Recently I was asked if I would be able to accompany a friend for the day as she received chemotherapy. I immediately responded yes and made provisions in my schedule and other responsibilities to insure I would be available both physically and mentally. This was a first for me and for that I am so very grateful. The number of women, and men, who find themselves in the care of an oncologist is astounding—and if not for themselves, then for loved ones, be they friends or family.
However, this writing is not intended to be a story about cancer nor the ravage that such an illness can reek. This post is about friendship and the poignant lesson I was reminded of so graciously in the face of something so dastardly. The lesson being; that hope and insight can be born of such difficult trials is a tribute to the value of human interaction and connectedness. Upon reflection, the realization came to me, that the day we spent together had less to do about illness and more to do about love. The inspiration for this falls upon my friend, who, displayed exquisite dignity and charm in this difficult arena. An extremely courageous example was demonstrated, which will accompany me for my lifetime. She unknowingly granted me the gift of observing the astounding power of amazing grace.
We laughed a lot—some jokes were slightly off-color, as a way to deal with the realities of some of the physical challenges of having poisons pumped into your body.
As we were sitting in our small treatment room, during one of our planned-individual-laptop-times (this was preplanned, to give us a respite from speaking non-stop) my friend began to read an article to me which spoke about women maintaining good health. (So much for the verbal pause!) To paraphrase, the article stated that the best thing a woman can do for her health is to have female friendships. The point was made that women require this connectedness and the resulting communication of their shared female path, that only other women truly understand. I found the timing of her reading this to me to be very symbolic as we were, quite literally, in the midst of her striving to become well and enjoying friendship while doing so.
Being a minimal girlie-girl I have always had only a few female friends, this is what I told myself; that I felt uncomfortable with idle chat and discussions of clothing, hair and make-up. That of course, was just one of those fibs I had made up and told myself at some point in my younger years and never bothered to review or reconsider. There existed so many errors in that thought—clearly one of the largest being—that I had created a stereotypical falsehood regarding women. Another untruth; which I also fully believed and assisted me in further empowering my few-female-friends-strategy, was that I was fiercely independent. None of these thoughts were accurate—the cause of the discomfort with female friendships was my lack of the understanding for the value of these special friendships…and encouraging all of this inaccurate thinking, was my default setting—an inability to trust. I had conspired a belief to protect myself from the possibility of being hurt. (Not amazing grace.)
While in my thirties, two women who were in my life at the time, and who were the age that I am now, each shared with me words of wisdom. Which in my arrogant youth I promptly dismissed. One of these women had an adage which at the close of every discussion regarding a worry or concern, always ended with a summing up statement, “As long as you have your health.” As a completely healthy young woman with no visible signs of aging and clearly no ability to listen to someone older, I internally rolled my eyes. There is the possibility—I actually outwardly rolled my eyes. Yes, I was that obnoxious at times. The other bit of wisdom, gifted and refused by me was, “As you grow older your friendships with women will become of paramount importance, nurture those relationships” Neither of these words of wisdom resonated with me and I filed them away, as a form of a lecture—and one that I did not need. I was incorrect.
These perceptions, were my shortcomings, my immaturity and my lack of experience of having lived a life. As a woman now, I have been enlightened to the meaning of friendships with women and how incomplete my life is—without them. While in my twenties, thirties and even my forties the fulfillment that I sought, I believed, would come in the form of a career, my appearance (hey, at least I admit it, I’m being brave here!) a husband and children. Okay, fine, the house and clothes counted too. Girlfriends and health were under-appreciated and if something needed to fall to the wayside, well, it would have to be one of those two. Family of origin seemed to fall somewhere in the confusing category of love, obligation and guilt—which is another subject—let’s not go there! I also must honestly admit, spirituality was a distant consideration, if at all, as I attempted to create the elements that would bring meaning to my life. Silly girl.
It is incredible where fifty-five years can bring someone, well at least me. Perhaps I am a slow learner or my foundation was inappropriately set up, but today, my value system is forever altered. Spirituality, health and female friendships have now boldly and beautifully surfaced onto the criteria list of the requirements for feeling fulfilled and whole. And, a feeling of connectedness—being understood and the desire—the need—to not feel so alone—on this journey of the life as a woman. The previous list was not replaced or eliminated, I still require those things to feel complete—to varying degrees. The physical (my own and objects) has found it’s proper balance—my awakening is the realization that my previous list was deficient. I am becoming more and more aware of the versatility of womanhood, the complexity of being female and I am choosing to embrace this. With the help of my friends.
The day after I had gone on the chemotherapy outing with my friend, I received an email from another friend with whom I had lost contact with, the timing was clearly not lost on me. After six months of neither of us reaching out to one another—she had taken the risk, the leap that I had chosen to take a pass on. Seems I still require some maturing. I asked myself if the last six months without communicating with her, without sharing our thoughts, concerns and experiences had been better. And that is when I was granted the privilege of experiencing amazing grace.
Friendships with women are vitally important and an aspect of what is necessary for Well—Being. Now that I can relax and not take myself so seriously (all of the time) I am free to enjoy the pleasure of asking a friend what eyeliner works well, discuss if we should just go grey—or to teach me how they managed to be so very courageous, so absolutely magnificent and amazingly graceful in the face of such difficulty.
I am grateful I continue to grow-up.