“I only say inappropriate things around you…”

Mother’s Day always brings the list of “those who raised you” or “those who helped you grow” and “aunts, sisters, mentors” types of shout outs in order to include all women into the celebration. It’s wonderful, but it still hurts as I feel I shouldn’t be honoring anyone other than my mother. But this year is different. I am making a shout out to someone very special, and I know in no way does it diminish my relationship with my own mom.

When I was in college I had the opportunity to join a sorority. I’m not sure what initially drew me in other than I knew several of the women from the chapter. In true Shannon form, I blossomed in the chapter, getting involved and making people laugh and being my generally outgoing self. But one relationship took hold very quickly.

When the sorority houses were reestablished in Delaware, OH, there were laws against a certain number of women living under the same roof together (oh, anti-brothel laws). So the houses were meeting houses and didn’t accommodate sleeping areas. Most of the houses didn’t have traditional House Mothers as there wasn’t much to look out for as the homes were not used 24/7. But our chapter still had a House Mom. Enter Sonya.

I’m not sure what it was that first made us click. Maybe it was our silliness, the fact that I’d always stop by to chat when I was in the house, or perhaps it was my care. I don’t know. But we quickly became good friends and she has since been a constant in my life. She hasn’t always had it easy, though. But somehow she still has a strong faith. She is one of the most thoughtful, spirited, and “beat to your own drum” people I have ever met. She gives what she has to others, often times even before she gives to herself.

Everyone in the house calls her “Mom”. This is true to the point that most people don’t even know her first name. She is small in stature but rich in love. She is an excellent baker, and wonderful friend, she makes me crack up like no one else can (especially when talking about things that some would consider taboo). Somehow I have a knack for making unlikely people come out of their shell. I don’t know how or why, but it has happened several times in my life.

My college experience would not be the same without this woman in my life. She’s seen me laugh so hard I can’t breathe, she’s seen me cry and cry and cry, she’s given me numerous hugs and unlimited advice, she has inspired me to always keep family at the forefront even when it is difficult. She is a blessing.

When my own mama got sick, she sent cards and talked to me on the phone. When my mama passed, I couldn’t call her. I texted and asked one of my other sorority sisters to let Sonya know my mom had passed. I literally couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone and say “Hi, Mom,” because my mom wasn’t here physically anymore. It took several months before I could do it. And the first time I called all I said was “hi”. But she was there with a reassuring word and lots of love. I am thankful for her friendship and her continued presence in my life. I love you, Sonya. Happy Mother’s Day.

Reality Check

Disclaimer: This post points out some of my very real flaws. But in the hopes of transparency and vulnerability, I am okay with that. I also recognize that every story has more than one side and this is mine. Others feel it and would tell it differently.

In high school one of my core groups of friends was a group of four other girls and myself. It started as just four of us, and what seemed haphazardly to me, a fifth was added. I wouldn’t call us inseparable nor a clique–I was a part of many a different friend groups. But this group was one of my closest sets. We’d get together once a month or so as a large group for a movie at the mall, or dinner, or a sleepover. And when two of us left for college we started a traveling notebook à la “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”. We didn’t have those magical pants though.

College made things different. It was harder for all five of us to be connected in the same way. Letters and the notebook traveling became sparser. It was harder to get ahold of one another via phone (my first year in college I didn’t have a cell phone until about Thanksgiving). We’d meet over Winter Break for a sleepover and girl talk and general shenanigans. And I am thankful to this day that I was home from Spring Break when one of their brother’s died–I could be that presence from the group.

But people change, and not every friendship lasts. There came a point that I was the odd woman out. I’d be working at ASP over the summers while they’d all be together, having weekly dinners. I was thought of last when travel plans to visit one or the other happened–and no one ever bothered (or even considered to my knowledge) visiting me at school or on ASP. And it hurt. More than I let on, and definitely more than I cared to let anyone know. I wasn’t forgotten but I definitely wasn’t a part of the group in the same way.

And then mom got diagnosed. And my email to the group (because at some point it went from a notebook to email updates) was long and heart wrenching and full of my disbelief and need for reassurance. And there was little to nothing. The usual, “I’m sorry” or “that sucks”. But no questions, no soothing, and no phone calls or tries at one-on-one communication. And that stung. This group that I considered to be some of my best friends acted like I had just said “I tripped today”. So I found my comfort in other places: in my sisters, in my best friend from home (who wasn’t a part of this group) and from friends at college who watched me cry and gave me hugs and reassured me that I’d get through whatever was ahead.

