Where are we now…2015

2015 was quite a year. It was challenging and is hard to write about. A year of loss, grief and stress. It was a year of major losses and grief for both of us. And the impact of these losses reverberated all over the place for both of us. We both found we needed to retreat, to heal, to be supported and to support. And to be comfortable with moving through this process at our own individual paces. To ask for what we needed from each other. To be patient with ourselves. To be kind. To be open. To be friends.

Looking back, it was a year filled with lots of coffee and tea dates, filling each other in on what was happening in our personal lives including the many losses.

We had ambitious “goals” for our blog and business and we soon realized that these were not going to be accomplished. We realized neither of us had the energy to write as much as we had been and so we deliberately decided to write less and post fewer blogs. We took the pressure off. We gave ourselves permission to *just be* with all that had changed.

But what we were accomplishing was strengthening and deepening our bond of friendship.

We gave ourselves space to talk about our grief and loss. Our focus shifted. Our friendship deepened. We shared when we needed space and also when we needed more time together, not as business partners or colleagues but as friends. Sometimes we needed to put the business aside to allow our friendship to bloom, so that our collegial partnership could continue to grow too.

One of the challenges of becoming friends as we became collaborators is that we have little history with each other, either as work-mates or as play-mates. We have been co-creating both together at the same time and that is not always easy to do. We are learning that we can work through conflict, share our lives and losses, trust one another, and speak what is on our minds without fear of the other becoming defensive or silent (two of the four Horsemen that we’ll be talking about in the next post).

As we look back on 2015, what struck us is that we *lived* what science is proving: that friendship is good for our mental and physical health. Friendships allow us to survive loss and grief. More than that, each friendship can offer an *aspect* of what we need not only to survive but also to thrive.

We talked about the experience of writing this blog. We agreed that writing about the topic of friendship made choices in our own friendships clearer. And we found that new questions and ideas about friendship came out of our writings and conversations.

Writing about friendship issues and challenges helped each of us sort through our own perspectives, often opening up new perspectives and possibilities where confusion and conflict had been before. Talking about our own friendships has helped us move through stuck places and to (eventually) feel peace and calm. We talked about losing friendships as part of the grief and loss process.

Since starting The Smart Art of Friendship, each of us has gone through our own friendship transitions — realizing that a friendship has not been fulfilling for a long time, the experience of realizing a friendship needs to end. The pain and the relief of knowing what needs to happen.

We have been thinking wondering about how we think about friendship, how we approach it, and that maybe we have been viewing it from a micro level rather than the potentially transformative macro level.

And this has led us to wonder how others approach friendships. We hope to pose questions to men and women on the topic of friendship and to share their answers with you this year.

And we would love your thoughts, feedback and suggestions!

Thank you,
~Amy and Ruth

What does 2016 hold for the Smart Art of Friendship?

~Continuing to realize the importance of friendship – in life, in our lives, as we get older.
~We would like to engage in more conversations about friendship. With contributing guest bloggers, with difference perspectives from more people’s lived experience.
~We would like to explore how people experience friendship in their lives. Men, women, throughout the life span.

We will continue to write and post our blogs at the slower rate for now.

Friendship and Caregiving: Smart Strategies for Staying Connected

At some point in our lives it is likely that we will be a caregiver to someone we love: our
child, our spouse, our parent(s), or a relative. It can happen suddenly, we find ourselves needing to give care to a family member who has become acutely physically and/or mentally ill, or we might slowly become a caregiver to a relative who has a chronic illness with its ongoing ebb and flow.

Being a caregiver is the kind of role and responsibility that can be both purposeful and all-
consuming. Caring for another human being, especially someone who is ill, is deeply emotional and physical work that the toll it can take has its own term: caregiver burnout. It takes energy to care for a person who is unwell. Someone recently said to me that, “it can feel like our energy is being taken by them because s/he needs it for themselves.”

We often want to turn to our family for help and support but there are many reasons which can make this challenging: family members may feel stretched to their limits, our relatives might live far away from us, there can be an emotional distance or estrangement, and unfortunately our family members, like many people, can feel uncomfortable with frailty and illness.

Caregiving can be an opportunity to deepen our friendships, especially when finding the time to get together with those very friends can be difficult. It is at these times that we, as friends, can step in and show up. We can give care to our care-giving friend, which can go a long way to help him/her keep their energy positive and stay well. It is a time when we can show that “I am with you in this.”

There are all kinds of ways to be supportive and stay connected with friends in a way that is comfortable for us and helpful to them. Offering our time and our ears to listen are gifts in themselves. Here are some other possibilities that I have found helpful in my life:

We can acknowledge that we need help. Sharing what we are going through can be helpful in letting our friend know that we are feeling stressed. Thinking about and asking for the kinds of support that will help us is a radical act of vulnerability and intimacy, the kind that brings friendships closer.

We can offer practical help and support in terms of running errands and doable actions. 
It might be offering to pick up or deliver the dry cleaning, return library books or videos that are due, mow the lawn or shovel the sidewalk, pick up the mail or water the houseplants, feed the cat or dog, or go grocery shopping for them.

We can feed our friends and their family by preparing or dropping off easy-to-reheat meals, offering a home-made treat made with them in mind.

We can pay a visit to our friend and their loved one. It does not need to be long, even a brief visit will give a burst of joy and caring to a friend.

We can invite our friend and their family member to a movie, to an amusement or
show, for a meal, over for the holidays. Extending an invite to include a friend’s family member is a generous, caring gesture that will be cherished and remembered, even if it does not happen.

We can accompany our friend when they visit their relative in a health or residential care setting. Care settings can be stressful environments and sometimes just being there  with our friend during a visit is support enough. Or we can connect with our friend for a conversation afterward to find out how the visit(s) went.

We can connect via Skype or speakerphone with our friend and their relative. Technology can be really helpful to stay connected. Saying hello to your friend’s relative can make a huge difference and put a smile on everyone’s face.

We can offer to connect with or check in on their family member when they are away
(so that they can go away with added peace of mind).

We can share something that we think will make them laugh: a joke, a cartoon, a
video.

These are just some ideas and suggestions. Each situation is unique, sometimes we might have to think outside the box and be creative. Even discussing this with a friend, asking them to choose out of a few options that are doable for you, will be a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge this time of need for support and connection.It can bring friends closer together, to bond in a special new way, perhaps to become family.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

~ Brene Brown