My van radio was broken for two years. Life with kids is crazy, and there were simply more important things than repairing it… until last weekend. We finally made the space for my husband to take it in, get it fixed, and bring it back to a houseful of family members who couldn’t wait to hear music in the car again.
Our first ride, post radio-fixing, was a two-hour drive to my family’s cabin. It was just my children and me, and I dug around for a crowd-pleasing CD when I found a mix that a close friend had made me a few years ago. I had known this particular friend for decades, and it was a collection of songs that each had significance throughout our school years. Those influential, self-conscious and awkward years… each song transporting me straight back.
Now, creeping into my late thirties, I realize what I want my daughter to understand when she is still green and tender. History matters. When it comes down to it, when life hits the fan, it is the people who have seen you at your worst, and still loved you through, that you want by your side.
During the first hospital stay for my son’s leukemia, I was a wreck. I was overwhelmed and scared, and we had just received news that his diagnosis was worse than originally thought. I pressed through every day being strong and positive for my son, while routinely running to the bathroom to cry, quickly dry tears and paste on a smile. Visitors came, and we tried not to talk about details or fears in front of our boy. For his sake, we tried to make everything seem as comfortable as possible. My tone was chipper, visitors brought presents, and my son was pretty sure that this sickness thing wasn’t so bad after all. I, on the other hand, felt like a ticking time bomb.
A few nights in, we were playing on the bed when a very close friend knocked and came in. I expected her, but I did not expect my reaction. Seeing her – a friend for over 20 years and someone who has seen me through the growing pains of life – I lost it. She hugged me and I felt all my pent-up agony erupt. I soaked her shoulder and literally wanted to crawl onto her lap. That was not the first, nor the last time I have cried to her… but was indicative of a comfort level that cannot be achieved overnight. The level where you meet after weeks or months apart and just lay it all out there. Vulnerability is welcomed and reality is expected.
For a while I was completely taken with the book Anticancer by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. It is chock full of scientific data regarding foods and behaviors that have been proven to prevent or help fight cancer. Given my own experience, I should not have been surprised to read this:
“In the Nurses’ Health Study, a large-scale study of nurses in the United States, women with breast cancer who could name ten friends had a four times better chance of surviving their illness than women who could not. The geographical proximity of these friendships was not significant; the protective effect seemed to stem from the simple fact of feeling connected.”
Four times better chance of survival. Not only does science support the importance of connectedness in regards to our health, but for me it is further supported by how I feel. When I leave brunch with my close-knits, or a weekend with my college girls, I feel how it breathes life into my chest. I feel the relief from mutual sharing, from the support and wise words. I feel recharged, and an overwhelming love and appreciation for the women in my life – they make me better. A better person, a better wife and a better mother.
Not unlike marriage, this kind of love only comes through years of dedication. Years of showing up. That is what I want for my daughter. When she finds people in her young years that are good-hearted, fun and respectful, I want her to hang on tight. Decades later, when the years of life have worn on her and her bookshelf of memories have started accumulating, it is these women who will be familiar with all her patterns and references. They were there. They watched the creation of the painting and encouraged the brushstrokes to be authentic.
It was my friends who taught me about loyalty and dedication. It was my friends who taught me to be truthful and wear my heart on my sleeve. We trained each other, and made each other feel appreciated. We made mistakes, hurt each other occasionally, and made up. We’ve endured loss, and have laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed.
It is these friendships that keep us prosperous and strong, helping us fight cancer, mourn loss and pursue joy. I hope my daughter finds this. Because to have the support and safety of a network of women who love her – through the silliness, heart breaks, children and trials – I simply cannot think of a greater gift.