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When the idea of a memoir on grief was an unformed idea, long before I began to blog, when bffs surprised me with a birthday party and I celebrated a reunion with friend-like-a-brother Ralph Storm, I reflected on the events and my reaction to them:

If I have any wisdom from 73 years of living, five years a widow, it is this: NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS. NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS. NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships with friends … relationships with family … relationship with God. With friends, family, and faith, you can survive just about anything. Without them, nothing else is really worth very much in the end—not money nor fame nor possessions nor travels nor achievement.

Even if it doesn’t come easily or naturally (and those who grew with me in Texarkana can confirm that social skills didn’t come to me naturally or quickly), you can overcome shyness, reserve, awkwardness, pride, and self-centeredness. In the midst of busyness, you can find time for relationships. In no particular order:

  • Develop empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. I grew up in a home where the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—was not only a Bible verse to be learned but also the foundation for all interpersonal relationships.
  • Take time to say “thank you.” Promptly if possible. Late, with an apology, if unavoidable.
  • Practice the gift of hospitality.
  • Take initiative. Don’t wait for others to reach out to you; reach out to them. Don’t be afraid of rejection. The worst they can do is say “no.”
  • Be there for the bad times as well as the good times.
  • Be trustworthy, loyal, truthful, generous, and unselfish.
  • Learn to give and to receive with equal grace.
  • Stay in touch. With texting, email, and social media, there’s really no excuse.
  • Take time to give your relationships top priority. Treasure them. Never say “no” if you can say “yes”—excluding moral and ethical issues, of course.
  • Be intentional in nurturing relationships. They are living organisms. They don’t survive in a vacuum.

Your spouse may be your best friend, but don’t make him or her your only friend. In illness, divorce, death, and afterwards, you need friends. You need a support system. Today there were 20 at my birthday party, all over 70: 4 men, 16 women—2 divorced, 4 married, 10 widowed. The small percent of still married is probably skewed somewhat by one of the realities of widowhood: Most married couples don’t think to include singles in their social life. The cliché is true; you can usually count on one hand the people who stick with you through the bad times.

Ralph, who was my mentor as well as Lev’s partner and our friend, taught me three invaluable lessons when I was in my 30s—those things (remember the old halitosis ads?) “even your best friend won’t tell you.”

  • To have a friend, you have to be a friend.
  • To have a friend, present yourself friendly.
  • Sandwich criticism. When you must offer criticism, start with the “bread” of compliments or praise—find something good to say at the beginning and the end. The critical part is the “meat” in the middle. Emails and texting don’t promote sandwiching, and there are lots of hurt feelings and damaged relationships as a result.

I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

March 15, 2014

And three years later, I am still working at it. If you check out my blog category, Relationships, in the right column, you will find my many blogs on the subject. Friends. Family. God. Nurture your relationships. It will make all the difference.

Photo: February 1, 2007, with Lev and Ralph after Ralph (and Jean, posthumously) was presented the Founders Award at Baylor University. What a difference 10 years make!