In mid-March I wrote about the unexpected loss of a friendship. A couple, who my wife and I counted among our very best friends, suddenly pulled away from all contact with us and everyone else they knew. That post, Until it is Gone, generated as many passionate comments as any on this blog to date. It showcased the importance of relationships to a satisfying retirement.
The gain or loss of friendships can affect us deeply. Many of the comments left on that post talked about how friendships seem to fade away over time, leaving a gaping hole. Many times we don't even know the real reason why someone disappears from our life. At least in our situation we knew why the couple pulled away. Since it had nothing to do with us we hoped that when the particular storm had passed from their life we might re-establish a relationship, albeit somewhat different than before.
About two months ago we began to receive a trickle of contact from them: an e-mail here or there, a request for information, a forwarded video clip from someone else. We followed up with responses that were pleasant, but put no pressure on them to take any additional steps. If time heals most wounds we wanted to give them all the space they needed. Then, a few weeks later we received a direct invitation to join them at an event that they thought would interest us. Betty and I attended, again being careful to not make more out of that contact than was implied.
From that point on, the friendship rapidly reformed. Meals together and church functions we shared both as couples and as men and women begin to appear on our calendar. The original problem that caused the separation will always leave deep scars. But, the couple realized that pulling away from people who love them at exactly the time when that support is needed the most was not allowing them to move on.
I am happy to report that the friendship has been restored in all its former glory. The four of us have undergone some major adjustments in our lives but understand we are better together than apart. What lessons can I draw from this experience?
Authentic Friendship is worth fighting for. I don't know if it is as a result of social media or the fact that many of us stay home and use the TV or streaming movies as our entertainment option. But leaving the house to meet others and build friendship bonds seems to be happening less and less. As we age, friendships naturally fade away: people move, get sick, die, change interests, get divorced...the list is endless. It is harder to meet new folks and harder still to develop a deep connection. If there is an important friendship in your life, do everything you can to feed it and strengthen it.
Patience is required. We are an instant gratification society. When we want something we want it now. Reality check: what we want sometimes doesn't happen. The situation i have just described would have been either permanently damaged or set back for a time if I had pushed the other couple. I had to wait until they were ready and took the first tentative steps. Even then, I found it best to discuss what had caused them to separate from everyone only when they brought it up. Over time the issues have been exposed and now both couples are moving forward. Even better, that couple is initiating contact with others who were shut out so their social circle is reestablishing itself.
Being judgmental would have destroyed everything. There is no way I can judge whether our friends should have handled the situation differently because I am not them. My initial reaction was they handled it wrong. But, I think that was my hurt talking. Within just a few days of the breakup I was better able to process what had happened.
Betty and I talked quite a bit about the situation and how we should proceed. We both concluded that we may have responded in exactly the same way if we had been the ones experiencing what they had gone through. My initial judgment was selfish and incorrect. If I had expressed my flawed interpretations the friendship might have suffered fatal damage.
It feels so good to have this couple back in our life, actually stronger than before. It reminds us that friendship and human relationships are so much more important than debt ceilings, or politics, or ......just about anything. Our Satisfying Retirement depends on it.