The ringing phone startled me out of a daydream. I saw it was my cousin and knew this wasn’t good news. His sister, who was like my sister, had passed away. Five months earlier we had received the devastating blow of pancreatic cancer. She was getting ready to retire.
Just weeks before her death, her father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. My beloved uncle, a man who was cool, fun, hard- working and loving, another dad to me, was ill. My life was turning upside down before my eyes. The closest people to me were either ill or hurting, as was I.
I remember watching my cousin Valerie’s daughter throughout the 5 months of her illness. She dropped everything to care for her mother. She called me often to give me progress reports, and I called her to check in on everyone. I was a bit envious that my cousin had a daughter so focused on her care. I knew I didn’t have that. Not having children of my own was beginning to really bother me. It wasn’t about caretaking, although that became the focal point for me at the time. It was about having someone who you were important to.
Over the two years of my uncle’s illness I did watch my cousin become more of a caretaker. I watched him fly or drive from Maryland to New Jersey to take his dad to doctor appointments, tests, etc. And he was here for his mom, she was reeling from the couple of punches she had received. But again, I was a little envious, watching the children take care of everything just smacked me with a negative feeling.
Those few years really took a lot out of me. I am a giver by nature. I give of myself emotionally, spiritually and I spend much of my team lifting up others. During this time I was giving to my then husband and giving to my family and there was nothing left for me. I was depleted.
It is during these times that you really know whether your partner is there for you. Mine was not. He needed someone to keep him lifted up, he was a taker emotionally. When I couldn’t give to him, he went elsewhere. He needed someone else to give and he couldn’t give to me.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from all of this is that givers should be with givers. And givers need to find ways to reenergize themselves and fill themselves back up again. I’m not just speaking to romantic relationships, even friendships that are deep and connected need to lift each other up and give to each other, and each find ways to replenish. Sometimes it is with people and sometimes it is with nature. Sometimes it walking on a beach or laughing with a few friends.
When you aren’t used to being with givers a lot, you really notice it when you are. The emotion that can be evoked is, at times, overwhelming. I have a very good friend who once said that to me. I now understand that differently than when it was said to me. When said to me initially, although I thought it was positive, my uncertainty made me wonder if I was hurting my friend or overstepping boundaries. I never really brought out this type of emotion in a friend. I wasn’t.
This good friend is a beautiful soul. She is a light in any room. Her giving comes in many forms but one of the most beautiful is how she makes people feel. She leaves every person better than when she found them. You can watch people light up with her presence in the room. She gives of herself all of the time. She is an introvert so she replenishes generally alone, with nature. What I have come to realize is that she probably has never had such a deep connection with another giver before which is why I brought up this emotion. We have given to each other over these few years, each helping to lift the other when needed. Never judging and never really showing effort, just giving each other what we need.
There is not good or bad in this, givers are givers and takers are takers. There is a need for both. As a giver, being able to receive is actually a skill that needs to be learned. My friend is just learning how to receive. And she is teaching me.