As adults, we go through more and more hardships. Life gets complicated. Our parents age, we endure infertility and miscarriages, marriages become strained, and jobs are lost. As friends, we try to be there for one another. We bring over meals in times of crisis, encourage a girls' night when a friend needs to let off some steam, or invite them over for coffee when they simply need an ear to listen to. But are we asking them the tough questions? Are we only looking for that silver lining? To be a good friend means much more than simply being the happy-go-lucky friend who is always trying to find the brighter side of things.
When my mum was diagnosed with cancer, I heard all of the positive stuff one expects to hear. "Oh, she'll get through it." "She will survive; she has to." Yes, my friends were coming from an optimistic, loving place. They didn't want to crush me. But then one evening, I was with my dear friend and, after a glass of wine, she asked, "Have you thought about your life if she doesn't make it?" My friend wasn't trying to destroy my emotions or my hope; she was simply trying to be realistic with me and possibly to prepare me for my future. Luckily, my mum did make it, but I will always appreciate my friend asking me that tough question.
Yes, it is helpful to always be the optimistic friend — the one your friends need to put a smile on their face. But that's not always what they need. When my husband lost his job, we heard it all. "Oh, he'll find another one, quick." "Everything happens for a reason." "I'm sure it will all work out." But months went by — and you know what? It wasn't working out. He wasn't finding work. I only had a handful of friends who actually wanted to talk about the job loss instead of pretending that it wasn't there. Only a couple friends would text me weekly to check in, "Does he have interviews this week?" "How are you doing on money?" "What can I do to help?" Yes, most of my friends avoided the awkward questions to keep our egos intact. But we didn't need that. We needed friends who were willing to talk about the awkwardness.
Being a good friend is being there through the storms and allowing them to realize that the storm may linger.
I have another friend who endured a divorce. While she and her husband were still married, our friends coddled her emotions and painted a beautiful picture for her — a happy ending. "Oh, things will work out — they always do," friends said. But when we were alone together, I asked her, "Are you happy?" "Do you even want this marriage to last?" "Have you considered the fact that it could be you at fault?" At first, my friend didn't take to my awkward, honest questions well. But after she saw that I was coming from a loving place and let it soak in a bit, she was grateful.
She was glad that I was also painting the possibility of a gloomy and rainy picture in her future. That's what real life is. There isn't always a happy ending — a beautiful rainbow. Friends should be there to yes, encourage each other, but to also help friends understand the realities of life. Things don't always work out. Marriages end, people don't find jobs, and parents die. Being there for a friend doesn't only mean being there through the good times. More importantly, being a good friend is being there through the storms and allowing them to realize that the storm may linger. But indeed, with your hand, they will get through it. The storm will pass, but it may just be a different picture after than they intended. Instead of a rainbow, it may be the perfect sunset.