Some Words From the Heart Can Help Heal a Broken One

R emember, you have friends .

I have talked to many people, during the course of writing this column and the course of just living my life, who needed to hear those words.

People tend to forget about their friends when they need them most, when pain blurs their vision and nearly stops their heart. I am talking about grief. It is an emotional cannibal that can obliterate all else.

A man I'll call David sent me a letter the other day. It was a copy of one that he had sent to a friend of his own, a man with whom he had played golf now and again. Nathan is the name that I will give him here.

Both David and Nathan are, as they say, on in years. They live in Leisure World in Laguna Hills.

This letter, I believe, shows how the simple gifts of friendship can redeem. David wrote the letter on Oct. 29 of last year, on the day that Nathan's wife died.

It starts by reminding Nathan of a kindness he bestowed on his friend nearly two years before. It was no grand gesture; perhaps Nathan did not even remember what he had done.

David had just learned from his wife's doctor that the woman he had loved for more than 50 years had perhaps no more than six months to live. Emphysema had changed to lung cancer. Surgery offered no hope.

David bumped into Nathan at the supermarket within hours of hearing the news.

David writes here to his friend:

"I was in tears as I talked to you when you took my hand and then gave me a gentle hug, saying, 'Remember, David, you have friends.'

"That short meeting I've never forgotten, for you were the first person, beyond (my wife) but including my family, with whom grief was shared. In the remaining months of her life and in the long, sad year since her death, you have been my helpful, treasured friend, consoling me and showing your concerns for my health.

"And now, Dear Friend, this very day you have lost your beloved (Elizabeth) and we who owe you so much find no words equal to the debt we would assume. In her death you receive the most devastating and powerful emotional blow life ever brings to a man. Your grief is intensely personal. . . .

"The love ties and bonds between you (and Elizabeth) now meld in a formula for grief so uniquely private that friends who love you--and we are legion--can provide neither effective support nor counsel because we are outside the sad equation. Still, we are a resource which you may find helpful simply by letting us try to help you. We who love you can only say, as once you said, 'Remember, Nathan. You have friends.'

"We will, sometimes with awkward cliches, seek to beguile you from grief. When we're awkward, please tell us so, but also please tell us when and how we might help you. The sad road down which you start your lonely trek this very night has been traveled before and will be again. We know that death is not something that happens to life but, rather, something that happens in life.

"Perhaps we who have been there have learned a bit about how to mask pain. Do not be afraid to ask and do not, above all, be afraid to talk to us about (Elizabeth). What are your memories? Joys? Fears? Talk to us about her and shed tears.

"Many friends will voice the standard cliche, that time helps. When you hear it so often, as you will, in the early months of your loss, you may be angry. You'll deny that time is helping because you certainly will have felt no less disconsolate as the pages fell from the calendar.

"But then someday, when you know not when or how, you'll learn that time and tears do help and that, if time helps, time accelerated through catharsis helps even more.

"And in it all, remember that (Elizabeth) still has friends and you, Nathan, have this one who awaits a chance in some small way to repay the debt of gratitude he owes you. Please tell your children, whom I've not been privileged to know, that I'll help them and their father any way I can.

"In respect and deep affection . . . David"

Would that each of us had at least one friendship such as this. Words mean so much more when they are offered in love.

They can even help heal.

Dianne Klein's column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Readers may reach Klein by writing to her at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7406.

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