Grief is a sacred journey

Healing the Wounds Made Us Friends for Life

DSC00678Last week, I came home from town to find Pat sitting on my back porch. I expected her, but not so early. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t home when she arrived. We don’t need formalities.

We hugged each other close before holding each other at arm’s length. I looked into her eyes and grinned. Then we talked, continuing the conversation where we left it the last we were together at her CA home in 2015.

I first met Pat in the American Brahman Bookstore in 1970. Vic and I had just returned to Ithaca to roost, have a family, and finish Vic’s Ph.D. Pat was a blond twenty-year-old with a radiant smile and trusting eyes. I was twenty-five and seven months pregnant.

With Pat, her husband, their baby Sita, and our son David, 1972

With Pat, her husband, their baby Sita, and my son David, 1972

With my first baby in my womb, I felt whole and holy. I saw a similar feminine energy in Pat. Her first daughter was born the following year.

As part of a community, we went to philosophy classes and meditated together. We raised kids, canned peaches, grew vegetables, picked cherries, and baked birthday cakes. In 1979, we met the Dalai Lama on his first visit to the United States.

Dalai Lama, Pat (standing) w/ her son Rafael

Dalai Lama, Pat (standing) w/ her son Rafael, 1979

In the 1980’s, Pat’s world unraveled. She and her husband moved from their land a few miles from me and eventually left for California.

Here’s where the wounds come in. I didn’t give Pat the support she needed. She felt abandoned by me. Rightly so. I felt abandoned, too.

She needed me to put my arms around her and help her hold her struggles, but something in me froze. I stepped back from a brewing conflict and confusing loyalties. My retreat would have ended most friendships.

After Pat moved to California, I tried to let my love for her go. The longing wouldn’t budge.

Pat with Rafael and Nick, 1997

Pat with Rafael and Nick, 1997

I saw Pat when we attended teachings with the Dalai Lama or she visited Ithaca, but that wasn’t enough. We had inner work to do. Hard work that meant facing my shadow and my failure.

Nearly twenty years ago, Vic and I visited Pat in California.

Should I trust her? she must have wondered.

Will she forgive me? I wondered.

Pat is honest and willing to talk things through. We slowly unearthed our wounds, disappointments, shame, every detail of what went wrong.

I learned big lessons from failing a friend and working it through. I learned to hold my own pain and help others hold theirs. I won’t step back again.

During Pat’s stay last week, we revisited old wounds. We unpacked and aired the hardest moments to make sure there was nothing more to do. We quickly settled into gratitude. We’d made it through to a relationship strengthened by scar tissue.

An old deep friendship is a gift to be cherished and protected. I’m fortunate I have a few of these. I consider myself a good friend, but with Pat, I took a short-term path of avoidance. It was hard to forgive myself, but soul friends find a way to drop defenses and fear of rejection. We own the rough spots, admit our failings, and rebuild. We turn toward each other when life gets messy and learn to trust again.

With Pat, 2012

With Pat, 2012

In a 45-year friendship, just as in my 40 years of marriage, there are disappointments, places where we fall short. Pat and I remembered those dark moments. Then, in the way we can when we do deep inner work together, we relaxed into the arms of trusted love.

“Open hearts can do wonders,” Pat said.


Do you have deep old friendships? Have you ever failed a friend who counted on you? Did the experience teach you lessons about consciousness and compassion? My experience reminds me of a book I keep on my bedside table: Fail Fail Again Fail Better by Pema Chodron who helps me forgive myself and learn from my failures rather than beating myself up or walking away. For a blog about friendship and creating ritual together, see Ritual at the Crossroads.

  1. Beautiful, Elaine. It’s easier to heal relationships with a person who has such an open heart.

  2. This honesty is so humbling and the strength of your friendship shines through.Thanks again for this stark and simple self inventory-taking. It increases my own resolve to visit old friendships and revive some of them if possible.

    • Thanks, Alicia. If we loved someone once, it might be possible to rekindle that love–but both parties have to be willing. That can be the sticky part. Even on our own, we can try to understand what happened so we can do better next time. Sometimes, for me, the hardest part is letting go of guilt.

