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Kristin Armstrong on Loss of Friendship and How to Heal

“It takes open hands to let go, and open hands to welcome something new.”

I was always the new girl.

My father worked for IBM, and back in the days of my childhood that meant you moved every couple of years if your career was on fire, and his was. Every few years we would pack up, pick up and start again. The certain smell of cardboard boxes and the sight of moving vans parked outside became familiar to me. I can’t imagine the burden that placed on my mom, finding new schools, doctors, friends, routines. Building a new life again and again and again. Each time she did it, she somehow made it into an adventure for us. It wasn’t easy on me, being a more introverted gal by nature. But it did plant traits in me that would not have grown had we stayed in one house, one town, one school system, one group of friends. There is a certain resilience, confidence, ease and sense of openness you get by repeatedly starting over. There is a recognition of home as your people more than your place, allowing you to feel at home wherever you are.

When it was my turn to choose, I settled in, rooted, made a nest. I have lived in Austin for the better part of almost thirty years. I cannot believe that even as I write it. During that time, I have moved houses, neighborhoods and traveled often enough to quell the periodic restlessness I cannot deny. I raised my children, built a business and cultivated friendships that are precious to me. Still, I wonder if my roots are not roots at all, but more like an anchor. Even after all these years, I could happily pull my anchor and set sail.

“I realized in recent years that because I always moved, I was always the one leaving.”

I realized in recent years that because I always moved, I was always the one leaving. I never stayed anywhere long enough to experience seasonal friendships, or understand what friendship filtration feels like. I have always stayed connected to my most beloved people, carrying their friendship with me in my heart as I traveled the world. I didn’t really notice the relationships that would have died a death of natural causes had they lived that long. Without knowing it, I was always panning for gold.

I’m not sure if it’s one of the long-term COVID effects or the disposable nature of modern life, but it seems that friendship filtration is coming up frequently in my work with clients. People talk about the end of marriages and dating breakups, and the pain associated with that. But rarely do people discuss the grief, betrayal and sense of loss inherent in the end of a dear friendship. I have watched women, and some men, amass a mountain of wadded up Kleenexes as they grieve the pain of feeling cut off or abandoned by someone they considered a forever friend.

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In some ways the sense of loss may be deeper, because it is our friends who carry us through the heartache of breakups and divorce. When the world walks out, they are the ones who stand steady, acting as the sentry at the innermost chamber of our heart. In the event of an attack or emergency, they guard the sacred fortress and never leave their post. We could not imagine life without them.

Until it happens.

I had a friendship like that, a sentry, a wingman, a ride or die girl for over twenty years. A cherished sister who was my confidante, my running buddy and my sanity in the trenches of motherhood. We talked about being old bitties together, winning our age groups at age 80 and taking our grandbabies to the beach. We told each other everything. Everything that is, except why she suddenly ended our friendship without warning or explanation — not a single conversation. There are no words to describe that breakup for me, even after walking through divorce decimation and the hell fires of subsequent boy breakups. This was otherly; a red tent epic betrayal.

After so many moves, so many times when I was the one to leave, this was the only sacred friendship in my entire lifetime that has ever severed. It has been a journey to get to the other side of that chasm of hurt. It dawned on me that maybe ours was ultimately a seasonal friendship, never intended to pass through the filter into Part Two of my life, not gold after all. Painful as it was, its absence created fresh new space. I believe it was precisely that space and freedom that made room to welcome the man who is the love of my life, my best friend, my home wherever I go.

Like the huge oak tree outside my bedroom window that cracked in half in that big storm, I never saw its weakness until it toppled. I cried when the arborist chain-sawed it into pieces and carried it away, leaving a gaping hole where beauty and shade used to be. Sad as I was, I did what needed to be done; I took advantage of the sunlight and replanted a gorgeous garden, now thriving and in full bloom.

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Perhaps if we could speak more freely about such intimate matters of the heart, we could create language sufficient to express and heal the profound experience of friendship filtration, and what we release could become compost for breaking new ground. It takes open hands to let go, and open hands to welcome something new.

Maybe a part of me always liked being the new girl.