The Impact of the “Right Words” (My Soup & Sandwich Oasis)

I’ve admitted before that I sometimes wonder if I dwell too much on the hard and melancholy in this space. I think hard events shape us the most but it’s easy to only see – or share – the light and superficial.

Several times now I’ve mentioned my “Soup-and-Sandwich Oasis” and people always chime in to say how sweet this arrangement sounds. Today I thought I’d tell the behind-the-scenes story about how this treasured friendship came to be.

On a picture-perfect day (bright, sunny, birds shining – a truly moviesque setting) I walked into the hospital for a routine ultrasound. It had been a rough pregnancy and I was tired. Tired of vomiting. Tired from the anti-nausea pills that, ironically enough, left me bed-ridden with fatigue (I wasn’t hurling my breakfast, but I could barely button my pants). Tired because growing another human life – at least in my experience – is exhausting!

I walked out a few hours later running on adrenaline and shock.

The radiologist told us, very matter-of-factly (I find it incredible what details become branded in my mind during stressful events; I can still remember the print pattern on the doctor’s capri pants and I remember thinking – in the middle of it all – “How could someone wear patterned pants that are so distinctive when delivering potentially life-changing news. Why couldn’t she be wearing blue jeans or black dress pants so there was at least one detail I could forget?”) that there were a number of concerning abnormalities on the ultrasound.

Due to the risks associated with invasive testing, we elected to monitor the issues.

So we did lots (and lots) of monitoring, but there were no answers. For exactly 130 days I had no idea what life lay ahead for me, for our family, or for our unborn baby. There were statistics and best guesses but absolutely no concrete answers.

Over the course of my experience, I met other women who had received similar news and kept their grief and fear close to their chest. And while I simply smiled politely when cashiers at every store gestured toward my growing belly, with those closest to me I felt compelled to share this burden of uncertainty.

Most people responded in one of two ways, both of which were well-intentioned.

The first response: “Everything will be okay.

Me: Yes, it will be “okay,” but “okay” could also mean life-altering in ways I never anticipated.

The second response: “Oh, I knew someone that received X,Y or Z diagnosis! And guess what? The baby was born healthy!

Me: Yes, that is their story, but I don’t know the end to mine. I can’t flip to the last page yet, and I’m scared to reach the ending and somehow I have to find a way to get up each morning and read through the next page and then the next, not knowing what might be revealed on that day’s page. This is one book I can’t skim.

For years I had been looking for a spiritual mentor. Someone I could talk to about the challenges of life through the lens of a shared faith. There was a particular woman in our church to whom I felt strangely drawn but, aside from pleasantries, we never interacted directly.

The day we shared the news with our church family she came over and told me the most loving, impactful words of that entire 130-day period.

She looked me straight in the eye (remember, we really didn’t know each other well at this point) and said: “You call me. Anytime you need to talk or want me to pray. Day or night. Call me and I’ll be there for you.”

And that was it. No telling me it would be okay. No mention of other people’s stories. Just a wholly genuine offer for 24/7 support.

I never did call her at 2:00 am, but knew I could and that left an indelible mark on my life.

For months we e-mailed each other, almost daily. She listened to everything I had to say. She listened as I wrestled with deep questions of faith; to my fear, to my joy.

When our baby was born healthy the emotional rollercoaster continued as I felt both tremendous relief and guilt. (Most people assumed there would be only relief, but I felt extreme guilt over my relief). And this friend was there for all of that too.

This friend is 42 years older than me. She has weathered many storms in life – storms I hope to never have to navigate. Through it all we have developed a wonderful friendship.

What started as e-mail exchanges slowly became in-person visits. She would cook me lunch and we would talk over cup after cup of tea. She treats me like a daughter, yes, but also like a cherished friend. We are, as Anne would say, kindred spirits.

Last year, she started calling her home my Soup-and-Sandwich Oasis and the name stuck. For my 22 in 2022 list, I made it a goal to visit her 3 times this year. After a long hiatus due to COVID restrictions, I was able to visit in February and as I got up to leave she asked: “Maybe we can aim for an even 4?

By this point in life, I hope we’ve realized that friends come in all shapes and sizes. And I’m here to say if you have the chance to invest in friendships with those a little bit older and, chances are, a little bit wiser, I can almost guarantee you’ll be richly rewarded!

Your turn? Do you have friends that are significantly older (or younger)? If so, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve learned from them?

Header photo by sunorwind on Unsplash

16 thoughts on “The Impact of the “Right Words” (My Soup & Sandwich Oasis)”

  1. Beautiful writing Elisabeth! You friend’s response after you had shared the news with your church family brought tears to my eyes. What a wise friend and a lesson I always need to hear again and again. To not share my own story as a response but to stand in witness and be there for the other person fully. There is a time to share stories but it’s that wisdom of knowing that in the moment of uncertainty and anguish, it’s support and listening that are most needed.

    1. It really was such a profound moment in my life and I think of it regularly. Unfortunately I often fall into the trap of trying to “fix” or share a story by way of support. And often those approaches CAN be helpful and the right thing. But somehow this would-be-friend sensed what I needed and delivered just that.

  2. Oh I love this! It’s a good reminder for all of us about how to support someone going through something hard. Usually saying you are here for them/showing up is far better than trying to say the right thing or assure them that everything will be ok.

