Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Avoid Grieving Your Friend

Sometimes it's too late
I’ve been encouraging (a nicer word than “preaching”) visitors here to reach out to their friends and let them know how important they are to you before it’s too late. What’s too late? Too late is when all you can do is regret what you didn’t do or say. And that happens a lot more often than we care to admit.
Sometimes the idea begins with a simple thought, “I wonder whatever happened to…” Sometimes a discovery triggers an old, pleasant memory. Both happened to me recently.
I was planning yet another trip to New York, and knew I had some unplanned down time while I was there. I called the usual friends I see when I’m there - both of whom I’d reconnected with after long separations. But something made me reach out to two others.
Jan and Jeff were college friends. Jan was my roommate senior year, and we were all in shows together. We were part of a pretty tight group (more on that later). But I hadn’t seen Jeff since 1974, nor Jan since the late 70’s. She and I had been in touch the usual way: Christmas cards and rare emails.
So I surprised even myself a little when I wrote letters to them both: I’m in town, here’s when I’m free, any chance for lunch? I knew what day the letters were delivered, because Jan emailed and Jeff called me.
Last Friday, we met on the upper west side. Except for changes in hair color and weight, we all looked the same to me. We brought each other up to date on what we’d been doing and even future plans. We laughed and joked and reminisced and it seemed for a couple hours on a beautiful day that time had stopped.
Both of them thanked me for setting this up, but I was at least as grateful that they responded. It certainly won’t be 30 years until we see each other again. I’m pretty confident that we’ll stay in close touch now.
There were a couple other guys in our group. I texted one of them to let him know what we were doing and that I’d give him a full report.
After our lunch, Jan emailed me. “Whatever happened to…?” It was a guy I always associated with her. I could see him in my mind, leaning back in his chair, smoking a cigarette at our favorite bar in Iowa City.
Guess I’ll be tracking him down next.
I don’t know if I’ll find him, find him alive and well, or willing to re-establish contact. But I’ll be able to answer the question. And I hope I won’t have to ask myself another one:
“Why didn’t I call sooner?”
If a world-class procrastinator like me can get up off her butt and do this, so can you. Don’t wait until you see the obituary or have your Christmas card returned, stamped “deceased”.
Track them down and contact them.
Do it now.
Whether it’s good news or not, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

The truth is, you’ll still grieve when they die, but at least you won’t feel guilty.

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