The one who comes in

Still smiling after an arduous journey, Boomdee arrives at Reagan Airport, March 2016.

Still smiling after an arduous journey, Boomdee arrives at Reagan Airport, March 2015.

“A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” — Grace Pulpit

I’ve written before about how isolating trouble can be. To put it bluntly, most people would rather not think about illness, disability or death unless they can’t avoid it. Those who are dealing with such issues, often for many years and even decades, will find themselves forgotten by a large share of people whom they once considered loyal friends or family. It’s a hard truth, and one nobody wants to believe, but eventually nearly every person who lives very long will experience the harsh reality of feeling abandoned when support is most needed.

The silver lining is that there are others– far fewer in number, but all the more precious for being so– who come in just when everyone else goes out. Sometimes it’s a longtime friend who becomes even closer, bonded by standing beside us through life’s most devastating moments. Surprisingly often, though, they are brand new friends who show up in the midst of our circumstances when we least expect them.

So it was that a lively lady from faraway Edmonton, Canada appeared on my blog in its very early days, offering friendly encouragement. From the very first time I followed Kelly’s Gravatar back to the lovely land of Boomdeeville, I knew there were some diamonds to be found among the rubble of disastrous circumstances Jeff and I were facing. Kelly filled my comments section with warmth and humor, my postal mail with exquisitely crafted creations, and my heart with hope. Having her visit in person for a whole week was like a dream come true.

It was a long way for her to travel, made longer by the sort of missed-flight ordeals that are only funny in retrospect. We filled the week with one merry mishap after another, dashing around DC in the rain and wandering around Dulles Airport for over an hour searching for Pauline, who had made an even longer journey from New Zealand.  Despite everything (or maybe because of it) we were laughing all the way.

If you’re reading this, chances are you are in that rare group of people who came into my life just as it felt as if the whole world had left the building. Those of you who made an entry instead of an exit, or who drew closer instead of stepping back, you know who you are, and you have made it possible for me to survive thus far. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I hope you will have many steadfast friends who make sure you don’t face your trials alone. And if I’m able, I hope to be one of them.

61 Comments

  1. Good morning, Julia! You are so sweet and gracious.
    What a great photo of Kelly! That smile could cheer up the staunchest grinch. I’m so glad that you three (with Pauline) had that special, precious reunion time together!

    • Plus Laurie and Alys, who showed up a couple of days later. Yes, Kelly’s smile is one of the all-time great sights. 🙂 She couldn’t be much better at cheering up the general public if she had a magic wand and some pixie dust.

  2. My sister and I, having been good friends as youngsters, drifted apart as we got older. However, her husband’s terminal illness and his death at the age of 43 brought us back together – it was an unexpected outcome and a joy. You can read what she wrote about it for me here: https://thesnailofhappiness.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/imgp2477.jpg as her contribution to my friendship blanket a few years ago.

    • WOW Jan, what a wonderful and thoughtful gift and letter from your sister! Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I felt stronger just reading it. My sister and I have always been close, but I have never felt more dependent on her love and support than I do now, and never more appreciative of her. You are right, good things can come out of great sorrow. I know this in my mind even when the sorrow washes over me until I feel I am drowning in it. I am so glad you shared this unique time in your life with us. Thanks for being here.

      • What is especially interesting is that my sister is generally very reserved in terms of expressing her feelings, so this letter is very special to me.

        • That’s remarkable. She certainly is eloquent for someone who doesn’t make a habit of such expression; obviously, she put a great deal of thought into it. It’s interesting, though, that people who don’t say much are often the most profound when they do speak. As you say, that makes it all the more unique and valuable.

    • That is absolutely precious, Jan! What a powerful visual story it tells. Love to you and your sis, too!

  3. Julia, how lovely that you have some friends who came even closer during your ordeal. I remember a time when I was very sick and became depressed. It seemed like I was all alone except for one person. My grandmother was 85 years old but drove through Atlanta traffic about twice a week to come to my house. She swept my kitchen, put some greens on to cook, then took my two little children (three and five at the time) upstairs to their play kitchen. They all sat together and used ingredients my grandmother had brought with her (little jars of chopped cooked chicken, celery, etc.) and “cooked” lunch together.

