Two years ago today, I woke up on a friend's couch in NJ and received the text that no one wants to receive. It was my friend Sara's daughter, Cami. She was telling me that Sara had passed away.
Two years later, I feel angry. I know enough from therapy to know that anger isn't a feeling, it's a response to a feeling. So what am I really feeling? I'm feeling frustrated. I'm frustrated that I didn't listen to Sara sooner. She told me that I was amazing and special and deserved a ton of love, support and acceptance and for some frustrating reason, I didn't listen to her. It might have been because it was a lesson she was teaching me, as she was learning it herself.
See, when I met Sara, she and I were in relationships with people who didn't really love us. We didn't see it at the time but we were both settling for people who were sort of along for the ride, but not really invested in the long-term--especially when our lives took a challenging turn. Her journey battling cancer was just beginning and I would soon start my gender transition process. We would spend a lot of time talking about our relationships at work, and she kept telling me that the beginning of a relationship should be fun and exciting--that I should feel chosen and wanted and cherished and loved. Those were the feelings I had at that job and around her and with other people, but not with the person I had chosen as a partner.
It frustrates me now that I that I didn't see what was so obvious. Life is like that, right?
Sara's relationship was similar. She fell for someone who was attractive to her for a few reasons, but didn't really provide what she needed. At the end of her life she woke up to this, and drew boundaries that deeply inspired me. It's like she suddenly got it, and I'm so proud of her for going out strong.
For Christmas one year, she gave me this plaque to hang on my wall. And now it's hanging right by my front door, so I'm constantly reminded not only of her love for me, but the truth of what it says.
More than any work we do, the relationships in our lives are incredibly important. How we treat people is a mark of our character. Our ability to love, respect and support other people, especially during difficult times in their lives, is a testament to how much we love, respect and support ourselves. We may not always get it right, but the most important thing we can do is be responsible for our shortcomings and ask how to make it better. We can apologize from our heart, not from our bruised egos.
Whether it's a primary partner, a family member or a friend, this is what we can strive for in our relationships.
We CAN do this, if we CHOOSE to do it. It may require some additional outside resources and some deep digging into our own issues and blocks, but we always have the choice. And if someone isn't willing or able to give us what we want to give in return, it is better that they leave our lives.
For a long time, I felt guilty that I hid from Sara's love and didn't show up the way I could have in the last year of her life. She speaks to me through her beautiful daughter Cami, who is patient and gentle with me, just like her mother was. She absolves me of my guilt and reminds me that Sara knew how much I loved her. I feel so grateful that I get to love Sara even more now, through my relationships with her incredible family.
And while I should have listened to her sooner, I know Sara is fist-pumping for me somewhere when I summon the courage to draw a boundary like she did. I feel her on my shoulder and listen to her voice in my ear anytime I experience any less than the love she gave me and told me I deserved.