My friend said, “I definitely connect best with those who have a clue about suffering.”

“Me too,” and I sighed on the other side of instant messenger.

It is nice to have someone who intuitively understands, even if our suffering might be drastically different. Someone who gets it and is not afraid of getting their shoes dirty walking through our mess. Someone who is able to offer the gift of tender compassion wrapped in love and peace and encouragement, in real and raw and fragile moments, with gentleness so they do not break us, and fierceness so we understand we do not fight alone. One friend like this is all most of us need for our entire lives. If we just have one person. Sometimes one person is all we can manage.

We discussed the stress. It is different from the stress we experience parenting our other kids. It weighs. It is so constant that we forget it is even there until we see it showing up in yo-yo weight gains, in lack of sleep, and in tears that come more easily than before. The constant stress becomes background noise, a new normal which wears on us, yet blends and becomes invisible to everyone around us.

We mostly stopped trying to explain it to others. The first times we tried we were met with blank stares and silence; they changed the subject and ignored us. After a few more times, we were met with blame and accusations; they told us we need more patience, and better balance. They offered us seminars and meal suggestions. We took a breath, recovered, and tried again because we believed if we could just use the right words, they would understand. So, we tried again and we were met with attacks; they told us we are bad parents, bad friends, bad wives, and bad citizens. They judged us, became angry with us, confronted us, and told us they were praying for us. Finally, they walked away and left us alone.

We decided we were too messy for friends. We gave up a little. We steeled ourselves for more attacks and disappointments because we had no room to fall apart. Anxiety medication doesn’t actually do all the things for you and all the things still need to get done. We became stronger and more independent. We learned how to be joyful about our lives while also carrying a heavy burden. We learned to soak up those small and precious and tender moments and carry them with us for our strength. We learned which parts of our lives are comfortable for others and we saved the rest for someone who might understand.

Then, there was one mom who came over and helped us unload our groceries. There was one mom who cried with us. There was one mom who believed in us and spoke words of life to us, who came to our house when our kids were sick, who made us take care of ourselves. She told us to call our Starbucks “self-care” and our exercise class “physical therapy.” Then she ordered us pizza and brought us more good coffee and laughter and sometimes she even stayed up and talked to us at 2am because we couldn’t sleep and it was the only moment we could find for ourselves. She knew better than to ask us for time so she went with us. She went to the doctor’s office, the IEP meeting, the hearing, the surgery. She walked in and through our crisis and got our crap all over her shoes too. And let me tell you, she wears nice shoes. And we felt bad about our mess when her heels sunk in, but she didn’t seem to feel bad. It was as though she wore those shoes just for us. And we needed her. She knows something about suffering. She knows and she is not afraid of the mess or of us.

She said, “I’m going to go put on my yoga clothes and go to “physical therapy” now. I love you.”

I wrote, “I love you too.”