    She was very accepting and kind to me and was the only person who entered into the isolating hell I was living. She didn’t judge, she was just there. She brought a feeling of peace with her every time she came over. Our bodies can put us through terrible things that many others can’t understand unless they have experienced some similar trial. As you said, most of us face something like that at some point in our lives.

    I am so grateful to you for sharing your life with us on your blog. I’m grateful for you and it seems like the weeks that have been hardest for me are the weeks that I read but can’t write any comment. But please know that what you are doing with your blog is, I believe, Divine work.

    • Nancy, I almost went to bed without reading the comments tonight but I’m glad I did. These horrible spells just come over me when I feel totally alone and hopeless and cannot imagine ever having any sort of life again. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can bring me joy at such times, or so it seems, so I just want to give up and try to retreat into sleep, insofar as I am able, as that is my only real refuge from the pain. So reading what you wrote here has meant a great deal to me. It brings me great comfort even though it also brings tears to read of what you went through and know you understand. Yes, people run from depression and sorrow. Very few are willing to enter in and be with us. Thank God for your grandmother. Perhaps she, too, remembers a time when someone was there for her, and understands– in a way most people can’t or won’t– what it is people need at a time such as that. I do feel and sense that there are many who are reading this blog who cannot comment for various reasons, but I hope that they draw strength from being here among those who are here, whether or not they comment, to enter into our shared agreement not to give in to our (very reasonable) feelings of despair. Sometimes I hear from them privately, but think probably there are those I will never know about at all, and that’s OK. Thanks for your kind words about what I am trying to do here. It really brightened a very dark evening for me.

  4. Cherie

    Julia, I am so happy that you found friends as strong and caring as Boomdee!(I love that name!) I remember seeing pictures of her flowers and deck on here too. I too, found you just when I needed comfort the most nearly 3 years ago. You were a strong loving presence in the storm Ron and I were in. I treasure those memories even though some are hard to see again. I love you, dear friend, and pray each day gets a little bit easier to walk through.

    Love and Light!
    Cherie

    • Wow, Cherie, isn’t it amazing how quickly those three years have passed? I have been blessed by your warm words and prayers for a long time now, and they continue to give me strength and hope. Keep sending that love and light, my friend, and I will do my best to reflect it back to you. ❤

  5. Carolyn

    What a great blog. You are so right, friends are always there , even if it is a long distance. I do wish we were closer, but you are always in my heart. My dear friend you take care and you and the family are in my prayers. Hugs and love to all.

    • Thank you Carolyn. I really do need your prayers and hugs! So glad you are here with us through all of this. It’s not the first time you’ve been with us through a very tough time in our lives. Some people just have a gift for being there. Love you.<3

  6. Julia,

    How wonderful you’ve made such devoted friends who have been able to support you, not only virtually but by traveling to spend time with you, as well! It sounds as though you have many precious memories of this visit.

    Just last night I was thinking to myself that I have never had such a lack of present (local) friends and felt such isolation in 57 years. And as your message states, this feeling of abandonment eventually happens to almost everyone when support is most needed. The past 18 months when we’ve had a commuting spouse/dad and we’ve been here on our own dealing with uncontrolled epilepsy have been awful.

    My silver linings have been a friend who deals with major medical problems of her own who drove me to my outpatient surgery at 5 a.m. recently and checks up on me by frequent texts and a neighbor acquaintance who left her own family dinner and sat with my son on Saturday when he was having a significant seizure, until I arrived back home.

    I hope you feel loved and surrounded by support on a daily basis, whether through local or virtual friends. You’ve touched so many people with your blog and I’m sure it’s meaningful when they share that with you.

