For what seems like forever, I've tended to be the first one in my group of friends to hit all the major milestones in life.
Ironic, considering that I am generally the youngest of them.
I was the first to get married, the first to have kids. The first to deal with a serious illness, the first to buy a house, the first to move halfway across the country, the first to lose a parent.
The first to lose both parents.
I've lamented this fact time and time again, I'm tired of being first.
Not that I'd wish any of these life changes on the people I love most, no. It isn't that at all.
It's just that there are times I tire of being the first one down the path. There are times that I wish I had a close friend that I could call and that I wouldn't even need to say anything, that they'd just understand where I was and what I needed to hear.
By the time my father was sick and nearing death, I'd made new friends, some of which had been to that place I was headed. Those people, they truly have no idea how much help they were in that time. The leaning I did must have been oppressive at times. I probably asked more than I should have. I was so relieved to finally have a familiar place to go for help, for advice, for sage words, for gentle reminders about the reality I was facing.
Things with my mother were different, harder, infinitely more complicated. I can honestly say that I've never known someone who has been through all that we went through with her, though a dear friend is facing some of the same issues now with her mother.
And now, I can be the voice of reason for her while she struggles in this place. I can reassure her that she is doing all that she can, that she can't fix someone else, that she can't help someone who refuses it, that she is unable to make the choices she wishes she could on someone else's behalf even if she is at the mercy of the consequences of those choices. I can tell her that I love her and that I am sorry and that I understand. I can tell her that I don't judge her in the least, that those who opt to do so are judging something they don't have a full picture of.
I can tell her all that because I have been there.
I'm at a point in life, having lost both of my parents, having raised my oldest child to the teenage years without messing him up too terribly, having endured some serious issues in my marriage, having confronted plenty of my personal demons publicly enough that other people know about them, having gone through the cancer diagnosis process more than once, having witnessed a downward spiral, that some of my friends look to me for wisdom, for advice, for silent nods of understanding these days.
And I can give them.
It is hard emotionally for me to watch them go through these transitions, these friends of mine. It is hard to watch for several reasons. One, because when they hurt, I hurt. Two, because watching them on their journeys tends to remind me of the paths I've walked and the places I've been.
I can get dragged to some unpleasant places back there in the past.
Sometimes it's too much and I have to take a step back and breathe and remind myself that I'm not the one going through all of this again and that it isn't my life being upended and shaken this time. Sometimes I want to be there for someone when I just can't. When it's too much emotionally. When the peace that surrounds me now becomes threatened merely by the suggestion of revisiting things that have occurred.
There are reasons, wholly legitimate ones, that I suffer from PTSD. I assure you. I'm in a better place now, but it isn't one built on entirely solid ground. There are cracks in the earth beneath me. Some big enough that they pose no threat at all, but others are gaping crevasses that threaten to swallow me whole and keep me.
In the past few days, several friends, in places similar to those I've been, have shared where they're at. I sympathize. I hurt. I regurgitate the words of wisdom others shared with me when I was there. I offer shoulders and consolation.
And then, when I get enough distance from it all, I appreciate the fact that such distance now exists.
I've been through it already.
I don't have to do it anymore.
I never have to lose my parents again.
As awful as it was and still can be to live in this world without them, I never have to go through all I went through again. I don't.
It's a sobering, but freeing realization.
I never have to endure that particular set of conflicted emotions and gaping loss ever again. I don't.
I'm done with that part of it all.
Sometimes being ahead of the curve has advantages...you just have to be on this side of it, and far enough out to see it all come into clear focus.
The clarity of grief, a gift that just keeps on giving.
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