  3. You have written the script for a deep old friendship I once had and still do. As Charlene * moved about the country with her career, her personal life unraveled and so did our friendship. I remember thinking, “I’ll try one more time [to connect with her] and if I am ignored again, that will be IT. That one, last time did the trick and we “picked up where we left off.” We don’t need formalities either.

    In fact, she called me today to see how I’m doing, something that would not have happened 12 – 15 years ago. You and Pat look very sisterly in the photo, the epitome of trusted love.

    * Not her real name.

    • I’m so glad for you and your friend, Marian, just as I’m happy for Pat and me. Like anything else worthwhile, friendship takes lots of patience and tending. Sounds like you had plenty of patience when you needed it.

  4. Great insight here Elaine. When we share a deep soul friendship with someone, distance or time can’t seem to erase the bonds that are shared. If things aren’t right our inner knowing gives us a nudge to remind us we must take another look at what the wedge was that separated the friendship because we can’t recreate those types of friendships and true friendships will always have a fix for resolution if we analyze and search our souls to rectify the issues. That’s what real friends do. If it doesn’t nag at you then there was no cement in the first place. Glad you two are mended. <3

    • Debby, I agree: “if it doesn’t nag at you then there was no cement in the first place.” But if there is a longing or a sense of guilt or a sense of something amiss, it pays to at least try to sort things out. This was true in my marriage, true with my sons and other relatives, and true in my closest friendships. It doesn’t work unless both people are willing to dig around in the mess and clean everything up.

  5. Once again you inspire me with your courage and determination to face some of the toughest things about life and yourself full on. Well said.

    • Thank you, Jeanie. Pat and I had many classes in Jungian psychology in the 1970s with a community of students who used Jungian ideas and language. We also had a few hard knocks, but a shared psychological language and approach gave us a strong place to stand and see this through.

  6. that’s a long time to be friends with somebody. My closest friends I’ve known now since kindergarten, 35 years ago. They live in different parts of the country now, and there have been ups and downs, but those are the people that will always come back into your life

    • It is, Jeremy. Those old friendships are easily lost forever, especially when we live at a distance as I do with Pat. Both people have to be willing to persist through disappointments and long separations. I’m glad you and a few of your old friends are still close. What a gift.

  7. I love you, Elaine. Thank you for our courage and steadfast commitment to love. We have a heap of wonderfulness between us.

  8. Thank you Elaine… you hit the nail on the head about avoidance. Thankfully life does offer opportunities to build the bridges again. There are some friends who live far away from me and while it takes time and effort to keep in contact it is so worth it. I had the dearest friend once upon a time. We’ve had a few glitches in our friendship; one day some years later she visited with a white scarf as a gift. I thought all was back on track even though she lives far away – until 8 years ago when it all unravelled again. Now I reckon there is no chance of reparation – and this I have to let go. I think of her often – I’m sure she knows I do. She’s a shaman.

    • Susan, maybe it’s time to mail your friend a white flag and see what happens next. Unraveling seems to be part of intense relationship. In some cases, it lasts a long time, but if you’re thinking about her, she’s probably thinking about you. On the other hand (there is always that opposite), maybe that relationship is done for this life and it’s time to move on. I’ve had a few of those, too. With Pat, I never wanted to let it go. I’m Skyping with another long distance friend next week. We make “lunch” dates.

  9. p.s. I meant to add that the photo is GORGEOUS! I can see the love shining through!

  10. What a wise and wonderful teacher you are, very dear Elaine. Thank you for this ♥

  11. you are a wonderful friend and I am so glad we reconnected. It is great that you and Pat reconnected and talked through your feelings. I had a dear friend that moved accross the country because of her husbands job, I spent a long time blaming him for the move and then realized how crazy that was but it was better easier than feeling hurt.

    • Thank you, Pam. I’m glad we connected again, too. All this moving around the country is hard on relationships. I imagine moving was painful for your dear friend, just as it was hard for Pat. I hope you contact your friend who moved away if you’ve lost touch.

