Several months ago I lost a friend. And when I say “lost”, what I really mean is – she died. After an all-too short struggle with cancer, she died. I hadn’t seen her in well over a year (we had spoken on the phone and emailed a few times) and then all of a sudden she was dead. Just like that.
My initial reaction, being the best non-Jewish Jewish woman you’ve ever met (ask my Jewish friend Max), was guilt. Guilt that I hadn’t visited (we tried to set up something – once – and she was too ill), guilt that I hadn’t called more often, guilt that I wasn’t a better friend in her time of need, guilt that I sucked as a human being.
And then I stopped. And really thought about it. You see, L was a lovely woman and I truly enjoyed her company. When it arrived. She was a fan who became a friend and even though she often graced my gigs with her ruby-red smile and bawdy laugh, she also visited my home and became friends (or perhaps social acquaintances is a better term) with some of my friends. She called every year on my birthday (just a few days before her own, a fact she always remembered and I did not – until she called) and most years at Christmas (from her second home in the sunny south). She always wanted to know about my love life and she usually wanted to share details of her own. Co-conspirators in mid-life dating she and I were. She yearned for my yarns. The sexier, the better.
How thrilled was I then, when she eventually found the (second) love of her life (her first husband had died before we met). She was blessedly content with her Mr. Perfect and offered concrete hope for my own somewhat pathetic adventures. These were happy times. And I was incredibly happy for her.
Until of course, she got sick. That was a miserable, shit-kicking, suck-hole surprise. Thankfully Mr. Perfect stood by her side throughout her campaign with all the love his heart could hold. And when she died, he sent out one of the most poignant, bittersweet tributes I have ever read.
So yes, there I was. Feeling very, very guilty.
Until I stopped.
Because it occurred to me in one flash of enlightened brilliance (to me, anyway) that we all have what I have started to call a “Friendship Totem Pole”. As our friendships evolve, change, ignite or even disappear over the years, out Totem Poles continually alter. Some friends are on top, some in the middle, some at the bottom, some change position frequently, some maintain position over many years. And truth be told, my dear friend L – my dear fan/friend L – had for whatever reason placed me at a much higher location on her pole than the one she occupied on mine. Now please understand, this does not in any way diminish my affection for her. But it did perhaps lessen the amount of energy I possessed to devote to her. Because all those higher-up friends demand (and deserve) attention. And as much as I wish I had more energy, and as much as I wish I could crowd everyone onto the pinnacle, I simply cannot.
My totem pole fluctuates often. I have a few cherished friends who never seem to waver from the upper echelon, some who have crashed and then returned and then some who, having moved on to other Totem Peaks, have toppled on mine. And then, I suppose because I meet a lot of people and I’m a pretty darn friendly girl, I often behold an over-populated statue. And I become overwhelmed. I really and truly want to be everything to everyone. As it turns out – I can’t.
The hard truth is – I couldn’t be a Totem-Pole Topper for L. From my camp (and therefore my perspective), we just didn’t have that kind of relationship. Do I wish I had seen her one last time? Of course. Am I going to beat myself up forever because it didn’t happen?
Maybe a little.
But I will try to give myself a break too. Because I do know what it’s like to plummet on someone else’s mast. Or to aspire to a position I will never attain. And that’s okay. Because the only Totem Pole you can control is your own.
My only advice?
Don’t let it control you.