Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | January 22, 2011

an open letter to my friend facing a challenge

My dear, dear friend,

I know you are being bombarded from every direction right now, by well-wishers, by inner and outer demons, and by the work of setting your new future in motion. You are suddenly on a steep learning curve. It must be a terrifying, exhausting place to find yourself.

I saw that you called a while back, and was puzzled at the time that you didn’t leave a message, but of course now it is eminently clear. This is news best not left on an answering machine. I won’t call, as you must be busy and preoccupied, but please know that I am here whenever you are inclined to talk, write, rant, be silent, whatever you need.

I know you’ll handle this challenge in your own inimitable style, as you have tackled all other aspects of your life in the thirty-odd years we’ve known each other – thoughtfully, with pragmatism and curiosity and grace and humor.

A woman I’ve never met wrote to me recently. She wanted to know if I had anything to say on how to get through “this” -and “this” is different for each of us. I haven’t written back yet because I want clarity before sending off my thoughts, and I keep hitting roadblocks in my thinking. I’ve been contemplating for weeks now how to respond to her.  I want to, at best, help her somehow, and at least, do no harm.

A scrap of language floated to the surface for me a few days ago, and I share it with you now, for whatever it’s worth.

“Cultivate presence”

BE in each moment. I tortured myself with thoughts of future, mostly, and past, somewhat. If you can really stay where you are, and Be There, even in the scary or painful moments, at least you are living it only once, not again and again through worry or regret.

That is all. The Dalai Lama says:

“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”

Certainly, this is easier said than done – a practice that takes a lifetime to master. I don’t pretend to know what is going through your mind these days, but I will walk with you whenever you would like me to, and I’ll be thinking of you the rest of the time. Call me in the middle of the night if you want to. You know I MEAN IT. And I can be there in a few hours.

I know you can do this. I am proud to know you and call you my friend.

with so very much love,




  1. What a thoughtful letter … it is written from your heart – I can tell and if only you could add this as a template to Microsoft Word … and you think I’m joking? I’m not. I know some widows who no one reached out to and this would have meant a tiny pinprick of humanity and light in their darkness in those very early days …

    Be in each moment. Invaluable advice. I remember fretting to a friend – “what if I fall over and break my leg? What will I do?” and she took a deep breath (she does this if she’s choosing her words to reply 😉 and said, “let’s worry about that IF it happens Boo. You’ve got enough on your mind right now. Don’t add to it by worrying about stuff that will probably never happen.”

    And she often quotes the Dalai Lama and she loves the Buddhist philosophy/teachings.


  2. Thank you Boo, so much. My friend is not a widow, so perhaps these thoughts are more universal than I realized. Paraphrasing something m. said a year or so ago, “I don’t need to be told to stop staring at the hole, I need love and support and comfort WHILE I’m staring at it.”
    Exactly. That is all any of us can do for one another.
    I used to worry about breaking my leg, too. For a time when Jeff was sick, he did not drive, and our daughter had only her learner’s permit, and that particular fear of breaking my leg and not being able to be our family’s driver seemed to sum up a lot of what I was needed for around here. Now that I am alone in the house, breaking my leg would probably be a worse nuisance, but I do not worry. So much.
    I read your comment just before going to a favorite wide open place that I go to visit some soul-filled trees, where I just walk and let my mind empty and fill, ebb and flow. I thought about how the calmness and practicality of the Dalai Lama and some tenets of Buddhism are easier for me to access and appreciate than the same letting-go-ness and comfort that others find in the Christian faith. I don’t know why that is.


  3. hey – I was Just thinking of that whatever it was I said last year. The person who counselled me to stop looking at the hole is shipping off to “someplace sandy” (military chaplain), and I thought of that advice, which I thought – then and now – to be such Bunk.


    • That was a COUNSELOR that said that!? Ugh.


      • mmm. Former boyfriend from my early 20s, now a minister, hospice chaplain, and army chaplain (the sort who knocks on doors to deliver “we regret to inform you…”) What he actually said was “the people who seem to do the best, in all of my experience, are the ones who stop staring at the hole.” Feh.


      • Even worse. What is it with you and the clueless ministers? (Maybe I hold them to a higher standard of clueing up, the same way I used to think doctors could “fix it”, whatever it was.) Maybe his statement is in fact true, but, my god, it hadn’t even been SIX MONTHS. Which is a place I don’t want to revisit any time soon.


  4. All very good advice to a friend, and as you have commented, they are relevant to a number of situations.

    At several points during Don’s illness, a friend gave advice similar to that of the above Dalai Lama passage. He has had to deal with several serious health threats – Hodgkins Lymphoma in the 1980s, and ABPA – a serious chronic lung disease – most of his life – along with the side efffects of high dose steroids, anti-fungal drugs, and so on. He has been in and out of hospitals for decades, and yet, most times, he deals with these challenges so well as he tries not to think ahead, or dwell on the past, and not worry about the “what ifs”. I think we have to learn to let the future take care of itself – at least to some extent – as we truly have no control over what will come to be.

    Interesting about the “wide open places”. The wild places where I so often wander and spend many days camped, help me to leave any troubles behind and just be in the moment.


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