  12. Hallo Elaine, what a wonderful blog again, on such a heartfelt subject. Each time you open yourself up for a friendship or a love affair (in my eyes friendships are love affairs too, but not expressed on a physical level) you know you will get hurt. And each time it does happen, you feel surprised and angry. Angry at yourself, for letting someone in, angry at the friend who has done so and so to hurt you.
    Looking back at my life, i can easily see times that I have been an asshole towards people who deserved better. I did try to connect with several friends from my university years, but they did not reply. That was hard. Really hard on my heart. I am so glad that you and Pat were both willing and able to make things right. We all want a happy ending, even if we do not experience it ourselves 😉

    • Thank you, Susanne. I’m sorry about the double hurt of reaching out to old friends and being met with Silence. I agree that friendships are love affairs. I also know that any close relationship has to accommodate and deal with shadow material. I’ve never let the risks of future pain stop me from becoming close to people. (Maybe that’s why Vic called me “Love Bug.”) I can think of relationships where we couldn’t work things out. Often it was because the other person wasn’t used to or was unwilling to do psychological excavation–or process work. As a long-time student of the Dalai Lama, Pat knows the rewards of an open heart–and she and I share a Jungian perspective since we studied Jung in the same classes with the same teacher in the 1970s. Trusting there is gold in the dark material helps so much.

  13. Of course I know and love both of you.

    One comment, that well of hurt has layers; there’s the personal stuff, relationships, and some trapdoor in that opens to all human suffering, where there is no time, back, back into the essence of human. Get a taste of that and there’s the dawning of oneness, or the awakening to it. So there is a path of suffering, I suppose, and it seems serious. It reminds me a little of Sisyphus. We walk there respectfully.

    Love knowing you.


    • I agree, Fred. The well of hurt has many layers and connects us to our deepest human vulnerability and frailty. Most of us know the path of suffering–following alongside the path of joy and thanksgiving. The two traveling together. Dualist that I am, I hold on to both sides. Thank you for our old many-layered friendship.

  14. Elaine, I’m reading this again because I didn’t have time to comment the first time I read it.

    I’m giving a (TED-like)talk next Saturday about what I learned in college. At the top of the list is how to be a friend. I’ve had to repair some relationships too, but fortunately all my fights with my closest friends have been mended soon after the hurtful words or actions were taken.

    I’m so glad you and Pat have done the hard work and now can enjoy the benefits of the best gift life has to offer — warm and lasting relationships.

    • First thing: If your talk is videoed and available on line, please make sure I know about it through email or FB and Twitter tagging. Thank you, Shirley.

      Now to friendship: Pat and I never lost touch with each other or had a fight or angry words to forgive, so we had that on our side. It was more a pulling away. We’ve spent lots of time together in the last twenty years, even though we live on opposite coasts. She traveled from CA to North Carolina for three days to attend and help with my son’s wedding. In CA after I’d stayed with her for days, she drove me to San Francisco and participated in the grief ritual I led in a disco bar. Pat, my CA son, and I created a ritual for something she was struggling with at the beach the next day–and whales arrived. There is no unfinished business, I’m glad to report, and I learned a lot about myself and the responsibilities of friendship.

  15. I agree with everyone else. This was a beautiful essay about your friend. Do your kids still keep in touch with each other as well?

    • Thank you, Lydia. My sons stay in touch and both are in touch with Pat. David and Anthony live on opposite sides of the country, but the NC guy and his wife spent time with his brother in CA this year. I wonder what they say about The Mom. 😉

      • How cool! I’m sure they would have lovely things to say if you asked them. 🙂

        • Those wounds? They have plenty to say. I’m grateful for this long and beautiful friendship. It’s a tender one, maybe because we survived disappointing each other.

  16. You are so lucky to have good friends. And you have learned to be a good friend. I haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m grateful for the friends I have who have never given up on me. This friendship thing – it is a lifetime work-in-progress for some of us. But worth it.

    • Robin, it might be luck, but I’ve always sought out friendship and been willing to work through troubles that arise–even if it takes a long time and even if my feelings get hurt. Sometimes I understand what happened. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I just have to wait with patience and love for a new opening of the heart. Sometimes the only thing to do is walk away, and I’ve done that, too. I always want clarity, but it isn’t always available. Life would be a lonely affair without close friends who share and know parts of my history. That’s one of the hardest things about losing someone close. We shared so many stories.

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