Fast forward to graduating, moving back home, and being a big kid. When I got home the other girl my age was home after graduating as well. We’d hang out, but most times that meant me driving to her parents’ house, or really just me driving because she didn’t have her license (at the age of 22). I can remember a year we went to The Vogue on Halloween and I had to spot her money because she didn’t realize there would be a cover for a holiday like that. Very baffling (and slightly annoying) to me at the time.

The years moved on and eventually I was the only one in Indy. They’d randomly visit one another, but at holidays we stopped seeing each other as much. One of them got engaged and the bachelorette party was to be in New York a month after my trip to Australia and New Zealand. I was excited! Maybe this would be like old times. Maybe this would bring us all together (minus the one serving with the Peace Corps). Maybe this would be the ticket to actually feeling like my friends cared about me again.

We started working out details and when I said my timeframe for a weekend meant Wednesday night thru Saturday night they all went a little crazy. One of them wasn’t working, and had 100% flexible time, one wasn’t coming as she was serving in Africa, and the other didn’t understand why everyone else had to sacrifice for me. So I budged and convinced my boss I could be off the Sunday in question.

But it hit me a few days later–why was I sacrificing my time and money for these girls who obviously didn’t care what worked for me? Why was I continually sacrificing my well-being and self for their wants and needs? Did they even really know me anymore? And so I shut down. And, in some ways, it was cowardly. I don’t really care for confrontation or making other people upset–one of my biggest Achilles’ heels of sorts.

I told them that I wasn’t coming. And that created more chaos. The emails came pouring in: you aren’t coming? Why not? Too expensive? Did your boss change his mind? Why are you being like this? Don’t you care about supporting your friend? It was the last drop of water in the overflowing bucket I was carrying–it was too much. And so after radio silence on my end I wrote them one of the toughest emails I have ever written and basically broke up with them. Was it the most appropriate means of communication? No. Did more than one of them respond? No. Did I cut ties completely and feel much freer and truer to myself? Yes. And that made all the difference. That’s how I know, even today when I have mini minutes of reflection or doubt, that it was still the right choice.

So why am I sharing this and putting it out in the universe? Fast forward to 2017. When mom passed away, I had some sadness and animosity surrounding the fact that none of that group would have any idea that it had happened. And in a weird way it made me sad and angry. Totally illogical and probably misplaced.

Yesterday one of my Facebook memories included a girl from this group. I very deliberately untagged myself from the post (don’t need that in my memories every.year). But it got me thinking about her so I clicked on her profile to see what was new in her life. I knew she’d recently been married but right at the top, the first public post was from August and had funeral arrangements for her own mother. My jaw dropped, and I was emotionally paralyzed. Shock set in and grief over the loss and anger at myself hit.

They didn’t know about my mom, and I didn’t know about hers. So I was just as much “in the wrong” here. But that didn’t mean I had to continue being the person I had been. I’ve changed and grown and (hopefully) matured since I sent that break up email to all of them. My actions don’t initiate out of the same place they used to; I try to constantly and consciously operate out of a place of love these days. Sometimes I fall short of that, but it’s ever my goal. And that’s definitely not how I was back then. So I sucked up my pride and I stopped beating myself up and I wrote her an email–not because I hope to be friends again, not because I want an apology or explanation, not because I want to hold anything over her head. I wrote her an email because I am human and I know all too well and all too recently what it feels like to lose your mother before you turn 30. And if nothing else, maybe saying “others have walked before you” will give some comfort. Maybe shedding just a small beam of light on her and her experience and the sisterhood of those grieving right now can bring relief. Because I don’t have to know the whole story to know that it hurts and that it seems unfair and that things will never be the same again for her. But my heart and soul that are trying so desperately to always start with love felt that doing anything other than reaching out would have been “wrong”.

I don’t expect her to respond. I don’t need her to. But I am reminded that we all are walking around this great world carrying things no one could even imagine. And so love, to me, is the way to face the day and greet the world around me.