Several years ago one of my husband’s best friends died. Cancer. I vividly remember the evening he (the friend) told my husband and I about his diagnosis. I remember visiting the friend in the hospital after his first surgery, and I remember many of the tasks both my husband and I did to try to help and support this person.
I also remember many of the feelings I had at various points during the friend’s illness. Frustration, irritation, and impatience were only a few among them. I helped the friend from time to time; but I could have done more. I took care of some tactical items for him; but I wasn’t always the best at the emotional side of things. I provided quite a lot of strength when it was clear to me that someone needed to step up; but it would have been helpful if I also shared compassion.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t heartless; but I was assertive. Firm. Blunt. And sometimes, that’s exactly what is needed. But at other times, a soft shoulder and tight lips are best. Overall I think I offered too much of the former, and not enough of the latter.
It’s been four? five? years since our friend died – and I still think about him. In the time from then to now, I have done a lot of personal work, and parts of me have changed – some deeply and profoundly. Intellectually, I now understand that I did the best I could at the time of our friend’s illness; that if I had known a better way those many years ago, I would have done better. I learned all of this intellectually, but emotionally I still carried quite a bit of guilt and remorse around with me.
This morning, I was putting away the notes that were re-discovered in the big basement clean-up from last week. I’m not a collector of stuff, but there are a few mementos I have retained over the years that I do hold dear. I opened the bag that holds these treasures, and as I started to put last week’s notes into the sack, I saw a card from the friend I described above.
I opened the card, and re-read it. And though the message was brief – just a few sentences – I finally understood the meaning embedded with the words that were written. Our friend knew me better than I knew myself; and in the card he wrote me, he let me know that he got it. He knew that I was just as confused as he was. That I was struggling like he was. That I was hurting, and was doing the best I could – even if my “best” didn’t always look so good. He got it. He understood. And in the note, he forgave me.
Now, in his lifetime, our friend was a big fan of subtlety, nuance, and implication. It’s one of the things that frustrated me about him; I told him on more than one occasion to just “Say what you mean already!” But that wasn’t his way. He liked the gray, the shadows, the hints. The card I held in my hand was the only one he ever wrote me; and now I know why. He knew that I wouldn’t be able to really hear what he had to say before he died; but when I was ready, he wanted to make sure I got his message. So he wrote me this note, confident that one day, I would “get it”.
That day is today. This morning, I randomly encountered his card – and my heart was ready.
My friend forgave me. And this morning, *I* forgave me.
And damn if that isn’t the most amazing experience I could ever hope to have.