by Amanda Higgins
In February my uncle had a stroke, and it blew the lid off a secret he and my aunt had been keeping: her dementia had advanced considerably; his was advancing as well, and their two grown drug-addicted kids living at home were of no help. My parents drove to the hospital from their house a couple hours away, thinking they were there to visit, but as the days unfolded we uncovered the depth of the situation and the harsh reality that there was no one else to manage this mess—we were it.
We live a couple of miles from my aunt and uncle’s house—ground zero. My parents essentially moved in and my home became basecamp. Each night for months I cooked for everyone and had difficult conversations with my parents, lawyers, doctors, insurance agents, and facility directors. All the family dynamics came out to play. The anxiety levels at my house were somewhere between ‘tension in the hole” and “DEFCON 1” on any given day.I sent text messages to a couple of my closest friends throughout the ordeal. I’ve known Colleen and Parri for more than 25 years. We haven’t lived in the same city for most of that time, but over the years we’ve intentionally stayed in touch and involved in each others’ lives. Between Colleen, Parri and me, we’ve shared nine births, six moves, one child’s battle with leukemia, one child in a war zone, a wedding, the near break-up of my marriage, a couple of vacations, and thousands of hours of laughter and record-setting gabfests.
Last year my family moved into a fixer-upper that could give us more space within our budget. We started demolishing the 30 years of wood paneling, wallpaper and lava rock that covered every surface in the house. Three days in, I stood overwhelmed in a pile of rubble. I peeled wallpaper for so many days in a row that I swear I almost saw the face of God and he was saying to me, “It’s OK, walk into the light.”
One day, Colleen and her husband appeared on our balcony when we returned from Home Depot. Colleen was cheering for us—her signature move! Parri showed up not long after, and we all scraped orange, green, red, white and blue layers of wallpaper until it was finally gone. Others showed up. I nearly cried when one friend stopped in for a couple hours and finished the last four feet of wallpaper in the upstairs bathroom that had challenged my will to live the night before.
A few weeks ago, the anxiety in my house spiked over the latest extended family crisis, and the S.O.S text messages were flying. Parri showed up. She told me she was just there to make me laugh. What she did was so much more. It happened to be the busiest possible week at work, so while I worked like a fool all day, she cooked for my family, spent hours talking with my mom, did homework with my 10 year-old (in British accents to boot!), and got my high school daughter through finals week. My husband—God bless him—slept on the bottom bunk in my son’s room while Parri and I took over my room with a bottle of wine and some inappropriate language.
There is nothing convenient about these friendships. We didn’t accidentally stay in touch or deepen our connections over a quarter of a century. We all admit that the “getting there” is not our favorite part, but the “being there” is so worth it.
So I have to ask, where are your people? Who shows up to scrape wallpaper? Help you move? Take care of your family while you implode? You might say, “Well, I don’t have anyone like that in my life.” Then be someone like that in someone else’s life. Don’t crawl into your hole because people don’t seem to reach out to you. Reach out to them! Be a shower-upper! Make the trek—across town or out of town. Have people over when things aren’t perfect. Let things roll off you more than you take offense. You need a stable of friends and family when you hit bumps or mountains. Celebrate and nurture the connections.
Colleen’s only daughter will get married next week. She’s asked me to coordinate the wedding, as I did for her brother, because I am supremely gifted at bossing people around while making them feel honored. The dates conflict with a big work event that sets the tone for leadership for the year. Guess where I’ll be in next weekend? Because how many times will one of my best friends’ daughters get married?