This week, I’m thankful for old friends. Not just mine but of my parents, as well. The friends who have been around for years, who have been there as lives were lived and memories were forged. The friends who celebrated the joyous news and shed tears for the tragedies.  Steadfast friends you can always come back to because they will try to do what’s best for you. Friends who will help to keep you going when you need a push. Friends who reach out to you when you need them most. Friends who try to say the right thing even when they don’t know what to say.

Last week, I went to the first of the two Christmas parties I will attend this year. These are old friends of the family, couples who have been friends for a decade or so. This was the annual Christmas party: festive and entertaining. Just a party to enjoy the company of friends and appreciate the season. I had planned to bring Lauren to this party, to show off the first grandchild to be born into the group.

I did not know how to feel about this party: anxious, excited, terrified, depressed? What if I went and enjoyed myself – would I be betraying Lauren’s memory with my happiness? What if I went and moped the entire time – would I be ruining everyone else’s good time? Would they ask about Lauren? Would they want to hear about her? Would they avoid mentioning her? Would they change the subject if I spoke her name?

I love to talk about my daughter, no matter how painful it gets. I would rather bring her out into the open than to hide her away. The worst thing I can do is to pretend she didn’t exist, and it was terrible to think that other people would do the same. She was my baby, my daughter. She lived, and she was loved. I can’t bear the prospect of having her ignored.

The day of the party, I realized something. Why do I need validation of my daughter from other people? I know she lived, I know she was loved, I know how precious a gift she was. What else mattered? These were people who had reached out to my family ten weeks ago when Lauren died and sent us their condolences. They already know about Lauren, they know the impact this has had on us. They know how much we wanted her and how much we loved her. I don’t have to prove anything to them. And they don’t have to prove anything to me. I know that they appreciate that I am still mourning my daughter. That’s really all I want, for them to understand if I withdraw, if I get emotional. I just want them to accept that I will talk about Lauren because she is a major part of my life.

And they did. True, if Lauren was mentioned, it was by me. But nobody changed the subject. Nobody went out of their way to avoid talking about her. Nor did I feel the need to talk about her at length or put her brief life on display. I joked about my inability to drink much after abstaining all through the pregnancy. When talking about transportation in Japan, I explained that I had to stop riding my bicycle while pregnant because it made me motion sick. I talked about how we wanted to get settled down and have steady incomes and insurance before we try again. That was all. But all the while, Lauren was there with me, as she is always with me. I missed her, as I always miss her. But I found that I didn’t need to draw attention to her. I didn’t need other people to ask about her or talk about her too short life and sudden death. All I needed to do was hold her tight to me and remember her. After all, I am her mother. I carried her – carry her still. Why would I need others to tell me that she existed? I know she did. That is enough for me.

So, I’m thankful for old friends who have taught me this about myself: as nice as the sympathy and the acknowledgement of Lauren is, I can live without it. Oh, I still want to talk about her and share her with anyone who will listen. But I don’t have to force it. I don’t have to make that happen. I’ll talk about her when I want to talk about her, but I don’t have to make someone else do the same. She is the center of my world, but she is not the center of the ENTIRE world. I have to accept that. I don’t need to have my grief acknowledged at every turn; I don’t need that validation. I grieve. That’s all there is to it. It doesn’t matter how many people know it or how many people tell me how sorry they are or how many people acknowledge Lauren as a person. It’s not fair of me to demand these things of people who have their own lives to worry about. I can take care of myself; I don’t need them to do it for me. All I ask of them is to be patient with me and to respect me in return. That’s what anybody deserves.

Also, I’m thankful for my old friends, the ones who ask after me when I am silent and wait patiently for me to be ready to socialize again. I haven’t been a very good friend myself lately, and I wish I could change that. So, I’m grateful for the friends who respect that and give me space . . . but keep making sure I’m doing okay. I appreciate that.

So, thank you, friends. Thank you.

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