The moments that make a life

Today’s blog has nothing to do with being happy at work. It’s about being happy in life.

One of my closest friends, Willy, recently died unexpectedly in his sleep.

There are lots of things written about death and I am hardly going to add anything original to the existing body of work.

I can explain my relationship with Willy as this: he was family I picked for myself.  Willy and I were the spouses of graduate school classmates: my husband Michael and his wife Trudy. Michael and Trudy are very good friends and this friendship was extended to Willy and I.

I moved to Hoboken, NJ in 2002 and Trudy and Willy lived nearby. From the start, we spent so much time together—Costco, movies, dinners, Short Hills mall—you name it, we were together nearly every weekend.

Then, in 2004, I gave up my apartment in Hoboken to live in Nantucket. My job was still based in Iselin, New Jersey and I needed a place to stay when I was in the office, so I would stay with Trudy and Willy. They had a relatively small apartment and I am quite sure if the situation was reversed I would not have been as generous about sharing my limited space with them ten days or so a month. Not only did they let me sleep there, they treated me like a treasured guest: fabulous dinners, letting me watch my favorite TV shows and generally taking good care of me.

This was a very hard time for me. Work was getting harder and harder and I was trying to decide if I should stay or go. I can imagine that I was not so easy to live with this during this time, and yet I can’t remember Trudy and Willy being anything but welcoming each time I showed up at their house. In hindsight, I realize that Willy was a part of the daily fabric of my life that I took for granted.

I came home every day to this: Trudy would be in the kitchen, fixing some fabulous dinner after working a long day (do I sound guilty enough?) and Willy would be tinkering with something on one of his many computers. At this time, there was always some drama in my workday that was all-consuming and I would burst through the door, dispense with the niceties and launch into whatever it was—really, I was the poster child for “it’s all about me.”

“Dee, tell me what’s going on,” Willy would say as he put down his computer to listen to me.

“This (insert drama) is making me crazy,” I would say, frustrated by the day’s events. “I just don’t know what to do or how I’m going to get through it.”

“Do you have to do anything this very minute?” Willy asked. “Can you watch some TV and enjoy your dinner?”

As simple as this sounds, his comments would bring me back from drama-land and I would immediately relax. He was right: there was never anything that had to be done right this minute. His sentence gave me permission to take a breath, which I had completely lost sight of.

Willy is leaving such a hole in so many lives. I feel absolutely selfish when I think about how much I will miss him, realizing that my loss is tiny compared to his family’s. For everyone who loved him and was loved by him, Willy was the safe dock in a protected harbor. His friendship gave each of us a place to sail to when the seas of life got too stormy.

We have no choice but to carry on captaining our little ships without Willy. But, he taught us well. I know that people, who love unconditionally, like Willy, give to us the greatest gifts of all: a place where we’re protected and the courage to find our own way in the world.

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2 Responses to “The moments that make a life”

  1. Marie Hebron says:

    This is such a touching reflection on a true friendship. Thanks for sharing Denice.

    I struggle with the “unconditional” friendship I offer to some people at work. I respect the “work vs life” separation but I’m the type of person who choose my friends wisely and like you, some I choose to be my family — without the line between work/life. I can also understand how people can develop “walls” from unconditional friendships because it’s a new concept for them. I value my friends, I am thankful for what I have accomplished so far…and the gift of unconditional friendship is one priceless thing I can offer select friends — however, my struggle is that the sheer idea is dismissed because I fall on the “work” category.

  2. admin says:

    Thank you for your frank and open comment Marie.

    You raise a very sensitive topic; one I am sure many people struggle to find the right approach. In the end, like any friendship, both parties must be 100% comfortable with the relationship and its structure for it to work. I do have very dear friends at work and to be honest, they’re few. As you have clearly thought a lot about this topic, I am sure you will find the path that is right for you. Good luck!

    Warmly, Denice

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