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Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
 It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
 It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

i dont need to understandOne morning last spring, after dropping my son off at school I ran into K on the soccer field as we walked toward our cars.  “How’s it going?”….I asked.

She stopped and looked at me, half a smile formed….then dissolved.

“Honestly?” she started, “It sucks.  Everything sucks.” Tears welled up in her eyes and I saw the rawness of her pain – nerve endings exposed to cold air kind of raw.  It had been about two weeks since the funeral and I knew she needed a shoulder to cry on.

So, I offered her my shoulder. I hugged her and told her that even though it didn’t seem like it, things would get better. I spoke from my own experience, having lost both my biological father and my step father earlier in my life. Still, I knew that the words would be impossible to believe. I listened to her talk about how difficult it had been since her mom had passed. She spoke about how she sometimes started to text her still, how her boys sometimes still asked to go over to Mimi’s house, and how she missed her more than she could express. My friend was broken, at an emotional bottom, and I understood exactly where she was. In stopping to talk, I was able to comfort her, if only briefly, and help her pull it together by letting it all out before her busy work-day.

I felt good as I got in my car – that feeling that one can only get from a solid combination of empathy and sympathy for another human being. But there’s more to this story. By taking a few minutes to listen, to offer sympathy, to give hugs, and to understand, I began to heal.  See, I’d been harboring a resentment against my friend.

Back in late winter, K had confided in my wife and me that her mom was in the hospital because her liver was failing – the direct result of a bottle or more of white Merlot each evening. I don’t know for sure, but we may be the only people with whom K was completely honest with about her mom’s condition and its root cause, aside from her husband.

Of course, being a recovering alcoholic, I offered to help in any way I could. And I checked in with K and her husband on occasion. Sometimes the news was hopeful, other times, it was not so good.  Mimi was in decline and was having continuing episodes that landed her in the hospital.  The family was stuck in a waiting game. By law K’s mother needed to be sober for 6 months so she could be put on the liver transplant waiting list. Shortly after Easter, Mimi’s body gave up. She had two and a half months to go to get on the list. I got the message that she’d passed while I was away on business. I cried as I shared this with a 12 Step group in Santa Clara, CA.

I had expected K to talk openly about this in her eulogy. That expectation was based on my recovery. It was based on my own feelings that we need to shine more light on these stories and the battles of addiction.

My feelings and my expectations were all about me. They weren’t about K or her mother.

K spoke beautifully and eloquently about her mother. She spoke of how Mimi was an amazingly beautiful human being who loved her family and friends and was loved by them in kind. K spoke of how she was always there to help others. How she was a fantastic grandmother to her grandsons. I recognized the truth of all of this, because I had known her for several years. But the eulogy was an outright lie about the cause of Mimi’s death.

I hid it well, but I was angry when I left the funeral, because K hadn’t been honest about the cause of death. I am sure she had her reasons for protecting this secret. I am sure that I may never know what those reasons were. Frankly, it’s not within my rights to know them. And even if I did know them, I may not understand them. I understand that now. I didn’t at the time.

As I hugged K that day, I understood for the first time that it was all okay – that it did not matter that she hadn’t shared the truth about her mother’s death.

I understood that it was not me who lost a mother. It was not me who was left with the task of eulogizing my mother. It was not me who was still texting my dead mother. I understood that my resentment was irrational. (Aren’t all resentments irrational?)

As I left K that morning, I understood that I don’t need to understand. I understood that not all stories of addiction and recovery will be told. I understood that I have no right to judge K or any other person based on their decision to disclose their addictions or not. Most importantly, though, I understood that a friend needed a friend. And I understood that I had been that friend.

By being that friend, and giving freely of myself, even for a minute, we both began to heal.



  1. K didn’ t need to shame her mother at her mother’s funeral…that is not what a funeral is for. it is to pay respects…i just lost my mother 6 months ago, she died in my arms. my father 8 months ago, he died 42 years sober. my husband died 4 months ago indirectly of heroin overdose…i never dreamed i would be burying my husband alongside my parents…as far as most people know, my husband died after his heart gave out after a second massive stroke. the first stroke was caused by a heroin. probably the second one as well…my beloved mother-in-law died a year ago of brain cancer. i miss them all so much but i’m glad she didn’t have to suffer the pain of losing her first born son..

    • This is exactly what I came to understand. It was none of my business whether she shared the specifics or not. My job was to be a good friend and to comfort my friend rather than judge her.

      I’m so sorry for your losses. Please accept my condolences.

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