ Sunday Morning program on Sunday.  The part I didn’t really say as succinctly as I should of is how I totally understood the “looks” that he got from people who had just heard what his family was going through.  To recap for him: his wife came down with breast cancer a number of years ago.  At the beginning of this year she had a recurrence.  Not long after treatments her mother passed away.  Then in the summer, their son was diagnosed with Hotchkins Lymphoma and has to have chemotherapy for the rest of the year.

One of the things people don’t get is how you can have a sense of humor about these things.  Joel’s line in the middle of the piece was “I thought the only way things could get much worse would be if she backed over the dog in the driveway.”  How true that is.

My own situation, though not like Joel’s, is not too dissimilar.  My wife passed away on the day of our 18th wedding anniversary.  Then we lost our house.  My work decided to “make a change” just a couple weeks after I returned.  I couldn’t afford the school my oldest, Abbi, was attending so I had to move her to the public school.  If you wrote all this down, as the events unfolded, in detail, nobody would believe that it was true.

My oldest, Abbi

Abbi and I had a discussion just about an hour ago and I think it’s what was keeping her from falling asleep.  Abbi is not like her mother, she’s more like me.  I may write about how things happen here, but I don’t share them person-t0-person often.  Nor do I talk about them here, not most of them.  This is a snippet of our day, not the whole day.  But she was affected by someone asking her if she helped her Mom make Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s a simple enough question, but for her, or any of us, the reaction to her answer is much more weighty.  Like Joel’s line in his segment, he mentioned that people walked up to him, tears in their eyes, acting like their son had already passed away.  We get that . . . a lot.  She gets the glassy-eyed sympathy.  I get the “how do you do it alone?” thing.

What people don’t get is that we’re okay.  Could we be better?  Well . . . yeah, what the hell do you think?  But couldn’t everybody?  I mean, short of Richard Branson, who can say their lives are perfect?  Even before losing Andrea our lives were far from perfect.  They were hard.  Now they’re hard in another way.

What worries all of us, though, is meeting that person the first time and wondering if they’re sincere or nice . . . or if they’re just pitying us.

Don’t you pity me.

Please, don’t.  If you don’t like me, then fine.  Don’t.  I can honestly tell you that I could really give a sh*t.  My kids love me.  I have a close cadre of friends who are amazing.  I have people around me who care and help, even if I’ve been neglectful and failed to talk to them for a long time.  Don’t pity me, Abbi, Hannah, Noah or Sam.  It’s easy to look at us and say “oh . . . if she’d just lived on. . . ”

My four munchkins…
Yeah.  If.  You can’t buy happiness with a fistful of “if’s”.

The discussion I had with Abbi centered around the fact that other people can’t accept that we could be happy.  They can’t accept that, maybe, we’re okay.  We are.  I’m not saying it to convince myself!  It took a really, really long time to come to terms with the fact that we could be okay without Andrea.  It took even longer to come to terms with the fact that, in some ways, some things are better.  You never want to admit that.

But I told Abbi the same thing I’ve said here before: we have to keep going, not necessarily by choice.  Andrea gets to be pretty and perfect and sweet in the memories in our minds and we have to keep trudging along.  It’s harsh and difficult sometimes, yes, but it’s just the way it is.  I could sit and wallow in misery or grief but then there are four kids who suffer because of it.  People assume, my daughter said, that she’s picked up all the slack and is doing tons more.  They don’t believe her when she says she simply ferries the kids and watches them for a couple hours until I get home.  They look at her and wonder how Hannah, Noah, Sam and I will cope when she’s gone and won’t accept it when she says: “they’ll figure something out.  My Dad will do it.”

When you face what others see as unimaginable they can’t fathom that you come out on the other side unscathed.  The reality is, we’re not unscathed.  We’re strong, though.  We’re bonded.  Holidays aren’t as hard as you might think, it’s the buildup to them and the questioning after that are harder.

In the end, when asked if she helped her Mom with the dinner, Abbi said she simply said “no…I didn’t” and left it at that.  It’s easier, sometimes, not to have to tell the story all…over…again.

Beside, Abbi told me, “Mom wouldn’t have cooked any of it anyway . . . and I know for a fact I probably wouldn’t have helped.”

That’s my girl.

Friends, Romans, Housemates…

“Friend” is an interesting word.  I think it’s thrown around an awful lot in our society, far more than it should be.