    This message inadvertently became a book, so I’ve cut out most of it and put in an email to you. 🙂

    • Oh Kathy, I’m so sorry to hear that things have been so difficult for you, and that you have been alone through much of it. You have always been such a caring sort for others going through difficulty. You know I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for K and it’s so sad to know he’s still struggling. Until we smack into the wall of how little medicine can do about many malicious diseases, I think we live in blissful ignorance about how fragile life is. That might be one reason why so many people flee others’ troubles. I hope you will feel free to schedule one of our long overdue “phone dates” and meanwhile I’ll try to email you a longer message. Just know that I’m thinking of you and I do care. If K is stable enough to travel, maybe you can come see us some time. We are not short of places to stay, that’s for sure. 😀 Who knows, maybe you could look into whether there are any programs at the NIH or at Bethesda that might help? They have a ton of clinical trials going on all the time, though finding one that fits can be hard. I’ll try to be praying for you often. Love and thanks for being here and sharing.

      • Thank you for your words of support, Julia. I would love to schedule a phone date and I look forward to visiting sometime in the not too distant future!

        • OK, send me some possible times and we’ll make it happen…

  7. MaryAnn Clontz

    What a joy to read how you know you are surrounded by love from those you know & those who are yet unseen! Kelly swooping in at just the right time, creating laughter is a precious gift. I am blessed to be counted among your friends & support group.
    Much love to you & “my” Matt!

    • Thank you Mary Ann! Kelly might possibly be one of the few people who can come close to you in the cheerfulness department. The world needs far more people of your type!! Love you.

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        You are my cheerleader!

        • Rah! Rah! Rah! Give me an F! Give me a U! Give me an N! What’s that spell? MOMBA!!! 😀 Sorry, I couldn’t resist. That’s the closest to cheerleading I will ever get.

          • MaryAnn Clontz

            Perfect!

  8. Sheila

    Julia, the signature color for Boomdee was a sure clue she’d arrived. I can’t help but wonder if she’d made a U- turn at “Do Not Enter” maybe! What a very special gal she is, too. I’ve had friends that described “being divorced” as so lonely and isolated, viewed as a threat almost. Are you kidding me? Why does compassion have to be convenient or comfortable? It’s a different world we live in today from when we met so many years ago. But it’s our world, what God has bestowed on us, so we’ll accept it and be grateful for it! Thinking of you and Matt tonight! 🙏😴 Love, Sheila

    • Sheila

      Julia, I’m checking in tonight and just read that you’re having an evening! I can’t think of the best adjective so we’ll just leave it at that. I’m so sorry but at least I somehow knew to check in on you. I care and I know in my heart it will get better! 💛She

      • Sheila it just did! ❤ Thanks for caring.

    • Sheila, that “DO NOT ENTER” is the security point of no return for travelers coming off a flight. I was watching for the aqua! And I was not disappointed.

      “Why does compassion have to be convenient or comfortable?” Great question! I think the answer is “because everything nowadays is expected to be convenient and comfortable.” What a spoiled lot we are. As much as I love the idea of random acts of kindness, if those are the only kind we ever commit to, that just feeds the idea that we should act on impulse all the time and not sacrifice anything. I love Glennon Doyle Melton’s motto: “We can do hard things.” I should make myself a giant poster of those words and tape it to my bathroom mirror where I see it every morning. Only mine would say “I can keep on doing hard things for as long as it takes.” 😀 Thank you for thinking of us– it really does help! ❤ ❤ ❤

      • Sheila

        😴💤💛🙏

        • 🙂 ❤

  9. Amy

    I was impressed when you decided to write a blog. I knew you would be good at it and I felt that maybe it would be a great outlet for your frustrations and sorrow. I had no idea what a world it would open up for you. From far away India to neighbors right here you have met some amazing and kind people. I know you have done on line and virtual tea parties as well as actually getting together for that week here in VA. What a rally they have done around you since Jeff’s death. Offers to come and stay with you, helping however they can and keeping your mailbox overflowing with notes and gifts. I too have benefited from these friendships. Getting to eat the yummy goodies sent to you and Matt and a lovely package to start my very own fairy garden. Friends make the world a brighter, kinder place. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Anne Shirley (you know Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite book series, after all I am so like her) on friendship. “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

