I just polished off a few gallons of popcorn. It’s something I do around this time every year, because my friends and I have a birthday tradition. For each person’s birthday, the other three get together and send a big tin of birthday popcorn. Every year I forget how much I look forward to it until the box arrives on my doorstep on my birthday.
We’ve been friends since high school and having them around in high school made a world of difference to me after my dad died my sophomore year. Life has taken us in different directions, but they remain a foundation of strength for me. They were a pretty good case study in how to support a grieving teen.
I was rather reserved in high school. I didn’t really want to talk a lot about my grief. It was there and I lived with it, but I didn’t want to dwell on it too much. And these three, they got it. They let me be me, even when that was me being sad. They never made me feel weird about it and they never pried. I’m sure we had awkward moments, but I honestly don’t remember them; instead I remember having a safe place with them.
I have a vivid memory of being at a friend’s house once and breaking down crying – I don’t remember what set me off, but in response I got a hug. When I was done crying and they knew that I was ready, we went back to whatever teenager stuff we were hanging out and doing. It was exactly what I needed.
Along with the support of my close friends, I also remember the other friends who came to my dad’s funeral. It was towards the end of the school year; it would have been easy to find a reason not to be there. But those friends made a difference just by being there. I don’t remember what anyone said – I’m sure some of it was awkward and some of it was uneasy and that some slipped out without saying anything – but it was comforting to have them there.
What I needed from my friends in high school – and what they delivered in spades – was just for someone to be there. I didn’t need a big gesture. I didn’t need the magical perfect words that would make everything better. I didn’t need someone to cure my grief and make it all better. I needed their presence – sometimes for distraction and fun, sometimes just for it to be ok to be sad.
I didn’t necessarily need a lifelong commitment, although I’m lucky that those three remain touchstones for me. I try to remember that and live that today: just show up. It’s simple but powerful and it made a world of difference to me.