Yesterday, one of my daughter’s dearest friends died suddenly and tragically. She was 25. My heart goes out to my daughter, who feels devastated, and to the young woman’s family and especially her young daughter, for their profound loss.
This is someone who was my daughter’s best friend during the most anguishing chapter of our relationship. As soon as this person came into my daughter’s life, my relationship with my daughter declined to the point that she ended up moving out of my house and living with her dad when she was in ninth grade. I didn’t have much contact with my daughter for a few years, and it hurt so much. There’s no pain like the pain of feeling disconnected from your own child and not being able to actively parent them when you know they are having trouble. To make matters worse, the adults closest to my daughter encouraged her to believe that I abandoned her.
That is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
During those years, I lived behind a wall of shame. Being a mother was my identity, and I just couldn’t face anyone. I didn’t know how to answer any well-intended questions about my daughter that inevitably came up in casual conversation. How could anyone understand everything that happened that resulted in her not living with me or having much to do with me? It was so complicated – too complicated to explain to anyone. Every step of the way, I did what I felt was best. I never stopped loving her. But she left anyway and was out of my reach for a few very painful years, which is something I believed no one would understand.
Afraid of what others would think of me, I kept to myself. I continued to raise my son, went to work but didn’t disclose much to my colleagues, and talked mostly with my husband, my mother, my spiritual director, and my therapist. At the time, I was a kindergarten teacher and always had about twenty children in my care every day to whom I gave my heart even though I had virtually no contact with my own daughter who was living in the neighboring school district.
But that’s not where the story ends. After my daughter graduated from high school, things shifted. Eventually, we became (and still are) best friends. A couple mothers of older daughters who had experienced similar situations assured me it would get better. They gave me hope. And now I do the same for others. Sometimes we just have to be patient and give loved ones time.
When my children were little, every night at bedtime we did a white light visualization so they could fall asleep surrounded by a bubble of protective energy. When my daughter was estranged from me, I continued to surround her in white light, which was about all I could do.
I see in hindsight that the wall of shame didn’t serve me. It cut me off from so much friendship and connection that could have raised my spirits and self-worth during that time. I didn’t need to suffer as much as I did behind that wall. But I didn’t want to burden anyone with my drama. And I didn’t want to be judged and possibly rejected. I felt so vulnerable and deficient.
And I didn’t like my daughter’s best friend during those years. I felt she was a destructive force in my daughter’s life. She was one of the people I blamed for the estrangement. Eventually, they drifted apart and would come and go into and out of each others’ lives. This person was like a bad penny that kept turning up, and I wished she’d go away. It seemed like every time she showed up, there was some kind of drama.
So now this young woman is dead, and in my heart I’m holding both relief that she will not be in my daughter’s life anymore and compassion for how hard this life was for her and for the loss everyone who loved her is experiencing. The loss is profound for my daughter who, after not speaking with her for quite some time, was on the phone with her only a few hours before she died. Their last words to each other were: I love you. Regardless of all the negative feelings associated with my memories of her, my daughter’s loss is real, and that’s what’s most important now.
It’s so hard to witness loved ones in relationship with people we see as toxic to them. I know there was so much more to this woman than what I saw in her. My daughter could see her finer attributes, and so could her dad (my ex-husband), who sounded like he was crying when he called me to break the news. She showed up at the hospital within hours after my granddaughter was born and was the first person outside of the family to hold her. She was a mother, and clearly motherhood was important to her.
Sometimes motherhood or fatherhood isn’t enough to keep someone healthy. It’s not because they don’t love their children (partners, etc.) enough but because they are struggling with issues we couldn’t possibly understand unless we walked in their shoes. If only we could understand their hidden pain, our hearts would be full of compassion for their suffering and how awful it must feel to fall short again and again despite the best of intentions. Sometimes even when we can see someone’s finer attributes (that may be invisible to others) and find them lovable, we need to maintain healthy, self-protective boundaries. Because some people are destructive forces for us, even though they are so much more than that, as well. Even though they are beings worthy of love and compassion.
Have you ever witnessed a loved one in relationship with someone you felt wasn’t good for them? My spiritual director expressed recently how hard it was for her to see me suffer that kind of disharmony. She wished she could pull me out, just like I wanted to pull my daughter out of certain relationships. But we can’t do that. We don’t have a magic wand that powerful. And even if we did, perhaps we all have soul agreements with others who are predestined to come into our lives to help us learn certain lessons, even difficult ones. It can be so hard to love the ones your loved ones love, especially if they seem blind to or spellbound by their harmful qualities. Sometimes all you can do is to be there for someone even when they aren’t showing up for themselves, and send them love and light.
I’ve learned it’s usually in our best interest to defer to those who love us, especially when they all concur that a certain person is a destructive influence in our life. But we might choose instead to take the wild ride. We’ll learn our soul lessons one way or another. It can be so challenging to stand back and watch someone choose the wild ride and to have compassion for those who probably need it most.
Perhaps that is something we are here to learn,
even especially when we believe we know what’s best for someone else.
© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, and mindfulness meditation teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.