    • Amy, I totally love that quote! Coming soon to a blog post near you! And Anne would go crazy if she knew just how much more easily we can find those kindred spirits now that we have digital connectivity. Of course it can be a curse as well as a blessing, but we have to be very intentional about using this fabulous tool to bless and not curse. I’m so happy you have been willing to join in on the fun here. I too could not be more amazed at what this blog turned into. I know many fellow bloggers who feel the same about their blog experiences. BTW long ago Boomdee heard me say I wanted a fairy garden too, so she gave me some lovely fairy garden things that I STILL have not made into a fairy garden…that should be one of our very next projects!! The little collection she gave me reminded me instantly of that book you gave me that I so loved, A Tale for the Time Being, even complete with Old Jiko, my favorite character. You can see it next time you come over…unless, as with so many other treasured things, I have “hidden” it so well that even I can’t find it! 😀

  10. Harry Sims

    Is it love?

    Yes it’s love, love, love, love……

    • Harry, I think you are right…

  11. I am so very delighted that you have those wonderful ladies with you for a few days. They will fill you like the sunniest day that lasts for months, I’m sure. How wonderful it is that blogging friends turned into real physical friends. My heart is full. Giant squishy hugs.

    • Marlene, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since that magical week. Time flies, whether we’re having fun or not. But be warned!! I am already hatching a crazy scheme for Alys and me, to take a road trip all the way to Edmonton, stopping to pick you up on the way (or at least visit with you). As of now, it’s only a daydream, but you never know what Alys and I might get up to with such inspiration. Giant anticipatory hugs!

      • Now I’m really smiling. Portland has a lovely airport. 🙂

        • That’s great to know– if we decide to FLY instead of drive! 😀 But the west coast is so phenomenally beautiful that driving is also a temptation, if time would allow it.

          • It is a beautiful drive. 🙂 The parts that I have driven.

            • Yes, I’ve only ever driven (or I should say, ridden) from Santa Barbara up Big Sur to Carmel, and then from San Francisco to Vancouver (and by ferry to Victoria), but mostly inland. We LOVED everything we saw of Oregon, though. We did once ride the train all the way up to Seattle, but we were asleep for most of the part north of Marin County, CA, having left from Santa Barbara. I’m sure it’s all changed a great deal since the early 90’s and the year 2000, which were the years we made those trips.

              • Nothing stays the same for long. You have been farther along the coastline than I did. But I liked what I saw.

                • Well, maybe we can all see more of it together sometime! 🙂

        • I know we’ll make this happen because that is who we are.

  12. Julia, good evening. What a blessing to sit quietly and read your blog.
    I haven’t posted lately…My husband’s not well and I’m busy caring for him.
    Most of time, too tired to post.
    Thank you for your beautiful blog.
    Praying healing mercies for you…

    • Merry, it’s good to hear from you. I had wondered how you were doing and whether something had come up. I should have emailed you earlier to check on you. Please don’t feel obligated to post here; I know all too well how care-giving can exhaust one to the point of being unable to find time or energy for such things. I am happy to have you here whenever you are able, whether just to read or comment or whatever. You have been a faithful friend here at this blog for a long time now, and I appreciate it deeply. My prayers go out to you and your husband. I hope that spring will arrive early, bringing healing and some much-needed sunshine! ❤

  13. Megan

    This spoke directly to me. I’ve dealt with depression in cycles for most of my post-pubescent life — the worst being in 2011 and then postpartum depression after both boys (the depression following Owen has been pro-longed, not surprisingly, because of the impact of Jeff’s passing). One of the things I become convinced of during these depressive periods is that no one cares about me and no one wants to help and my burdens are solely my own (I even become convinced that Drew cares nothing for me.) Depression is absolutely awful and it feeds on itself — one depressed thought can quickly become many depressed thoughts — and I can build almost an ‘alternative truth’ for myself that…isn’t true. But, being blessed enough to have “non-depressed” time periods in between, I’ve been able to see the truth that was there all along: that I AM surrounded by people who love me and care about me (especially Drew!!) It is during these depressed times I’m not willing to taken people’s tokens of kindness as showing of support. At the same time, when I’m depressed, I’m least capable of showing others support, which makes me the bad friend/ family member. (And knowing I’m failing others puts me into a deeper depression.)

