I saw my friend for the first time since her mother died in front of her and a hospice nurse. My friend cried a couple of times for the things she hadn’t said to her mother and for the things she had said to her siblings as they attempted to come together as adults and deal with an estate. I listened and occasionally threw out some advice, but not a lot of it. I don’t have much advice to give on this subject. Now.
My friend cried because she hadn’t told her mother a lot of things that she should have told her in those last few moments, basic stuff that some lucky families share every day and other families, like hers and mine, just don’t say. I tried to imagine myself in her shoes, at my mother’s or father’s deathbed, sharing feelings that I hadn’t voiced already. I imagine taking a shot at that drama, the kind that merits an orchestral soundtrack, and I cringe at the awkwardness of the scenario.
“If you come from a family that doesn’t really do that kind of thing,” I tried to reassure her, “you’re just gonna startle people by coming out with a bunch of dramatic thoughts at the last minute.”
She laughed a little at that, which meant to me that she got it—some families just don’t do feelings. They don’t do feelings when they’re healthy, and they certainly don’t do them when they’re sick.
I breathed a secret sigh of relief that my friend had bought my logic. But I knew that in her shoes I would have cried just as much. Some things need to be said, sure, but how do you say a lifetime of everything when you haven’t even started with the first few words?
For months, I’ve been wondering how to share my feelings without creating awkwardness all around. I’ve been wondering, even, what my feelings are. I’ve alienated so many people over the years, and my people, like my friend’s, just don’t do feelings.
Another good friend broke me out of the rut. One day, she concluded a phone call with “I love you.” Just like that. I responded in kind, “I love you, too.” And I thought, I do. I do love this friend. She’s been patient, supportive, entertaining, intellectually and professionally stimulating… a fun shopping partner. What is there not to love?
I guess it starts small, by concluding a phone call with a simple declaration of caring. Or it starts even smaller, by just thinking about concluding a phone call with that simple declaration. I have a mental list of all the people who need to hear it—my brothers and sisters-in-law, cousins, aunts and uncles, and all my friends are on that list. I’m almost certain some have heard it from me, and I’m certain others haven’t.
I’m starting small, but I’m starting. I love you I love you I love you. With practice, this will become natural, and then we won’t need to worry so much about “squaring up” our feelings at the last possible minute. Literally.