True Friends (08/22/07)

Dear Zelda,

My best friend is planning on moving 2,000 miles away to pursue a job she applied for on a whim. We're both in our mid-twenties, and it's just been the two of us since we were 15, so this is really difficult for me. The selfish part of me wants her to stay, but I know as a friend I should support her in whatever she does. Since you're a woman's best friend, maybe you can help me sort out my feelings and give her some ladylike encouragement while still being honest about my disappointment. Can you enlighten me?

Bosom Buddy-less

Dear Bosom Buddy-less,

Well I can’t speak for the bosoms, but believe me, a friend like you won’t ever be “buddy-less!” It says a lot that you care so deeply and want to encourage your best friend about her move and not whine about it, while still expressing your true feelings. Think of your friend’s move as an opportunity for both of you to grow. Honesty will definitely be your best policy, but as you have wisely recognized, selfishness often masquerades as honesty, and as a good friend it’s your job to try and distinguish between the two. You need to let her know you feel sad that she will be relocating, but it is also important for you to be upbeat, positive, and supportive.

The first step in being a supportive friend is to recognize and face your own feelings about her decision. It sounds from your letter like you think her choice may have been a little impulsive, as you describe her applying for this job “on a whim.” But she got the job, and now she’s planning to move; for you, this could feel hurtful, or even devaluing of your relationship, because she’s chosen this “whim” over your friendship. But let me assure you, even if she applied for the job without thinking she’d get it, no one moves two thousand miles across the country and away from their closest friends for a job unless it is really, really important to them. For your friend I’m sure this was an incredibly difficult decision, and this new job may actually be much more significant for her than she lets on. In order to be a good friend to her, and to take care of your own happiness in the relationship, you need to recognize these feelings in yourself and address them before you express them.

Once you’ve thought through your own feelings, you should feel free to share them with your friend so long as it’s helpful for you both, and so long as you do it in a constructive manner. This means no “I can’t believe you’re taking this job you don’t know anything about and ruining our friendship in the process!” Rather, let her know you’re sad about her leaving, or feeling “left behind,” or even worried for the future of your friendship, but also make sure she understands how excited you are for her, how you plan to come visit as soon and as often as possible, and talk about all the wonderful things you’ll do together.

The two of you can then sit down and start planning. Learn as much as you can about her new home town. Google the restaurant guides, and hunt through websites that list local upcoming events in the city. Note: if there’s an annual Mosquito Festival, she might want to rethink her move. There are often websites that describe the best neighborhoods for twenty-something adults to live. A fun thing to do together is to investigate places the two of you might enjoy when you come for a visit, whether it’s small boutiques, movies, Humane Society events (where I always go first), art galleries, or antique shows. This information will not only be helpful for your friend when she moves, but will make a goal of continued friendship a more tangible prospect.

As a thoughtful remembrance you might want to sneak a great frame with a favorite photo of the two of you into her suitcase or send it to her when she arrives in the new city. There is a terrific website (www.personalization_mall.com) where you can even have your photos printed on coffee mugs, aprons, and lots of other products. We’re kind of addicted to it!

The fact that your best friend is moving to a city 2,000 miles from you will be the beginning of something new, not just for her, but for the two of you. Savor the circumstances and make the most of them. Turn what at first may seem like a disadvantage into an advantage. Good girlfriends are forever!

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

My friend has lost her father in a tragic accident during President’s Day weekend and now is realizing what she has lost and will never get back. How will I help her cope with her loss? Every time I try to help she tells me I don't know what she is going through. I don't, but she needs my help even if she won't admit it.

A Caring Friend

Dear Caring Friend,

One’s world is never quite the same after the loss of a parent. The transition through this process is incredibly hard, and your friend is lucky to have you there to lean on, even if she can’t say it. Indeed, the fact that she denies needing your help may be part of her grieving process. Grief therapists tell us that generally it takes 18-24 months just to stabilize after the death of a close family member, and that it can take much longer when the death is sudden and unexpected. The point is, this is a long road with lots of twists and turns, ups and downs, but you are doing something wonderful for your friend just by being there for her.

You already realize that your role in her grieving process is that of a friend, but it’s a good thing to remember: you don’t have to be her grief counselor. Eventually she will probably need you to listen to her talk about the loss of her father. But right now it’s not really about what you say, but the fact that you’re there, and that you care enough to express your caring. There is a wonderful book you might share with her, when appropriate, called On Grieving the Death of a Father by Harold Ivan Smith. The author combines personal stories from well-known people like Norman Vincent Peale, Dwight Eisenhower and Lech Walesa with his own insight to help others through their grieving process.

Give your friend some space and time. You don’t have to solve anything for her this instant or make her pain go away. In fact you can’t: there are no magical answers. And if she tells you that you can’t understand what she’s going through, tell her she’s right, but that you will still be there whenever she needs to talk, and in the meantime, you’re also there for simple things like bringing her a home-cooked meal, going for a walk, or just renting a movie together. Make sure to keep her engaged with the world in small ways, and prevent her from withdrawing entirely, but don’t force her to do things she’s not ready for. Just be there for her so she knows she doesn’t have to stand alone.

Your caring and friendship will help her through this very tough time. May we all be so lucky as to have friends like you during our own times of hardship. Licks and lots of love for both of you.
 
Zelda

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