My wife had a ton of  friends, or at least she called them that.  I cannot say for certain that all of them were really “friends” in the truest, Manoucheri definition of the word, though.  I loved my wife beyond all belief, in spite of the arguments, frustration, illnesses, depression and other things.  Those were the hard parts, the things about marriage that you endure to get the smiles, caresses, the soft touch of the back of her hand on my cheek, those kinds of things.  Nothing comes without some sort of price.  It’s not a bad thing.  I don’t say that as if life is a series of payments and rewards.  In fact, you are maddened by these things and then grow to love that you love the madness as much as they do.

But Andrea had a tendency to call people friends who ended up leaving her and our lives a little too easily.  I could give you the dictionary’s definition, that ” person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard” line.  But my wife’s definition of friendship and mine were never quite the same.  She had friends and then she had friends.  For me, I tended to be much more like my father, maybe that’s good and maybe that’s bad.  My Dad has a circle of friends that is very, very small.  His best friend in the whole world passed away not long after Andrea did.  In fact, he was living in the house with me when the man passed and that was hard for me to come to terms with.

I have a small circle of people that I can honestly call friends.  They cross the sexual divide.  They tend to be people who are loyal, caring, and whose judgement and inspiration I ask for and weigh heavily.  Some know how much they mean to me, others may not realize that I hold them in such high regard.  I say this not to make people read and wonder if they’re in the category.  I know there are people who are friendly and pleasant and whose judgement I listen to.  But when things are awful, when the world collapses around you, there are only a few people whose friendship you trust enough to let go of those last emotional strings and let yourself fall into their help.  Some of them I’ve known for years.  Some may be people I’ve just met.  Or maybe it’s someone I’ve yet to meet.  Regardless, I am friendly with a lot of people.  I’m friends with a few.

If you’re wondering why I bring this up it’s because I can finally think about these things with some clarity.  Some of those very people called me and were broken up as I was when they heard what had happened.  I looked to them for strength beyond what my parents could give.

When Andrea first got sick and ended up in the hospital, her best friend called me.  This was, quite literally, her best friend.  I know this because they would go for weeks or months without talking and when they finally connected would have no issues with the length of time or the distance.  They would talk for hours.  When Andrea was in depression and saddened about how she looked or felt and didn’t want this friend to see her she showed up on a plane anyway, calling me and working out the details with me because . . . she’s my friend too.

When I started dating Andrea, her best friend in the whole world was a woman I’d gone to school with.  My wife ended up roommates with her and we had no idea until we met there was even that connection.  It’s a tribute to my wife that she could learn everything this person knew about me and still marry me.

But the most important thing here is that when Andrea ended up in the hospital she called and said she’d booked a flight and would be at our house to help with the kids before the weekend.  Neither of us knew at the time Andrea wasn’t going to make it.  She stayed through the funeral and then left.  In the throngs of losing my best friend I never stopped to think about how she was someone else’s best friend, too.  Only a year later did I realize that she’d lost something strong, too.  In only now think about how calling or asking for time might just remind her of what was missing in her life as well.

In the depths of despair you have tunnel vision.  I saw the world from my point of view.  I realized it’s the best of friends that realize that and don’t treat you badly for it.  They lose, too, and wait for you to bring the world back into focus before crossing through the maelstrom themselves.  I hadn’t stopped to think what losses others felt.  I hadn’t realized a simple call from me or the kids could be icy reminders of loss for others.

Two amazing friends from Dallas constantly helped me with dealing with the emotions and then the realities of raising my kids alone – one in particular helping me with the issues of getting a girl ready for the prom.  Then my brother helped me by giving me musical distraction and conversation.

A family we know here helped me navigate the valleys in my life and helped me manage the finances of everyone’s help and then went so far as to pick up my kids when I was stuck at work.  There was no hesitation, just action.   That is what you do for friends . . . real friends.

I have friends, but it’s the friends that have helped me survive.  They gave of themselves but never thought of it as giving.  They simply considered it part of who they are.  I have since made other friends, whose conversation I can enjoy without pause and without discomfort.  It’s a hard circle to break into, but once you’re there, it’s fairly certain to be permanent.

Dickensian Thoughts

My girls

Eyes of Silver by the Doobie Brothers from “What Were Once Vices are Now Habits”

My two daughters are now in the mode where their choice of movie is less Wallace and Gromit and more Love Actually.  It’s not a massive problem, I don’t dislike RomComs, they serve their purpose and give hope to two little girls.

Before I met my wife, I used to think that they were silly, without purpose.  I didn’t find love, didn’t find anyone who would treat me well, none of it.  I thought the possibility of that was more than a little far-fetched.  I was, quite simply, the “other guy” of the romantic comedy.  I was the allergy-ridden ex-boyfriend of Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle.  I was the nerdy guy that ended up not getting the girl.

