One of the best Christmas presents I received this past holiday season was a phone conversation with my "best childhood friend." After more than 40 years, we reconnected several years ago (thanks to modern technology), and were amazed to find that we fell back into step after all of those years.
As the daughter of a naval officer, Shari and her family moved next door to us when we were both about ten years old. Circumstance may have brought us together back in the 60's, but we quickly became "best friends." We recently reconnected through a long weekend and quickly realized there was a bond in our friendship that didn't vanish once we became adults. We refer to each other as our "best childhood friend."
Shari and I live hundreds of miles apart now, so we stay in touch through social media and occasional phone calls. Our last conversation was during the Christmas holidays when we began talking about our aging parents.
She shares the same concerns for her elderly father as I do for my parents. Through social media and my blogs, she is well aware of the challenges I face. Shari respects my desire to keep my parents at home for as long as I can. Knowing my personality and reading between the lines, she changed her tone of voice; I knew she had something important to say:
"If you have to resort to caring for your parents outside of your home, don't feel like you've failed. Don't be hard on yourself. You've done everything you can to keep them with you."
Shari's timing couldn't have been more on target. How did she know the stress I had been feeling? How did she sense the uncertainty with which I was now wrestling on almost a daily basis? How could she know that I was pushing myself to be the perfect daughter who wouldn't disappoint her parents?
"We both are controllers," Shari said, lightening her tone of voice. It was as if she knew what I was thinking. "We want to be in control!" Maybe that's one of the reasons we were such good friends. Sharing personalities helped her understand my motives.
But Shari turned serious once again. "Suffering is a part of life," she told me. No one's life can always be rosy, no matter what our society, popular songs or the movies sway us to believe. But suffering can be a GOOD thing. Suffering is, in fact, necessary—if we really want to know what it is like to live.
Even though I should have known better, it took my dear friend Shari to bring me to my senses. The stress I had been feeling—like a cloudy veil—faded away as I digested her words. I will post her wisdom where I can see it daily. I am grateful to have such as friend as Shari, and hope that every caregiver finds someone who can be their own "Shari."
Like so many really good gifts, this present wasn't bought at a store or wrapped in pretty paper. This was a gift from the good heart of a priceless friend who helped me through one of life's most challenging—and (possibly) most rewarding—times.