    I hate that you feel abandoned during this grieving, and am so thankful for this blogging community that supports you.

    (I’ve never publicly admitted to depression before, but another thing about depression is that ‘it’ tells you that you are alone. So why not fess up if it will help someone else not feel alone?)

    • Thanks for your honesty in this comment, Megan. One of the most insidious and often fatal things about depression is that it causes one to feel as if they have finally seen the truth about things and are thinking logically for the first time. As you say, it creates its own cycle and can become a downward spiral, unless it is arrested. Having said that, a counselor many years ago wisely taught me to differentiate between what she called “situational” depression (that which is clearly caused by external circumstances, such as death, disability, protracted care-giving, repeated medical crises, postpartum hormonal disturbances, etc.) and depression with no obvious outward causes, which is most often a true psychological pathology that needs ongoing medical treatment, usually for a lifetime. There really is a difference between the two, although they manifest in similar ways. Basically what she pointed out to me is that it was totally normal to be depressed in the circumstances I was facing, and what counted most is how I accepted that,and used those circumstances as building blocks and maybe even warning flags to help me adjust. Whether depression is situational or not, I do think that a multi-faceted approach is crucial for effective treatment, and sometimes for survival.

      Thomas Moore, in Dark Nights of the Soul (the title of which refers to mystic John of the Cross) warns against fleeing depression rather than using it as a transforming process. I probably need to go back and read that work again, because it helped me immensely the first time I read it. I think depression is fairly rampant in our culture for a variety of reasons, one of which is we have the “luxury” of having time to be reflective at all, as opposed to people in other eras or locales who had (or have) to focus solely on evasion of danger, disease and starvation. So I try to remind myself of that. But sometimes things really are difficult. Facts must be faced, and dealing with reality in creative ways does not negate that depression often has very real, inescapable causes. I tried to capture in this post one of the things I most admired about Jeff. I never knew anyone who was better at facing down certain truths without flinching. Like all of us, he was not perfect at it, but he was certainly a worthy example.

      Re: post-partum depression, that’s one thing I am thankful that I never had to deal with, even in the wake of Matt’s birth and all the emotional devastation of the heart condition that meant he was fighting for his life from day one. You’ve seen enough of my totally smitten enchantment with babies to imagine how happy I was to FINALLY have a couple of adorable babies for Jeff and me to love. We had waited through four years of dental school until I would be able to stay home with them, and Jeff’s Air Force career made that possible– for which I will always be SO thankful. I worked off and on as they were growing up, but just knowing it was a choice made a huge difference.

    • Megan, your words here will no doubt help others speak their truth. I too suffered from post-partum depression after my first son. It was terrible and lasted more than a year. I sought counseling, and when I had stopped nursing, I was able to take anti-depressants, something I had always resisted. They changed my life. Gone were the obsessive thoughts and worries, the panic attacks, so real that I thought I had a heart problem. I had dark thoughts all the time and the depression enveloped me. Staying home with my son is what I wanted, but it was also isolating for someone like me that had worked full time well into my mid-thirties. I hope you’ll talk with your doctor and explore the options to better mental health and happiness. You owe it to yourself to feel better. Please reach out via Messenger if you want to ask me any questions. Arms around you. Alys

  14. Julia what fun to see Kelly’s smiling face in this post. I’m sorry that so many friends have abandoned you. I can’t say that I’m surprised as I’ve heard it often before. People are afraid of death, sadness, prolonged illness. They don’t know what to do, and they’re I think afraid of there own emotions, so they hide from it. We all need ongoing love and unconditional support. A friend of mine lost her brother in a terrible auto accident. She said friends at church were either avoiding her, or chatting her up with no mention of this tragedy. It was really painful for her. We all want to be heard and understood and loved, through good times and bad.

