How to help a friend face the unfaceable

It happens every time I fill out a new medical form for one of my boys. Can your child do this? Can your child do that? I go down the list of questions checking one “yes” box after another. I leave the lines to describe any developmental delays or physical issues blank.

As I looked over the form, my eyes welled up with tears and I start to cry. I feel incredible gratitude, but I also feel such sadness. Sadness because I know it was a moment Annie has never gotten to have.

You know Annie and you know her story. Annie is amazing. Annie is brilliant. And for reasons I don’t always understand, Annie is one of my dearest friends. We first met in college. Another friend had brought me to Annie’s door. I was in the throes of a painful breakup and had convinced myself I had meningitis. Annie gave me some vitamins, a cup of tea, and talked me down from the ledge.

I wish I could say that was the last time her wisdom and wit and unending compassion prevented me from doing something crazy. However, I think that would be less than say the least.

Over that past twelve years, we have supported each other through marriages, relocations, career changes, and many a wardrobe crisis. When we got pregnant within months of each other, I was ecstatic. I had my best friend with me every step of the way. We g-chatted constantly about labor strategies, nutritional requirements, maternity clothes. You name it we tackled it. As the months flew by, I couldn’t believe how incredibly lucky I was to face the journey of motherhood with this wonderful woman by my side.

Then, Collin was born.

When I go back and look through our emails to each other at this time, I can only see my blind optimism. Everything was going to work out. Everything was going to be fine. In one email, I told her we’d blink and be watching Collin run around and say, "And to think you were once a tiny thing that gave us such a scare."

I think about that email all the time and I hate myself for it.

In college, Annie had written an untitled poem about me.

she waltzed dramatically away, waving
her arms loosely, wildly, half-singing
half-shouting her love; and I saw us
old, eccentric, eating chocolate in our
slippers, giggling over children and husbands

I knew in the deepest part of my soul that that was how things would end for us. We would sail through this sea of change and come out the other side stronger. Sure, there would be rocky waves and the occasional storm but the destination would be the one about which we had always dreamed.

Eventually, it became very clear that was not the case and that one of the people I loved most in the world was in a huge amount of pain.

I wanted to help her. I wanted to say the perfect thing. I wanted to fix things. Then, I realized that doing anything was really not an option. At one point, a doctor had mentioned the possibility of a very scary degenerative disease that could possibly end Collin’s life at a young age. As my friend faced the unthinkable, I made a pledge. I stopped offering empty promises and offered up the only thing I knew I could. I swore to Annie that I would not forsake her. I swore to her that no matter how bad things got or how hard or painful or sad her situation became I would not turn away from her.

I know that happens. Friendships - for the most part - are based on shared experiences. Our lives change and shift and so do our alliances. You find out who your true friends are, as the saying goes.

I did not know what was going to happen to Collin or what was going to happen to Annie but I knew one thing. I was Annie’s friend and that was not going to change. Ever.

I’m not looking for praise or sympathy. Our journey together was not the one I expected. We got shipwrecked and found a new adventure. However, at the end of every day, I’m still friends with Annie - the specialness of this is something I have difficulty conveying in words.

Annie has shared her story and I only thought I would share my side of it for any of you out there trying to stand with a friend through a difficult time. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t try to fix things or say you understand when you don’t. Stand beside your friend. Hold her hand. Let her know that no matter what - you aren’t going anywhere.