When my mother died I was filled with an unbelievable variety of emotions. Of course there was sorrow that she was gone, but I also found myself beset with guilt that I was not able to eliminate from my mind. Mama had endured recurrent bouts with bipolar disorder that often strained our otherwise remarkable relationship. When she was in the midst of a psychotic episode of mania she became suspicious of everyone, including me. To protect herself she was aggressive, hurling almost unmentionable insults that I know were part of the her illness but hurt nonetheless. Sometimes she wore me down to the point that I found myself wondering if there was some truth to the things she said. Did I really want to totally control her life? I am after all an admitted control freak. Had I somehow betrayed her in forcing her to submit to treatments for her disorder? Were there times when I over reacted to her noncompliance with harsh words of my own and even that time when I grew so agitated that I slapped her and told her that she was going to her doctor and better just accept that reality? All of those moments came flooding into my thoughts mixing with my grief and confusing my mind.
I said nothing to anyone about the turmoil I was feeling, not even my husband or my daughters. It was something I had to sort out on my own but I was not doing a particularly good job of self therapy. I prayed to God for answers and while that gave me some comfort I was still so very confused. Dealing with a mentally ill loved one for most of my adult life had taken a toll on me that was deeper than I had imagined. I did not want to feel sorrow for myself. I simply wanted to remember my mother as she was when she was well because I knew that was who she really was. I was angry that I was still having flashbacks of our most horrific times and focusing on the moments when I might have handled things better.
Then came a lovely plant from my dear friend, Adriana Stovall, along with a beautiful sympathy card in which she had written a heartfelt note. I don’t suppose that she will ever realize how much her gesture eased my pain but it was exactly what I needed in that moment. The lines that struck me the most in her message helped me to realize that while my support of my mother through her ordeal had sometimes been imperfect I had indeed done my best. Quite simply Adriana told me that everyone had seen through my daily actions how much I had loved my mother. I sobbed tears of relief as I read that thought over and over again. Somehow it was the support and absolution that I most needed in that moment. Adriana had freed me from the burden of guilt and I was able to move forward knowing that all that I had done for Mama had been motivated by love.
Friends are remarkable. They do quiet things, simple things that prove to have so much meaning for us. All too often the impact of their actions are so personal and moving that we are not sufficiently able to let them know how dearly we needed and appreciated them in that moment. I once said something to Adriana about how much her words had meant to me but I don’t think that I sufficiently explained why. I was embarrassed to admit to my personal demons and how much they had pulled me down. I was drowning in a kind of self punishment when she reached out a hand and rescued me. I will always remember her for that.
As we go through life the little things are the ones that become big things. The soup that Linda Scheffler brings me after surgery is more healing than my prescriptions. The sweet note and gift that Bren Ortega Murphy sends lauding me for my service to education and my integrity reassures me that I am indeed following a worthy pathway in life. The annual Christmas visit and gift from former student Lizette Coronado brightens my world, especially when it comes even in the midst of a pandemic. The care package and understanding note that my departed friend Pat Weimer gives my daughter Catherine after her miscarriage reminds me of the true riches of friendship. The lovely card from Jenny Brunsell in the long and sometimes lonely days of the pandemic brightens my spirit just when it is about to fade. The phone calls from Zerin Sahai, Nancy Gracey, Carol Klodginski, and Cappy Szabo when they sense that I need to hear a friendly voice tell me that I am never alone. The sweet texts from Lisa Weimer Anderson, Tricia Miller, Chrystal Smith Hebert, and Aimee Harriramani always bring a smile to my face. The sharing of good news from Keiry Hernandez reassures me that my purpose in life is a worthy one. These simple acts of kindness always seem to arrive at exactly the moment when I need them. They are the measures of what friendship is all about.
I’d like to believe that somewhere along the way I too have made a difference in the life of one of my friends. I have come to appreciate these relationships more than ever in my time of isolation. Somehow they have brought me joy and support just in time.