    • Thank you, Alys. In most cases I can’t honestly say I feel abandoned, so much as forgotten; everyone stays so busy now with the rush of distractions and more enjoyable things to do. Plus, I’m convinced a lot of people are struggling with problems of their own, large or small (but our problems always seem large to us until something catastrophic comes along to put them in perspective). In my case it just seems to me as if it would be so obvious to anyone who thought at all about it, how hard it would be for me on a purely logistical level, leaving aside the emotional aspect of it. BUT in many ways it’s just a continuation of the isolation that has been with us since Matt’s developmental disabilities became obvious. The other thing is that there has been a lot of emphasis (and rightly so) for people not to claim understanding or try to “fix” a problem of which they have no knowledge or experience. Since most of us are geared to wanting to “fix” things, that can leave us at a loss as to what to say to people. The question nobody much seems to want to ask is, “What do you most need right now?” because if they can’t find a good excuse as a graceful way out of helping you with what you need, they feel awkward refusing, so they don’t put themselves in the position of having to say no. And yes, I think we all experience more than a little fear of our own emotional issues that normally stay well below the surface. Thanks for being here and for caring.

  15. Good Morning Julia, sending big love you way. I know I read this and replied but maybe by PM. I remember arriving at the airport like it was yesterday! You, with camera in hand calling out, “Boomdee?” Me, arriving 3 hours late, GAH. I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that I didn’t bother to look at a local clock at the airport. I’m either too confident in my techie equipment or just heads in the clouds and thinking nothing of it. I’m guessing a combination of both.
    It’s been a little hairy around here lately. Jim developed a issue, we think from his travels to Mexico in late January. He’s been home sick from work for nearly two weeks, going back just today. Poor guy had a inflamed colin and has been for ct’s, blood tests, a trip ER and sleepless nights. So happy that he’s feeling himself for the most part. I didn’t go with on the trip for the same reasons. It’s beautiful there and everyone’s so very lovely but our Canadian bods can’t handle the change.
    Anyways, I’d much rather see you and finally meet Matt too. Thanks again for all your beautiful words for me here. I feel royally spoilt and loved ! How I got so lucky, I must have some pretty good connections higher up, ha! Love sent your way xoxox K

    • Oh no, poor Jim! I hope he has continued to get better. The most deathly ill I ever was (until my acute appendicitis in 2010) happened after a wonderful trip to Mexico City in 1971. High fever, excruciating headache unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, severe GI upset that left me dehydrated. Just when they were on the verge of doing a spinal tap, suspecting viral meningitis, the illness passed…but while I had it, I remember literally lying there wishing I would die just to relieve the distress. I developed a healthy (no pun intended) caution about traveling most anywhere outside the USA or anyplace where my immune system might be unprepared to handle local challenges. You are right, our bodies are amazingly resilient but sometimes we hit them with too much at once. I’ll try to sanitize the house before you visit, hee-hee…and yes, I think most if not all friendships are the result of what comedian Torry Martin has called “divine appointments and holy introductions.”

  16. hello julia, my name is theresa sletto and i run a charity auction group, my site (charitythatsfun@wordpress.com) is all about charity fundraising and really anything that can make people smile. I have read a number of youyr posts and find that each one has that special zing of beautiful. I couldnt help but to smile and a few times cry at the way you are able to make anything worth while to read, you are truly talented and i would love to have permission to mention you on my site. Thankyou for taking the time to read this authough im sure its horrible reading in comparison to what i must assume is natural to you. i appreciate your time and moreso the person i believe you to be. thank you again.

    • Hi Theresa, and welcome to our little corner of cyberspace! I am honored that you would like to mention me on your site, and you are certainly welcome to do so. I saw on your blog that you are in Edmonton? That’s where Kelly (aka Boomdee aka Petals) is from! She found me here on this blog over four years ago and has become a dear friend. An intrepid traveler, she is going to travel all the way from Alberta to Virginia AGAIN to see me in a few weeks, after having done so a couple of years ago and lived to tell about it (along with three other intrepid travelers — for more details see this post. I appreciate your kind words about the blog, and I’m so happy you like it!

      • see, more heart hitting stuff! your awesome! you just make me smile.

        • Aw, thank you. 🙂

      • i really enjoyed that post and i reblogged it so others dont miss out however with permission i would gladly add to fb and twit and ect as well

        • All that is fine by me! I’m just happy you like it.

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