Several weeks ago, I received a call from a client, who I’m honored to say is also a friend. As I walked to the end of the driveway to get my mail, getting ready to go to dinner with Alex, I listened as she explained that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. To say this woman has had a difficult year would be a huge understatement. She has had curve balls, dodge balls, basketballs, well just about everything thrown at her this year and she has continued to stay standing up. She explained to me that she didn’t yet know the severity of the cancer diagnosis but would let me know when she knew something more. Her main concern at the time, was how she was going to tell her teenage daughter who was currently residing in a longterm residential program for addiction. As I got into the car, I just kind of lost it. Alex immediately knew something was wrong, obviously from my flood of tears, but assumed that it was some random memory I was having about my mom, which may have been part of the truth; the memory of some strange, foreboding diagnosis that no one really knows what to do with yet. He’s not a man of many words when it comes to stuff like this and all he said was, “I’m sure she will be fine.” And he was right.
I met with her later that week and she had one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I had seen in my office in quite some time. She stated that her marriage was improving, that she was more focused now than ever before, that she was finally able to set boundaries with her relationship with her mother and that she was able to allow her children to make their own decisions and begin to live their own lives. For once, she said, she was living for herself. She believed the cancer was the best thing that could ever have happened to her. And then I got a call a few days later that the cancer had spread. And still…her attitude remained the same. She had, in a sense, been reborn.
Last week I received a message from one of her friends asking for some advice…“so my question here would be this – how do you help someone you love going through the hell of cancer with the attitude of determination and the tools recovery have afforded us???
I really thought long and hard before answering this question. I didn’t want to give out some random him-haw of recommendations and advice and anyone that knows me knows I’m much more the sitting on the front porch giving advice therapist than any text book, doctorate holding analyst. So, I needed to be careful before answering. Or maybe not, as I decided. I would just talk about what I know.
And what I know about friendship and loyalty and how to help someone…well, I learned that all from my best friend Tonya. You would really have to know her to understand and maybe then you still wouldn’t get it. It’s in the details actually. Like how I’ll get some call late on a Tuesday just to see if I’ve seen the latest Big Brother episode. Or, a random call when the newest James Patterson book comes out. We talk almost everyday, but those are the calls that set the foundation for our friendship because that’s how it all began. It’s in how she sees her only son Nick getting older, moving up in high school, and although I can tell she misses the days when they’d dance around the kitchen and she’d help him with his math homework(those were the Wednesday nights I knew never to call or stop by), she allows him to grow up and become a man. It’s how she still looks at her husband with love, but really lust some days and talks about how sexy she still thinks he is. And I see it in her eyes. It’s in the way she can whip up a bad ass buffet on her kitchen counter in about five minutes for all of us to eat and doesn’t even ask for a thank you. It’s in the way she talked to me through all of my mother’s illness and death and how she will be there with me when I have my little dog put to sleep.
When my mother got too sick to leave her bed, Tonya and I went over to her house one night and stretched out on her bed. Tonya jumped right into the conversation, complimenting my mom on how she looked and telling her we had to get her better. And she did it for her, but it was also for me. She’s my friend becaus she left for Florida, the day my mother died, for a much needed vacation with her husband, and she respected me enough to not come back and enjoy herself. And she allowed me to depend on other people. She’s my friend because she tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. And she realizes that sometimes what I need to hear is what I want to hear. She’s the only one that it really mattered that I got approval to have my dog put to sleep, one, because she loves all animals and two, because she loves Griffin and I. And she said it was time, so I knew that it was. And she was right.
In over twelve years of knowing each other, I can remember only one time that we got into a fight. And it lasted less than 12 hours. And it was because I hurt her feelings, which we know better than to do, but realize it might happen from time to time. We’ve been through a lot, this ole gal and me, and we’ll be through a lot more together I hope. She’ll be the one standing next to me the day I get married. We laugh, we cry, we vent mostly and gossip often.
But what I have learned about friendship through her, is that it is consistent. I know what to expect from her because she is always consistent. She doesn’t lie to me, she is always loyal, she is there for me unless her family needs come first, which I expect. And what I expect from her is that she will always be buying a new pair of Uggs, she’ll always have a block of cheese in her fridge, a brand new novel folded over on the table and a house full of people at any hour of the day. She is dependable. And that is what a true friend is…consistent. I know tomorrow if I got sick, she would be right there next to me asking me what WE were going to do about it. She would not sugar coat it. She wouldn’t make it pretty. She would look it in the eye like a bully on a playground and then walk over and give it a hug. She would probably drive me around to get a fountain coke and take me to my doctor’s appointments. She’d board my dog and bring me movies and books. But she does that already. She’d just up the ante a little and make sure no one got in my safe zone. She’d be my Shirley McClaine in Terms of Endearment. I love her. And I’m pretty sure she loves me.
Every year, we rent a house on Lake Norris, Tennessee with a bunch of friends. Last year, we stayed at Tonya’s cousin’s house, which had this long stair case down to the lake. Every day, Tonya would load a cooler, have a bunch of towels around her neck,(with her matching Ed Hardy Tee-shirt and baseball hat of course)and head down to the lake, so she only had to make one trip. Me, I’m different. I didn’t care if I ran up and down that staircase fifty times, but I’d bitch about it every time. That pretty much sums up our friendship. We’re both so different aiming at the same thing. She’s calm and planned out while I’m scattered and frenzied half the time. But in the end, we’re both just floating in the water, a diet coke in our hands, laughing our asses off about the woman we found on top of a snow bank in the blizzard, or something funny her dog Gypsy did, or something funny our friend Lis said, or some old story about my mom. She allows me all of that.
And that, my dear, is how you help a friend. By always, painfully so, being yourself. She is my soul sistah, my mojo mama, my best friend and my ally! I love ya lady! You help them through the hell because you’re with them through the heaven. And that…is the truth.
There is a great scene in the movie, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”, which shows Angela Bassett talking to her dying friend Whoopie Goldberg. She begins dancing and singing and talking about “Old Charlie” in the hospital room. It is absolutely one of the most endearing scenes in any movie because it glorifies the power of friendship in life, and in death. And we’re all gonna die someday…because we’re on borrowed time as it is.