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Finding Solace in a Friendship Circle

A few weeks ago I hosted a meeting at my home of some of the women who had shared their stories of love and loss at Friendship Dialogues. I had been thinking about this get-together for a while and was looking forward to creating a Friendship Circle for women who had been through the very same life-altering experience as I had — the loss of their best female friend.

I thought a lot about how to organize the day and as is my tendency, I planned over a dozen questions to ask to start and keep the conversation going. Well, I quickly found out that when you get eight women together with a common bond you don’t have to work hard to create dialogue. For three hours we talked steadily, then we gathered for a meal and continued the conversation for a couple of hours more.

It’s hard to resurrect five hours of conversation, but what stays with me is the sense that a gathering like this provided a refuge in the common grief we shared. Despite the fact that most of us were strangers, there was a connection that the group shared that made it easy to talk openly, weep together and also laugh at the funny things we all had done with our best friends. One woman said she felt there were shards of her departed best friend in everyone. She also said, “Even though none of you knew her, all of us having that primary loss in common helped me reconnect with my grief.” Another woman found the experience too raw. She said, “It was like a scab had come off.” Listening to others express their more recent grief brought too much of the old pain back. She did say that writing down her story for the website was different. “The written word is immortal,” she added, and it gave her relief.

So while most of us got comfort from the Friendship Circle discussion, it can open up old wounds for some. Still, I would recommend grief gatherings where women can share their stories of friendship and also their pain when those precious friendships are taken away by death. There are many ways to get support when you lose a family member, but while friends can be as dear—or more dear—than family, there are no prescribed rituals for mourning this devastating loss. A Friendship Circle, I sincerely believe, is a good way to start. Writing your friendship story is another powerful way to deal with your loss and I encourage any woman who has a story to share about the loss of her best friend to do so at Friendship Dialogues.

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Dancing the Blues Away

I have been feeling blue lately. A very dear friend of mine has lung cancer. It was discovered a year ago and she’s had chemo, radiation and surgery to address it. She was healing from the treatments and had gotten strong again when she discovered that the cancer is back. She is about to start immunotherapy and possibly chemo along with it.

Her struggle has brought back all the pain of losing my best friend Madeleine 13 years ago. It’s not that there haven’t been other losses in the last 13 years, but I had allowed myself to get really close to this dear friend. We’ve known each other for close to 45 years, but the friendship has truly blossomed in the last 10 years after we retired and got to spend more time with each other.

She’s a person with a great appetite for life. She sparkles. She shines. We both have houses in the Hamptons and love sitting in the sun, listening to the birds, enjoying nature and the bounty that sun, water and earth provide. She’s well grounded in her life. And now this. She is about to undergo more devastating treatments, right before the summer. Her favorite season. It breaks my heart.

I feel guilty too for my sadness. What right do I have to be down? My health is good. I’m not enduring one brutal cancer treatment after another. But even as I tell myself that my heart feels heavy. I don’t want to share my sorrow with my friend. She doesn’t need to hear about how her crisis is affecting me. I was saddened too to realize that I didn’t have anyone to share my sorrow with who offered me the same comfort that I used to get from Madeleine. She was my soul mate and her comfort brought me solace.

So I decided to write to the two-dozen women I interviewed for Friendship Dialogues to find out if they have had a particularly hard time dealing with the illness and potential loss of another friend after having suffered the wrenching loss of their best friend. I got back a flood of email messages, so many wise and stirring notes from these women that offered me enormous comfort. I realized that in my desire to share my story about Madeleine and to tell the stories of other women who have also lost their female best friends has led me to create a friendship support group. These women that I have not met have been so giving of their time, support and advice. The email dialogue that we created together these last few days has been uplifting for me and, I believe, to all of them as well.

So I want to thank them for their wisdom and generosity. And once again I encourage you to read the stories at Friendship Dialogues and get to know these amazing women who have endured a deep and painful loss but have learned to live with it and keep going.

I’ll close this post with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. She inspires me to accept loss as part of life even if it leaves me limping along.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”