    I don’t have any friendships with a significant age difference. The biggest age difference is maybe 7-8 years? One of my best friends is 7 years younger than me, but we are going through the same things in life as we both have 4yos, I have a 1yo and she has a baby. And then I have another friend who is probably 5 years older than me? I’m not even sure! But she got married a bit later in life than my peers so it was really nice to know of someone whose story looked similar to mine. But that’s it for big age differences!

    1. I think it is relatively unusual, actually, to have friends of a broad age range? I am getting to know someone who is (*embarrassing, I just had to do math to figure our how old I am*) 23 years older than me. She has teenage children and has just retired which brings a whole different perspective than the friend I mention in this post who is 42 years old. I think church tends to be a common way of finding older mentor-type people because it’s a big social setting with a broad cross-section of ages.
      But, more generally for me, I just always have been one to feel more comfortable in the presence of people older than myself. I grew up visiting house-bound seniors in their homes (my father was a pastor) or visiting bed-ridden seniors in a nursing home (my Mom was an RN and worked for years in a nursing home). I find them less intimidating than people in my own peer group somehow. I notice my own kids gravitate to this (I mean they love playing with friends their own age, but they’re just very comfortable around adults); pre-COVID we used to visit a local nursing home each week and the kids THRIVED. They truly loved the people there, and never seeming fazed by people with dementia or Parkinson’s or other challenging barriers. Since COVID we send them letters and pictures and just yesterday I was helping Abby pick up her bookshelves and saw she had displayed a note from one of the residents!

  3. I love this story! I can’t remember where I heard it but I think it was the Happier podcast, that you should have friends of all different ages. Of course not all older people are wise- I think this specific friend is an extra-special person. I’m actually tucking away these words to use if I find myself in that role.
    I don’t think your blog is too melancholy- “thoughtful” and “intentional” are the words that come to my mind. Yes, sometimes it’s fun to read a nice peppy blog post about someone’s ultra-perfect life, but the truth is, most of us struggle and it’s nice to feel like we’re all in it together.

    1. What a great point, Jenny! We could all end up being that “mentor” or older/wiser friend.

      Thanks for the categorization of “thoughtful and intentional”; that has a nicer ring than melancholy šŸ™‚

  4. I do not think of your blog as a place where you dwell on the melancholy or hard, either! You’re just thoughtful and that comes across in what you write! I have heard this advice about having friends of all ages before, but I struggle to know where to meet people my own age, let alone much younger or older! You’re lucky to have such a friend and it’s lovely to read stories of adult female friendship – we all need role models for how to make these types of important relationships work!

  5. I love how this woman was there for you and changed your life for the better. I hope you get your 4 visits with her this year. I know a woman who is easily 20 years older than me. One day after listening to me whine for a while she cut me off and bluntly said: “don’t let the world should on you.” Best advice I ever got. I rarely use the word ‘should’ anymore, replacing it with ‘shall.’ I think of her often and bless her every time I do. Wiser older women have it together.

    1. I think older people have learned how quickly life passes us by – far too quickly to get stuck in ruts. Why not benefit from their years of experience and avoid having to learn some of the lessons they accumulated via a harder route?!

  6. Being validated is so very important, we don’t often want advice we just want to be heard. I have never been very good at giving advice or telling my story, I used to just say silent, listen and not know what to say. I still do this if I cannot find the words to validate what I am hearing. I don’t have any much older friends, the oldest is about twelve years older than me. I do however meet a lot of people younger than me at home educating groups. Now that my children are older (and being an older parent) I suspect some of the parents I meet may be more than twenty years younger than me.

    I also don’t think that you blog is melancholy it is reflective and thoughtful, I love to come here and read.

    1. As always thanks for your kind words! And I suspect you’re a mentor figure (at least about home educating) to many of the parents you meet! These friendships (or even just acquaintances) can be beneficial BOTH ways.

  7. I couldn’t love this more if I tried. It’s so wonderful to have a relationship with someone who’s in a completely different stage of life and so rewarding.
    I have friends like that (someone who *dated* – that’s sounds horrible but it’s what it is – my Grandad when I was a kid but then split up with him is still in my life. She’s known me since I was 5 years old, so she’s technically more of a Grandma to me, but since she isn’t really my grandma I call the relationship that we were able to maintain and build on a friendship. She’s 91. We skype every four weeks and it’s two of the most rewarding hours of my whole month!)
    It’s been especially helpful to talk with her about what is happening in Ukraine right now (as she’s one of the few of the contemporary witnesses of WWII). It’s a hard topic, but she has so many insights!

    I am so glad you have this person in your life. What an incredible gift!

    1. You’ve mentioned you Skype calls; what a gift and a very treasured friendship for both of you, I’m sure <3

  8. I love this so much – and I am a bit envious! Not only did you find a wise, older friend, mentor, and sage, but they also feed you, AND you live within walking or driving distance of each other. What a wonderful confluence of events that must have conspired to bring this person into your life.
    I would love to have a relationship like this. We benefit so much from the life wisdom of those ahead of us on the path… and when they are willing to share their insights and experiences and counsel with those of us who are still finding our way.
    I know you treasure this relationship – it is so clear in your writing. I hope they also know how much they mean to you! (I do not know if they read your blog… :>)

    1. Ha. I know, eh. Having someone cook for you is joy divine.
      I think they know, but I try to remind them regularly because…it’s always nice to hear that you’re loved and appreciated and needed, right?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *