We all know the poem about friends who are there for a reason, a season or a lifetime – how often do we see it forwarded on emails? It’s something we relate to and instinctively understand.
Friendships in a global environment are made quickly, and personal information exchanged rapidly, because neither friend knows how long they will be around. Such friendships are intense, quickly established and vital to health and well-being in places far from home. They burn brightly, but their light is often dimmed when one or the other moves on. It is the nature of these friendships.
Yet in the pressure cooker of international life there are some friends whose value can be appreciated over time. Like you, they stay longer than the usual expat term, are semi-permanent fixtures. The friendship is able to develop gently, normally, as it would in ‘real life’. The slow-cooker friend, whose richness and flavour intensifies with the simmering.
They do not share themselves immediately, gradually revealing intimacies as the friendship matures. In time we share information about lives, families, hopes and fears. Sometimes we need their compassion, their strength and sound advice and they are there, ever giving. We hope we give an equal measure in return. Not because the friendship demands it, but because helping a real friend is something you do as naturally as breathing. The three things we humans find hardest to say are, I’m sorry, I need help and I love you. It’s not hard to say those words to this friend.
Yesterday my slow-cooker friend broke the news she is leaving. Unexpected, out of the blue. In ten weeks. So little time for her to organise her life, to plan her leaving and goodbyes well.
Three of us sat over a cup of tea, two of us shell-shocked. Of course we were/ are supportive, excited on her behalf, thrilled at the new adventures she has to look forward to and want to be a part of that excitement. I’m amazed we managed to get through the afternoon without tears or drama, but it was not appropriate. Our friend needed our strength, our support, not our tears.
The tears have come today, quiet, heart-rending tears in the quiet of an empty house.
Another friendship a casualty of the life we have fallen into. Grief at the loss of a friendship, which will have to adjust to distance and time zones – Skype, Facebook and phone calls instead of shared rooms on girls weekends, a quick coffee on the spur of the moment, tea at the gym after a class (hers not mine). Discussing shared meals, recipes, family traumas. And laughter.
And it’s okay to have these moments. An acknowledgement of loss, of understanding that friendships and people matter to us, make us who we are. Sometimes the pain can be so intense it stops us reaching out again, not wanting to be hurt, not wanting to feel.
But that would be to devalue those important friendships, to have taken nothing from them. We owe it to those friends to remain open and giving, a testament to the friendship we’ve shared, a paying forward.
But it’s bloody hard.
With slow-cooker friends you’ve taken the time and patience to build something solid, and your heart is tricked into thinking they will be there forever. And they will be, but in a different way.
And there’s nothing wrong with taking some alone time to reflect on what what has been and mourn the loss, knowing on her final day they’ll be smiles and tears as we wave her off, with an appreciation of the time we’ve shared together in a country that’s not our home.