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As we get older, the dynamics of our friendships can change, some of them drastically. I have been thinking about and processing this for the past few years, and as time progresses, the changes become even more apparent.

One friend of mine described relationships as particles in space, orbiting around us in rings. We determine how close or far away these relationships are to us emotionally. Someone may have existed in our most inner ring for years, but now may be farther out in our ‘relationship universe’ due to not maintaining the close level of the relationship, or out of necessity for one’s emotional and mental well-being. Some relationships have even been flung out to the farthest ring in our personal universe and the individual isn’t even aware they have been placed there. As I processed the relationships in my life, I found this explanation to be helpful, bringing some people closer and moving some people as far out as possible. It was a healthy exercise for me, and because I kept this process to myself, no one’s feelings were hurt.

Some of us are fortunate to have a few friendships that survive the trials of time and distance. You know, the ones that pick up right where they left off? I am blessed to have such a friendship with the woman who was my best friend in high school. We always stayed in touch, attended one another’s weddings, sent announcements when our children graduated, married, or had a child. We rarely visited but made the effort to check in with each other a few times each year. And now we share a bond one never wishes for — we have both been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Sometimes we can take this type of friendship for granted, and then when reality hits — like a serious illness — we are reminded why this person is so precious to us. I would do anything for this woman, anything, and she would do the same for me. Our friendship has never been tested seriously because long ago we agreed there were certain things that would stay out of the relationship, like politics. We each have plenty of other friends who share our individual views and beliefs, allowing us to concentrate on what we do have in common and to admire our differences. And recently I discovered an unexpected gift from this particular relationship — the friendship that is developing between myself and one of her adult children. I now appreciate how my father felt when he enjoyed friendships with some of my friends when they became adults.

On the flip side are the friendships with people we have known for years but have simply outgrown; we no longer share any real interests, or we recognize they are not the type of person we want to associate with. People grow and change, and not always for the better, or not always into people we remain compatible with. I was well into my fifties before I discovered long term relationships that turn sour are not exclusive to romantic relationships. I was one of those folks who believed once a friend, always a friend — unless someone did something genuinely awful. But as time wore on, I began to realize that I was holding onto friendships and family relationships that no longer served me, and some of them were toxic to the point of my becoming anxious and physically ill.

As I was trying to figure out what to do with these relationships, a tumor was discovered in my colon. It would be several weeks of scans and tests before doctors could determine when they could operate and if the tumor was malignant or benign. During this waiting period, I had time to think about what was TRULY important to me. I began to think about my choices in chunks of time, did I have six months or two years left? Did I even have to worry at all? It took less than a week for me to decide what and who was important in my life. I thought of the people I wanted to see if I only had a little time left, who I wanted to spend those precious moments with, either in person or on the phone. Who I wanted to email or chat with online and who I wanted to forget altogether. I was surprised by my choices and relayed this experience to a trusted childhood friend. They, in turn, shared their method of dealing with the complexities of relationships — the particles in space/orbiting rings method.

Fast forward a year and a half later to the present. The tumor was malignant but successfully removed and I am cancer-free. I am back to living a ‘normal’ life, making plans for the future. I am reconnecting with some folks and have disconnected with others. I am grateful for all the friendships and most of the relationships in my life; they have served their purpose in one way or another. I am most grateful for a friendship I never even imagined I would have, the “best friend” type of relationship I have with my husband. This is one friendship that will always be in the most inner ring of my universe, even when I cross over to the next realm.

Poet and writer of short stories, flash fiction, and essays. Beginning blogger at noellekukenas.wordpress.com.

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