At our monthly gathering this week, one of our usually most cheerful and gregarious members was very quiet. When I looked across at her, she seemed far away, unfocussed, almost preoccupied with her own thoughts. As everyone chatted and caught up with news before we settled down, instead of being part of it all she was strangely aloof. I found it odd, and I kept glancing across at her. As the meeting progressed, with the usual sharing and lively discussion, the tears began to flow. Her face crumpled and with a strangled cry she lept out of her seat, by this stage sobbing uncontrollably, heading for the front door. Fortunately one or two others were just as fast and reached her before she got there. Holding the sobbing woman, talking softly to her, they were able to calm her down enough to lead her unresistingly back to her seat. The concern for her was palpable in the room. Tissues were found and she was settled back in. Slowly, haltingly, she began to speak. Without going into too much detail here, out of respect for her privacy, she was facing a terrible choice in her life, decisions had to be made that were breaking her heart. This strong, capable woman, whom so many in the community turned to for help, whose open, generous nature meant she was always willing to lend a hand, was at a crossroads in her life. The decisions that needed to be made were going to be hurtful to others, but she knew at her very core they had to be made. And somehow she never expected it to be as challenging as this. Or to hurt as much.
I think the fact that she had recently celebrated a milestone birthday played a big part in this. Somehow the “decade” birthdays – the 40s, 50s, 60s etc, bring about huge changes in a person. I know when I turned 50 a couple of years ago it changed me, I stopped worrying so much about what other people thought, I became more interested in living my life while I still HAD a life, of experiencing as much as I could, I started focussing on pleasing myself and actively seeking out what brought me joy, as opposed to doing what pleased others or what they thought I should be doing.
At that meeting I saw the true power of women’s friendships and the incredible compassion that we have. It is just so instinctive, part of our nature. The love that reached out to her from all corners of the room, allowing her the space to speak without judgement or condemnation. I also sensed an unspoken fear – what if I was to face the same awful choices? Please God I never wake up one day and have to make that kind of decision. There but for the Grace of God go I.
I am so glad that she was brought back into the welcoming embrace of the circle instead of driving off into the darkness alone. Why is it that we always try and hide our tears? As if it is a weakness, something to be ashamed of? “I’m F-I-N-E” women say through gritted teeth as they juggle jobs, families and the hundreds of other tasks that make up our lives. Actually we are not always fine and sometimes we need to just let go and acknowledge that and allow ourselves to be loved and nurtured by others. Sometimes it is OK to say “I am not coping, I need help”. To acknowledge that we are human after all! Maybe all that is needed is a neutral ear, a glass of wine, chocolates or a big box of tissues! Or all of the above! We don’t always have to “fix” things. Nothing irritates me more than when my dearest hubby wants to “fix” my problem. Most of the time I more or less know what I want to do, I just need someone to listen.
We ended the meeting with an “onion hug” – we all surrounded our friend, layer upon layer of love and compassion, and we hugged. Sometimes no words are needed. Sometimes we forget the power of a hug, or a touch.
I like to think that our friend left feeling calmer, more focussed. Tears are healing (even though they do ruin makeup and tend to make your face go unattractively blotchy!). The choices she faces have not gone away, there is no going around, under or over. Going through is the only option. But as they say, we are all angels with one wing and we can only fly while supporting each other. We cannot take away the pain, but we helped our friend to fly a little bit higher and a little easier. I know most of us felt a deeper sense of closeness and connection at the end of that evening, a greater sense of gratitude at what we are part of – that we really are all One. Sometimes we forget that we are all going through the same “stuff” and remembering that makes it a little easier to bear.