[From January 31, 2019: This is something I continue to talk about because we took it so personally in the beginning. I’ve come to learn that it’s not even just a part of living through trials, but maybe just a part of living.]
One of the first things I tell people when they ask for advice about enduring one of life’s shit storms — whether it’s the diagnosis of a chronic illness, the death of a loved one, or any of the other substantive shifts that can happen in any of our lives, seemingly out of nowhere — it is to expect a dramatic change to take place in the people around them. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot at this point, the way many of the people we might have thought would be our “support system” if/when things went south now instead find themselves largely gone from our lives. In many situations, though, in their place, there are now amazing new people we might never have expected to become such lifeblood for us.
It can be a depressing conversation to have with someone who is newly facing tragedy and/or grief — a sort of “I hope this doesn’t happen to you, but…” cautionary tale — but I still almost always bring it up because I want folks to know that, whether it makes sense or not, it is just a thing that happens. When it first started happening to us, we took every loss personally, hurt anew by yet another person who quietly excused themselves from our lives. What I learned, though, after talking with other people who had endured their own great storm, was that it’s a weird human phenomenon that happens when people find themselves faced with any all-consuming hardship. Such fore-knowledge won’t make the potential losses hurt less, but it might help to learn not to take them so personally.
As of late, we’ve been experiencing a sort of second wave of these losses. No doubt some of the losses come from the “trauma fatigue” a lot of otherwise well-intentioned people experience as a result of our orbit. (I get it; we’re exhausted by it all, too.) People understandably don’t know what to say to us anymore, when “get well soon!” is an insult and “I’m praying for you!” starts to ring a bit hollow. Plus, people rightly have their own lives to attend to without the buzzkill that can come from trying to keep up with the latest “incident” to befall the Ward household. Those people will sometimes quietly and even organically fall away.
Others, though, walk away because you are no longer able to be the same friend you were “before.” It happened to me just this week. Someone I’ve been friends with for more than twenty years — a person I’ve celebrated life’s great triumphs with, broken bread with, and watched grow and change as a person — decided that, and I’m quoting here, “our relationship has become too one-sided” and that she “could no longer forgive me for it.” And then, just like that, she cut all ties. I have to tell you, I was gutted. Shedding social media connections, especially when you’re as politically outspoken as I am, isn’t new or even that consequential. But this loss wasn’t one of those situations. This was someone who, although not a part of our physical support system in any way, I figured would be around in some capacity for the next twenty years, too. And so, I’ve been moping a bit for the last couple days since my “friend” bid me adieu, trying to process this new hurt that caught me so completely off guard.
I was still in bed this morning, not yet ready to deal with the day, when I noticed a LinkedIn connection request scroll across my notifications. As much as I willingly utilize various social media platforms, I have less than zero use for LinkedIn. I reluctantly signed up for an account years ago so that it could serve as a repository for every annoying salesperson wanting to sell me insurance or the latest payroll software. Generally, my only interactions with the platform are the few seconds it takes to accept and then forget connection requests. This morning’s request, though, came from a name I hadn’t seen in years. Lisa is the person who Chelli and I most often credit with introducing us, although neither of us are completely sure of the exact order of events all those years ago. What we know for sure is the three of us — Lisa, Chelli, and me — spent a lot of time and whole lot of laughs together during those few pivotal years of college. Chelli and Lisa even lived together for a bit over the same summer when Chelli and I went from “just friends” to something more. Even though Lisa moved away before Chelli and I got married, she came back to celebrate our wedding day with us. After that, though, as us old folks did in the days before email & social media, Lisa went back to Chicago, we eventually moved to Ohio, and that was that. In the years since, other than a possible Christmas card or two as many decades ago, we haven’t had any contact with our old college friend. Early in my Facebook days, Chelli encouraged me to try to find Lisa on social media. Surely, she’d have an account somewhere, we thought, but I couldn’t find anything. We assumed she was probably going by a married name now, unknown to us, making her difficult to track down. Our fantastic memories would have to be enough.
After accepting her LinkedIn request, I sent Lisa a message this morning that was simply this: “HOLY SHIT!” What followed was a flurry of amazing, wonderful, and heartwarming back-and-forth messages. Turns out, Lisa was cleaning out some boxes in storage when she happened upon a bunch of pictures of the three of us from back in the day. When she showed them — and all of their hilarious late ‘80s & early ‘90s glory — to her teenage son, he encouraged her to attempt to find either Chelli or me on social media, much like I’d done years before. So, after all these years, LinkedIn finally revealed its great purpose to me: It gave me back our old friend, Lisa.
There is nothing I hate more than cliché aphorisms, but I’ll tell you this: Sometimes when one door closes, a window opens.