“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
with a little help from my friends” — Songwriters: John Lennon/Paul McCartney
It’s the Memorial Day weekend. There are many traditions associated with this holiday. From Wikipedia, “Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May. It marks the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its unofficial end.”
For my family growing up, it often meant accompanying our mother to the cemeteries to tend to the gravesites of loved ones and plant red geraniums. Part of the challenge and adventure was locating the headstones of family members in more than one cemetery. I asked questions about our ancestors and Mom told stories. I cherished those times.
There were also Memorial Day Parades in my hometown and years later, as an adult, new traditions were born. I’d alternate between the first camping trip of the season with friends and partners, with joining my siblings, their families, and our father to plant Mom’s flower garden. Mom died in January last year, and in her memory, we planted her flower garden a year ago, and did so again yesterday, and I imagine we will do so every year that our family home is still inhabited by our father. See my Mixed Metaphors, Oh My! reading list for Home: Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow.
For me today, this holiday is a time to acknowledge and honor the men and women who have served our country in war and peace, and more importantly to work for peace in the world. It’s also a time I remember loved ones, friends, and colleagues who have died.
As a writer, I like words, their origin and meanings. Memory: Something remembered from the past; a recollection. Memorial: Something designed to preserve the memory of a person, event, as a monument or a holiday.
This weekend is a time of reflection and reminiscing — recalling people both gone and present in my life — holding space, a monument of sorts, in my heart and memory with gratitude and affection.
As I drafted this essay, I was reminded how grateful I am for the people who inhabit my life and who contribute their gifts of time, friendship, and love. The lyrics of The Beatles song came to mind, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Oh, I get by with a lot of help from my friends
As I’ve chronicled my life in stories shared with friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues, posted updates on social media, and drafted essays and reminiscences for my blog, I am always struck by, and reminded of, the power of love and support by friends. I’m grateful. I’m lucky.
I’ve lived alone for the past nine, almost ten tears, however, I’m never completely alone. Friends are a text, an email, a phone call away. Friends show up when called upon, weave a safety net for me when needed, and do the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively, when I’m unable to do so. Over the years I’ve relied on the power of circles, of peer support, recovery circles, therapy groups, and friendships which often start out as book or affinity groups — but evolve into something more valuable — chosen family.
I must confess that when I was in my last committed relationship of 15 years, I was isolated in it to a degree, and though I had a small circle of friends, and continued to attend peer support and recovery groups, I neglected some of the most important long-term friendships of my life. I don’t want to blame my ex-partner, because I made the choice, but I defaulted to her needs, to spend time at home and seldom socially with friends. She was an introvert, and I believe she experienced social phobia outside of the workplace where she maintained some control of people and her environment.
Why do I mention this? I do so because when we separated, I not only grieved the loss of my primary relationship, but those friendships too that I had failed to nurture and maintain. I had many lonely nights and weekends, in fact, holidays as well, with too much time on my hands. Oh, how I wish I could buy back some of that time today to spend with the friends and loved ones who populate my life.
It has taken me years, to rebuild those friendships and to create new ones. I’m grateful for the abundance and quality of the relationships in my life today. A friend described the challenge in scheduling time with me this way, “You certainly are in demand!” When she said that, I was filled with the realization of how lucky I had become.
Oh, I get by with a lot of help from my family
One myth that I hold about myself is that I’m independent, able to take care of myself with little help from others. Well, that’s not true. I am able to take care of myself, and I do possess an independent and resilient nature, and I wouldn’t be able to do so without my family of origin, chosen family, and friends.
There were periods in my past when members of my family of origin were estranged from each other. It was a dark and difficult time. We were facing some of the dysfunctions in our family and our individual “shadows,” elements of ourselves which we disowned or were too afraid to confront and address. After years of inventory-taking and change, individually and as a family, we came together again. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to sustain those changes, and periodically old hurt or resentments return among individual family members. Progress not perfection.
During those periods of separation with my family of origin, I built bonds with friends who became my chosen family. Many of us were in recovery programs of one kind or another — we leaned on each other like a family — and became one. Some of us were estranged from our families for one reason or another, because of who we loved, or how we wanted to live our lives, free of addiction or codependence. We called ourselves The Orphans. We created our own holiday traditions, including our annual Memorial Day camping trip to Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin.
Today, I’m grateful for the renewed relationship with my family of origin and the awareness of how much my chosen family has grown and added new members. Yesterday, with some of my siblings, chosen family, niece and nephew, and father, we planted flowers in memory of our mother. Yes, we still snipe and snark with each other — for the most part innocent and playful — and we thoroughly enjoy and relish in each other’s company.
On this Memorial Day, I honor and celebrate those who have protected and served our country, especially those who sacrificed their lives. I also remember loved ones, both family and friends, who have died, but whose memories live in our traditions and holidays, and in the stories we tell. Lastly, I acknowledge and give a shout out of gratitude to my friends and family who make my life rich and worth living.
Related Reading from Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!