I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends
I’ve always been the group “mom”. The responsible and organized one, the one who remembers to text you on the anniversary of your uncle’s death, and who knows every friend’s favourite kind of candy and chips to buy when we hang out in case they need a pick me up. The one who always has lip chap, an extra hair elastic, or who thought ahead and packed an extra sweater in the trunk because I knew someone would forget and get cold. It’s never felt like a chore, or that it takes extra effort or thought – it feels natural and innate. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to choose to become a social worker and dedicate my life to caring for others.
At the age of 15, my life was turned upside down when my mom died. While her death was inevitable from the terminal cancer that ate away at her body more quickly than any of us could have ever imagined, it was sudden, unexpected, and heart-shattering. While the doctors had given her a couple of months to live, four days later was far too soon for 15-year-old Parisa to be giving her mom CPR waiting for the paramedics to arrive. While this life event was traumatic and life-altering, it’s a story for another day. While the directions we could take to dissect my story seem endless (social workers and psychologists unite!), the real story I want to share lies in the story of friendship.
Adolescence is that intersection of life where you start to branch out from the comforts of home and your parents’ authority, to the world of relationships and independence; creating and maintaining friendships becomes the central theme to your world. I was lucky to have a great group of friends in high school who were supportive of me when my mom died. But the tough part was that as 15 and 16 year olds, they could only be as supportive as 15 and 16 year olds could be.
I started to feel like I was too much to handle, too much to understand as my experiences were so much different from my high school friends. Also, what group of teens talk about death and grief? When I needed to talk, I wasn’t sure they’d be receptive to the same rhetoric of me missing my mom 2 years later, or understanding that my mental health was fragile. Also, maybe someone once said “It’s been a whole year since your mom died, it’s time to move on and stop being sad.” Just maybe.
What I did know in my late teens and early 20s, was that even when I was struggling with my mental health, deciphering the messiness of grief, and trying to figure out who the heck I was, I excelled at caring for others and it brought me joy and purpose. I felt useful, I felt like I had found my place in the world helping others, making them know they were loved and valued – even better, I was really good at it. In hindsight, I was trying to convince myself that I had a right to take up space, and that I was worthy of value and love. Hindsight is always 20/20 right? Over the years, I had many friends, always gravitating towards those who had their fair share of problems, always trying to help them out and overextend myself so they knew they had someone that cared and loved them. In my 20s as a high school and college rugby coach, I immersed myself and my life in coaching, guiding, and supporting young female athletes; constantly showing up and being an adult ally to anyone who needed it. I knew I was a great friend; I showed up, I cared, and I loved with all my heart. The challenge came in finding friends who could offer me what I offered them (and more difficultly allowing myself to let them support and love me).
I’d like to say that by my late 20s I had finally figured out the friendship thing, but that would be a lie. Don’t get me wrong, I had (and still have) some forever friends who are beyond fabulous women who love me for me and who I can’t wait to grow old with. Yet I still found myself investing my time in people who didn’t always have the capacity to fairly give back to me.
I use the term ‘fairly’ instead of ‘equally’ because I recognize that not everyone has the same capacity to give back as others (due to age, money, time, life experience etc.) and the importance is in the quality not the quantity! Sometimes I just was drawn to friends who weren’t in the same place as me or couldn’t give me what I needed but I’m not the type of person to just give up on people. When things got messy or complicated, it was overwhelming to my shattered-and-glued-back-together heart. Was I supporting them too much when I shouldn’t? Did I care too much? Was I not worth being respected back? Was I just asking too much to be valued? Was it me, not them? Was I doing something wrong? Was I not giving them enough? Was I not enough?
Cue my tribe (preceded by a meltdown, lots of struggle, excessive crying, accepting change and more importantly letting myself be loved). It took me until my 30th trip around the sun to recognize my tribe, and the value of these people in my life – most of whom have been there just waiting for me to let them love me wholeheartedly. Some have been there over a decade, others a few months, some are my age, others are much younger and some are like second moms. The thing that ties them together is that they can offer me what I can offer them with no strings attached; unconditional love, constant support, and a deep sense of belonging. What I finally recognized was that I didn’t have to take care of everyone all the time, and that I actually had people willing to take care of me, show up, and love me fiercely. With this eye-opening realization, my heart has just about exploded. I finally see and feel how valued I am, and how easy it is to ask for help when you know who the members of your tribe are. In reflection, I am thankful for the friendships that didn’t work out like I had hoped or yearned for; you helped me gain experience, insight, and truly recognize my tribe. I still wish you happiness, love and success wherever you end up.
This February 1st will mark the 16th year since my mom’s death, which means I will have now lived more of my life without my mom than with my mom. Recognizing that recently hit really deep. While the reflection can instantly cue the waterworks on my drive home, or that literal feeling of my heart shattering in my chest again as I yearn for what it would be like to have my mom here, for once the sadness quickly turns to gratitude and love when I am able in an instant to text, call, or visit a member of my tribe. I have finally found my people, and for that my heart can barely contain itself. If you have the time, take a chance to recognize and thank your tribe, squad, clan, group or whatever you want to call them. The ones who welcome us with open arms, an open heart, and sometimes even our favourite kind of candy and chips.
Written by Parisa Rostami
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