Friend, You are Going to Have to Teach us How to Love You

It should have been her wedding anniversary.  I sat on the stoop with my recently widowed friend while she cried and I awkwardly circled my hand on her back.  They should have been going out for dinner or a movie, or even bickering in the kitchen about brands of cat food or some other inane topic. Instead she was drinking beer on the porch at 10am while his ashes sat in an engraved wooden box inside.

Her sobs grew louder and without thinking I muttered these words: “It’s OK”.
“It’s not OK.” She snapped back. “My husband is dead.”

 She was right of course.  It’s not OK.   

She shouldn’t have to, but my friend taught me how to love a widow that summer.  She showed up crying on our porch at midnight.  She asked my husband to help with small household fixes.  She came over dutifully at each holiday and birthday for a plate of food and some quick pecks on the cheek.  I like to be invited she said.   But I’m not up to staying long.

It’s not that I didn’t want to love her well.  I did.  But I’ve never walked in her shoes.  Frankly, I’d rather not imagine having to do so.  So I needed her to show me.  To ask for what she needed and tell me when to shut up. She shouldn’t have to teach people how to come along side her in her most desperate moments, but she does.  Because we just don’t know.

My friend is brave and bold.   She consistently told us what she needed.  She swore and cried and didn’t for a moment pretend that grief hadn’t shaken her to the core.  If we forgot for a moment that her pain is the forever type, she would remind us.  She taught me another invaluable lesson that summer; she taught me that we all need to teach those around us how to love us.  We shouldn’t have to, but we do.

I had to teach my friends how to love me.

In these past few years, the mental illness and addictions I had been trying to ignore for decades set my life on fire.  My husband and kids suffered along side me through rehab and psych wards and countless appointments. Friends wanted to help and often didn’t know how.  Some people intuitively knew what to do, showed up to be present in our family’s pain, brought casseroles and smiles and caramel lattes. Others avoided us for fear of saying the wrong thing.  They didn’t know how to love us through the pain.  How could they?   I hadn’t told them.

How often do we live amongst each other with out being amidst one another?  We are surrounded without being embraced.  We are together yet alone.  What if instead we learned to be brave and bold like my friend, to tell each other precisely what we need?  What if we taught our friends how to love us?

Because our friends want to love us well. 

We want to love each other well.  But don’t we all feel a little in over our heads?  A little shaky and unsure?  Afraid of reaching out too far and falling flat on our faces?

It takes a special type of vulnerability to express to each other how to love us best, to reach out when we feel lonely or forgotten, to communicate our hurt when we feel dismissed, to ask people to listen when we feel voiceless.  But I’ve come to believe that it results in a special type of blessing: A community of people who are willing to meet us in our need, a circle of loved ones who know how to love us well.

We are designed to need one another.

We are designed to speak into each other’s lives in both practical and ethereal ways. And because we are mostly made of water and fear, we aren’t always going to succeed.  We get lost in daily life, over committed and unsure.  So friends, you are going to have to teach me how to love you.  And I’ll return the favour.  We shouldn’t have to, but we do.

Do you feel alone today? Unheard? Afraid?   Reach out and tell a friend.  Teach them how to love you in this moment.  I suspect you’ll both be glad you did. 

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