from Jane Everham
“Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
This Golden Rule teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I’ve always struggled with this Rule because I see too many people not loving themselves very well – being doormats, self-deprecating, or callous. I don’t want to be loved in the manner some people, even friends, treat themselves. Rev. Sean Neil-Barron preached “The Platinum Rule” last fall: Love your neighbor as your neighbor would like to be loved. A subtle, but significant difference because the Platinum Rule requires one to get to know the person to be loved. It may also require one to love in an uncomfortable manner – something I recently experienced.
My best friend lost her partner of 29 years. He was in declining health for several years and in the last two years required a tremendous amount of vigilance, care, energy, focus and sacrifice. In the last year my friend was exhausted, her sleep was constantly disrupted, and her personal goals were shelved as her life was limited to his care. In her exhaustion, she fantasized what she would do when he passed.
“I’m going to travel. I’ll sell the house, move closer to family, get a small apartment, and I will travel.”
Then he passed. Oddly, he went to the hospital in crisis, but rallied. Very early in the morning, he woke up and told the nurse he felt better then he had in days and hoped to be released later that day. The nurse left his room, and ten minutes later he died.
When you know something is going to happen, and on some heartbreaking level you are hoping it will happen, and then it suddenly does – it can still be a shock. At least that is what happened to my friend: “I wasn’t at his side. I didn’t get to say good-bye.”
She told me these things months later when she finally agreed I could visit her. Initially she went silent for weeks and was very unreceptive to communication from family and friends. “I can’t stop crying. I miss him.” she explained. Telling her it didn’t matter if she cried, that I could handle her crying, did no good. “It matters to me,” she said.
Every suggestion that she visit, travel, (You always said you wanted to go to Italy – let’s go!) or make plans for moving on was met with a flat, well-boundaried, “I’m not ready.”
Her needs confounded me. Loving her in the way she wished to be loved meant doing nothing, felt helpless, and resulted in impatiently waiting – for months. I had been ready to cancel everything; to visit, travel with her, or help her sell her house, move, and get newly established. But all was verboten.
Eventually, she said I could call her, then visit, and FINALLY – nine months later, she visited me. She is doing much better though she still insists that “I’m not ready” for much more of life yet. “I’ll let you know when I am ready to get on with my life.” Seeing her progress helps, but the experience of loving my friend as she wished to be loved was a very difficult life lesson. I’m an Enneagram Two, The Helper – we need to help!
Nevertheless, I did it. I refrained from being “help strikes again,” which is just what my friend dreaded. She needed to control her world and keeping others at bay worked for her. I needed to trust that she knew herself and her needs. In the end, I was able to do my part in letting her heal in her way, not my way. Today, our friendship endures, and is possibly stronger. Maybe I am even a better friend now.