But I got my romantic comedy.  It ended up with the wrong ending, but I got it nonetheless.  I met the woman far out of my league.  She met a guy she thought would treat her like someone should be treated.  I had been told by more than a few people that the crazy, silly things that happened throughout our relationships could have been perfect rom-com fodder.  From getting blown off because it would take too long for Andrea to put her makeup on . . . to proposing to her at the airport before she got on a plane to be out of town for a week.  The fact we shouldn’t have ended up together at all could make interesting and funny material.

But we’re not a Hollywood story.  To start, real life was happening in-between the Ephron-isms that followed us around.  We had serious problems at major points in our marriage.  My wife got insanely jealous at one point and it created a serious problem for us, made all more awful by the fact that I just hadn’t realized that it was bothering her.  I was so bewildered by the fact anyone would have thought I was that worthwhile that I didn’t take it seriously.  But that’s the problem: my poor self-reflection also accidentally told her I thought she was settling when she married me.  She never thought that.  I always did.

But the whole rom-com point here is the fact that I am faced with having bigger discussions with these amazing girls of mine.  It’s very hard to balance because I did have that kind of amazing storybook buildup and dating life.  My kids saw us married, knew we had already fallen in love, heard the stories of our dating from our own mouths and the glassy-eyed, foggy-memoried tales from our friends and family.  The tale is more than the truth.  What my kids don’t hear about is the clinical depression their Mom faced; the lack of intimacy that grew because as the years wore on the date rape their Mom had endured ate away at her and at us as time wore on.  It wore on, got worse and so did the arguments.  It’s not a pretty chapter of our lives and I wish I could erase it, but it’s there, burned into the flesh of my brain.

I want my girls to have the Fairy Tale.  I want them to get the right guy, not settle.  They’re worth pampering and primping and loving.

Finally I’d come to the conclusion that I had to lay the cards on the table, at least with my oldest.  The reality, I’ve told her this evening, is that her mother and I were friends long before we were married.  It’s here we buck the Hollywood trend.  The atypical script says “I don’t want to ruin what we have – I don’t want to ruin our friendship!”  It’s wrong.  Love can’t cover it all.  If it did, Eric Clapton and Patty Boyd would still be married – the fairytale ending to Layla.  But even when I was not dating Andrea, I wanted to tell her when things went right and have her comfort me when things went wrong.  When she had a hard time I wanted to fix it.  When she got stood up I wanted to kick the guy in the teeth.  Love is amazing and beautiful.  Friendship is permanent and fun and connected.

We were watching a television version of a Dickens story – the Mystery of Edwin Drood.  It’s typical Dickensian melodrama, and it will come as no surprise to those who know me I am quoting Dickens.  I love the language and the structure in the man’s writing.  I own a 1900 copy of A Christmas Carol.    I have read Great Expectations a number of times.  In “Drood” the woman – magnet to the affections of the wrong kind of man – asks her guardian what it’s like to finally find true love.  “True love,” says the man to his ward . . . “is always returned.”

It’s a simple line but so true.  What I want for all four kids isn’t the romantic comedy.  I want they to love and find that, without reservation or hesitation, it’s returned with no price paid.  Love is easy.  True love is something that is given and received.

It’s hard when you’re 12 or 17 to see the Hollywood version and then hear your Dad tell you that that good looking guy who gets everything is likely never going to be “the one” but the decent looking guy who makes you laugh and holds you when things go wrong – he’s the guy.  I’m their Dad, and after this last year, I doubt anyone will ever be good enough for them in my eyes.  But I do think they deserve to be happy and loved.  I just want them to realize and recognize it when it comes.

It’s amazing that after more than a hundred years Charles Dickens can spark such a philosophical discussion.  But when my daughters see the romantic comedy and the instant attraction I want them to realize that it’s not always the guy you lock eyes with across the room.  Sometimes it’s they guy who wipes your eyes when it doesn’t go well.

Andrea had stormy blue-grey eyes that were like the sky after a thunderstorm.  Abbi’s are eyes of silver.  All three of my girls – my late wife, Andrea, Abbi – the oldest and Hannah- my middle – smile with those eyes.  The silver pouring into your soul.  Both kids think that guys aren’t there who will understand them.  But my Dad found a woman who laughed with him and understood how he thought.  So did I, for awhile.  It’s not impossible, it’s just a bit Dickensian.