It's been a few months since I recognized myself. In April, I started having a handful of health related stumbles. Then we hosted three orphans from Latvia for the summer (alongside our own three kids.) When the Latvian kids returned to Europe, I was diagnosed with something shocking - something a girlfriend of mine died from ten years ago. After that, I put my pajama pants on and watched a full month of reality TV. I took breaks only for sadly thrown-together snacks, like peanut butter on old pita or slices of cheese wrapped around chunks of wilted cabbage. Yum. Showers were few.
My girlfriends hovered near the door, dropped off casseroles and chocolate and left endless messages. I couldn't bring myself to talk to them. The usual coffee dates, community meetings and shared glasses of wine were all forgotten in favor of The Desperate Housewives of Melbourne (ironically, a show about women who are terrible girlfriends.) But I knew my friends were there and that mattered somewhere in the lizard brain part of me who still felt optimism.
Then there was a week-long hospital stay where I only told a few, close girlfriends (and one male friend) where I was. Mostly, I wanted to be alone - well, as alone as anyone in a hospital can be. After the hospital, I left for Ragdale where, for three weeks, I wrote by myself in a pretty second floor room and only left for long, solitary walks or congenial dinners with the other artists. They were a serious and kind bunch who also seemed to be at Ragdale for concentrated solace and work. It was quiet. It was healing.
Last weekend, for the first time, I felt like being around people might be possible. So, although I'd originally turned down an invitation to the new Writers' Haven Retreat in Michigan, I screwed up my nerve and wrote to the coordinator to ask, "Is there still a room available?"
She said, "yes."
Christine Wolf, who writes for Chicago Now, Sun Times Media and Patch.com, has launched what I hope to be a very successful business. She's opened her vacation home to writers in need of a place to focus. Included in the weekends is delicious food, quiet space and spectacular views of Lake Michigan.
And it was lovely. And I felt normal.
On the second night, when the two girlfriends I'd brought with me suggested a girl's sleepover in my king sized bed, I smiled and said, "okay." And I meant it. We snuggled under a heap of soft blankets, giggled and shared our hopes and fears like a trio of thirteen-year-olds.
So while the hospital stay helped and the time at Ragdale was a salve, this time with girlfriends was also a balm and a step forward. It was especially nice that we didn't have to lift a finger in an atmosphere of support, comfort and in front of a lovely roaring fire.
Thank goodness for them. I am so grateful for the flowers and the chocolate, the visits and the forced walks around the block, the phone calls, casseroles and magazines. And I am wholly moved by the shared hour with one particular girlfriend who was brave enough to talk about the what if's that I am terrified to face. I trust that she will help my husband if and when the time comes.
A male dinner guest once insisted, "Guys don't need friends." This column is about gender and I want to say to everyone, friends are essential - female, male, old, young - no matter who you are. I can't imagine that anyone doesn't need support from people who care about them.
If that guy from my dinner party became ill, who would bring him books, special treats or a laugh? Who would bring him hope when he was ready to receive it?
*For information on the Writer's Haven rates and availability, visit Christine's Facebook page