I have tried writing this post no less than a dozen times over the course of more than a few weeks. It has been a difficult post to write, and I have considered (at least half a dozen times) just abandoning this point altogether–it’s too painful, it makes me feel vulnerable, there seems to be no solution. But I decided to post it anyway, because it may help me, and it may help others in my comparable situation.
Illness is not only awful because of the ugly physical symptoms–and not because of the psychological aftermath…but because of the social disaster it wreaks on a person’s life. I am physically (and even emotionally) MUCH better now (I am so incredibly lucky, I know); however, I’m still picking my way through relationships. It’s like a battlefield–some friends have gone into hiding, others have run off the field, some friends are dead, others standing by me, others taking care of me, others waiting for my appearance.
I wrote about the subject of friendships and illness a few weeks ago. I have to say, as much as I want that reality to change, I think I’m still disappointed in many friendships. I’m learning that people I thought were close friends do not think the same of me. I am learning that I might be pushing people’s comfort levels, and that in my lowest moments, this makes me feel like a fresh dog turd…and in my higher moments I just tell myself, “That’s how it is.” My tendency is to isolate myself and put up a strong cheerful front–but I recognize that this is not the healthiest path, even though it may be less painful in the short term.
I am learning that many of my friends, in their thirties, have never dealt with a health crisis and that I may be bringing them great discomfort. And worst of all, I am not in a position to give THEM comfort. In a sense, I have become a pariah to them, and that is quite painful to my soul. I am surprised and hurt to realize many of them have…disappeared.
And what’s more, they have started reappearing in recent days, now that I’ve “gotten better.” I don’t think I’ll ever get over their disappearance–it’s as if they have said, “Oh, this is as far as I go, I’ll see you when you come back to this spot.” Everytime I talk to them, that spot appears in my mind, that line I know they will NEVER cross for me, for whatever reason they might provide.
At my lowest moments, I find myself categorizing my friends in the following manner:
Friends who have surprised me.
Friends who have disappointed me.
Friends who have shown me their very narrow limits.
Friends who have been spectacular.
I’m thankful to be shown these boundaries in such clear detail–a friend of mine wrote a long email weeks ago sharing what she had learned from her family health crisis in the past two years. The email included advice, emotional foresight, support, and survival tips. At the time I could not absorb it all, but I have been rereading it these weeks, gleaning the advice from the email as I progress and navigate the landscape of recovery. Friends, she said, would surprise me–in both bad and good ways. She too, had been deeply hurt by a friend who didn’t come around at all during her crisis.
It is eerie to see the repetition of challenges from her crisis appear in my health situation.
A couple weeks ago, I went to lunch with a friend who herself has been through illness. I keenly felt that I didn’t want to burden her, as I feel so burdened these days, but I was also hungry for her empathy and heart. I felt downright greedy, in fact, and I did my best to restrain myself from feeding off her entire soul.
My greed was remarkable, and awakened me to my incredible desire for friendship these days–and made me realize my own isolation.
The reality is that I need my friends.
And here–are some guidelines, because there should be less pain in the world.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend who’s sick. A simple, “Hey how are you? I’m thinking about you, okay?” is an awesome way to show a friend you care, even if you don’t know what to do or say.
- You can send flowers, but that is totally not necessary.
- You can send a card. Or an email.
- If you are close to the sick person and/or were a regular part of their lives previous to the illness, let them know you want to visit if you find it in yourself to do so.
- Do NOT share your own stories (ie., “Oh [insert someone you know] was sick too! Let me tell you all about it!”). Focus on your sick friend ask them how THEY are doing. It’s really confusing and awkward as a sick person to hear about all the awful news from the long gone past.
- If you don’t know what to say, just say so. “I don’t know what to say, but I do care about you.”
- If you are talking ABOUT your friend but aren’t talking TO your friend–remember, your friend can’t read minds. She just sees a wall of silence.
- If YOU are having problems yourself, tell your friend (feel it out, but honesty is best). She may be sick, but if she can help, she’d probably want to try. Or at least want to know how you are, and maybe a reason you can’t be there for her.
- Understand if your sick friend can’t go to lunch or go out, but know that your invitation is probably incredibly welcome.
- Just don’t be afraid to reach out.
- Good luck. 🙂