Sunday, 24 April 2011

On Friendship

This post's been in my head for a while – something that rarely happens, normally I just type – and it's long overdue. I know its subject, but its content I'll find as I go.

Two weeks ago a parcel dropped through my door on a Saturday morning. After a long and difficult week with Dad and work, I was exhausted. I picked it up and much to my surprise, it wasn't junk mail, or a bill or an industry magazine. Adorned with Australian stamps and handwriting I've known for twenty years, I knew exactly who it was from.

There was a time when I was the go-to friend. I was the pourer of wine, mopper up of tears, fixer of problems, mover of flats, listener. I was a good and active friend.

Seven years ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a few short months later my father with dementia. I became I daughter first, and friend second.

Whilst I still lived in the other city, when I was in present in my old life, little changed for those around me. I didn't have a voice for what was going on, it was separate, somewhere else. In my home city more and more often, I was the carer, emotionally and physically.

My friends asked 'How are your mum and dad?'. I don't really remember being asked asked 'How are you?'. I didn't know how to be the one who needed help, this was not my role. I had never learned to ask, to talk. They didn't know how to deal with me being the the one who struggling, and I gave up trying.

As the months, and years began to pass it became clear I couldn't sustain my life somewhere else and moved home to spend whatever time I had left with my family.

There are those who've stood by me and those who've dropped out of my life. There are also those I've let go, because they just don't get it, get me any more. It is very sad.

I'm also very privileged to have some particularly amazing folk who have persisted.

I rarely pick up the phone, often too worn down by it all to talk it all out again, choosing instead to curl up at home and shut the world out.

There is the university acquaintance who got in touch when she heard I was here. She has since become someone whose friendship has been loyal and emotional and exactly what I've needed. Glasses of wine and sunday breakfasts are part of my month. She asks 'How are you?', and wants to know the answer no matter how hard it is to give or hear. She's moving abroad next week. I will miss her and her beautiful boy who's made me giggle whilst i've been on the verge of tears. I also know she'll still be part of my life.

There are Skype calls and cards from Dubai from the friend who was part of a group of girls in that old city whose journey has been similar to my own. She is spiritual and passionate, and will never let me fall. She is there and with me, even though she is half a world away.

There is the friend whose redundancy hit within months of my own. A girl I didn't know so well until we found ourselves travelling that road together. She has been persistent and active, and while I was self employed – as she is too – we spoke every single day. We kept each other going despite being two hours apart, and I'm not sure what I would have done without that support.

There is a wire angel hanging on my front door. It arrived in another parcel from the friend in Australia, who is a perpetual traveller now settled for the meantime in a world apart from my own. Over twenty years of friendship we've rarely lived in the same place and correspondence has always been part of us. She writes long emails and letters and gets little in return form me. Each of these is treasured, makes smile or, occasionally, cry. We steal evenings where we can to fix the problems of the world, and I am better for it.

I am so very grateful for the persistence of these folk. Even when I don't call back, or take an age to get my act together, they call. They write. They worry if they don't hear from me. They ask. They listen.

I have learned to accept their help and kindness, delivered in very different ways. It sounds odd to say that hasn't been easy, and one day I hope can return to being the friend I once was and give some of it back..

There are some older, some newer or renewed friendships which fill my life too, but today I'm thinking of these fine women, and I can only say thank you.

So, the parcel made me think of all of this. I opened the envelope to find a card and some news, some support. Wrapped in a sheet or two from the international edition of the earlier week's Guardian (the letters page I read), was hand made jewellery. Beads and earrings. Bright and colourful from the hand of the friend who is so very far away. They are trinkets, full of kind thoughts and creativity, and I love them.

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