Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Do you have what it takes to support friends in their difficult times?

Today I was remembering the moment when our friendship with another couple reached a critical turning point. After our oldest son, Chris, was born at just 24 weeks gestation, he lay in his warming isolette for weeks in the hospital. In the first few months, he was connected to a high-frequency ventilator and had all sorts of tubes and wires attached to him. Sometimes they put IVs in his head (when they ran out of other veins). He was heavily bruised, scrawny, fragile, and red. He looked like a tiny baby bird. 

But we thought he was the most beautiful thing we'd ever seen. Months later, my OB told me she was convinced he could not possibly survive...and that he looked like a fetus. (Yes, he did, but did I want to hear this? No.) I remember feeling so grateful for people who told us he looked beautiful and who cheered him on!

My little baby bird
The painful turning point in our friendship with the other couple came on an evening when we took a break from the NICU and visited these friends. After dinner, we showed them some video footage of Chris in the NICU. I will never forget their silence. They did not say a word. I suppose that was better than saying something horrible, but their silence spoke volumes. They did not want to see this video, and they did not know how to provide the support that we needed at the time. Gradually, over the years, we distanced ourselves from them. But we were still friends until many years later, when other events led to a falling out. I view that video as the beginning of my realization about our friendship.

Between my oldest and middle sons, I experienced four miscarriages. In the beginning, friends were supportive, but as the time went on, they became less so. I have many painful memories of friends acting insensitive. In one case, it seemed that one close friend actively avoided me because she was pregnant and didn't want to be around me. On another occasion, when I told my then-women's group that my feelings were hurt because of their insensitivity, they became defensive and did not even apologize.

Facebook Apologizes For Banning 2-Month-Old Heart Patient's 'Gory' PhotoI was reminded of these stories when I read about the parents who posted photos of their sick baby on Facebook. Dad Kevin Bond is trying to raise money for a heart transplant for his son, Hudson Azera Bond. Facebook banned his photos, deeming them too "scary" and "gory" and would not allow him to promote the photos with a $20 ad. Although Facebook eventually reversed its decision and apologized, nothing can reverse the damage that has been done to this family.
 “It hurt our whole family,” Bond, a photographer, told Yahoo Health. “Nobody wants their beautiful son compared to ghosts, zombie ghouls, dismembered bodies, and vampires, and whatever else that rejection letter said.”
I've reported lots of photos and messages on Facebook for hate speech or horrific sexism, and they allow those posts to remain...yet break a family's heart by saying their baby looks gory. 

Insensitive words and actions (or inactions) have such great power and often irreversibly hurt people and destroy relationships. Since those days of the NICU and infertility, our close friendships have evolved and I have incredibly supportive, compassionate, and amazing friends. I can't imagine any of them having these kind of reactions.

This, then, is the true test of friendship for me:
Do your close friends have what it takes to support you when you are facing difficult times? Can they buoy you up, encourage you, be able to see the beauty in your fragile baby bird? Are they able to be in the difficult places with you?
If not, you need new friends. Cultivate them now!

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