Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Friend Indeed ...

Hello, Everyone,

This morning, I want to say a bit about friendship, having learned of the death of an old and dear friend, Susan (Mitchell) Voth, on the first day of this new year. (My heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.)

I met Susan in 1970 during my urology rotation in nurses' training at St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver.  I was an eighteen year old junior surgical student and she was a relatively new RN from the Maritimes who kept everyone - patients, students, staff and physicians - in stitches much of the time. While she struggled with a learning disability that made her handwriting and spelling atrocious, she had the kind of natural wisdom and intuitive knowing that made her an invaluable partner on nightshift when a patient's condition was going south and the issue hadn't quite declared itself. Her heart was as big as all outdoors and she stayed in touch with many of her patients and families over the years.

Susan and I became fast friends during my training days and were roommates, on and off, over ten years until each of us married. She and her first husband, Al, who was later killed in an airplane accident, moved to the prairies to farm and we eventually lost track of each other. I was happy to have the opportunity to reconnect with her briefly when she visited Vancouver years later after marrying her second farmer husband, Henry.

Susan was a good friend to me and I realize, now, that we understood each other so well because we  shared the effects of our particular childhood trauma - Susan had lost her mother at the age of two and I had experienced significant medical trauma and maternal separation at birth. We had also lived through many years of our fathers' alcoholism. Those shared experiences gave us a natural empathy for each other and our friendship helped fill many gaps from our younger years.

From Susan, I learned to cook, camp, canoe, enjoy a little good scotch, choose a good lobster, like pop music, socialize in large groups (I was very shy), play my guitar in public, drive a car (first a volkswagon beetle, then an MG Midget and finally a volkswagon van that took us 23,000 miles around North America in 1978),  to laugh more and worry less, and even to recognize that I had a spiritual life worth developing (though our paths-of-the-spirit soon diverged). Her family - her Dad, Helen, and siblings, Nancy, Peter and Mary - welcomed me into their homes and offered rich adventures on the ranch in Manitoba; in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland; on the St Stephen, NB - Calais, MA border; and by the sea in St Andrew's, NB, adventures that I would never have had otherwise and will never forget. I owe a debt of gratitude to each of them.

We know from the literature on trauma and social bonds that all human beings need social support to survive and thrive. When we have someone we can trust with our stories and our feelings and from whom we can receive support without judgement, we heal better and faster from the wounds of life.   Susan was one of the first of a large network of valued family and friends who have provided that kind of friendship to me. I am forever grateful.

If you have a friend or friends who have been particular supports to you, why not take some time today to think of them and their value in your life and then, perhaps, pick up the phone or write a note to tell them, specifically, how much they mean to you and why.

If, on the other hand, you're feeling isolated and alone and can't even think of a person you'd call a friend, watch this space next time when we'll look at the process of making friends. (An important skill for those who have never had many friends or whose support networks have shrunk significantly through ongoing care-giving or compassion fatigue.)    


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