In 2019 I lost my dad after a battle with dementia. I was very close with my dad as, for many years, he served as my career advisor and always gave me fair and balanced professional advice. Over the last several years, as I saw that ability slip away, I craved the person he had been.
In this past year, before we lost him, I learned not to make missing the person he had been the dominate aspect of my relationship with him. Although I never fully got past it, I knew my time with him was limited, so I tried my best to meet him where he was now.
It was challenging and rewarding at the same time. Lunch dates with long silences because he couldn’t find the words to fill the space became an opportunity for me to look at him—and see all the wonderful physical attributes he gave to me. My nose, my eyes, and the ability to say so much without speaking a word. I saw all of that and it was a gift.
What I learned through his loss gave me a perspective that I now strive to apply in all areas of my life. I try now to meet people where they are, versus where I think they should be.
I’ll admit, this is extremely hard for me, as I hold the people I let in my inner circle to a very high standard. I once had a friend describe herself in her relationships as an “all in person.” That resonated with me; that’s how I am as well: all in. I will advocate for you, provide tough love, tender love, and be your biggest cheerleader. Those in my inner circle can count on this—but with it comes the expectation that they will do the same for me.
This expectation often goes unmet, which has been disappointing. But I’ve learned some things, and this is what I strive toward:
For a myriad reasons, not everyone is capable of providing what I need in a friendship or relationship. That doesn’t mean those people can’t be in my life, and even be my friends. However, it also means they don’t have to be allowed in my inner tribe. And for me, most importantly, I don’t need feel guilty about any of that. Some people can become toxic and unhealthy for me. I can exit those people from my life and I don’t have to explain or justify that need. It’s possible to exit someone from my life in a kind and honest way in an effort to protect my emotional well-being. That isn’t selfish, that’s loving yourself.
For me, meeting people where they are doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice what I need out of my relationships; rather it means I can accept people in my life in to the degree that is healthiest for me. It is also not my responsibility to figure out the reasons why someone may not be capable of providing what I need for a closer relationship. I do not need to “save” everyone. As adults, we have to learn to save ourselves. I will always support, listen, and offer advice and love to my tribe. But that is very different than trying to save someone who doesn’t want to put in the work to save themselves. That may sound harsh, but it’s my truth and hey since I’m writing this I get to speak it! My hope is that I take what I learned in 2019 and put it to consistent practice in 2020.
We all deserve to be the very best versions of ourselves and to get there we have to work at it. I’m willing to invest in myself, and I hope you all are too.
Sue Litera has been a fundraiser in the non-profit industry for 22 years. She has worked directly for and also acted as a consultant supporting non-profits and their boards of directors to realize their full fundraising capacity. She serves as the founder and CEO of Bill’s Brigade, a non-profit that supports families in crisis when a family member passes away or is critically ill. After the loss of her husband, Sue needed support well after the funeral and initial help from family and friends faded away. Bill’s Brigade fills gaps to ensure the laundry is done, meals are prepared, small home repairs are maintained and errands are taken care of. Sue also serves on multiple boards, including, most recently, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Oneida Rotary. Sue is re-married and she and her husband enjoy their five kids, one very large dog and the chaos of their busy home.