Friday, 3 July 2015

My Cancer, my Friends Near and Afar

"And that's when I found out who my real friends are..."  In my years of ministry in palliative care, and since my own diagnosis I have heard that said more times than I can remember by folks who have hit catastrophic circumstances.  They are talking about how their friends behaved after hearing the news of their illness, job losses, divorce, etc. Some, as you can expect, were generous and kind, supportive...all the things one would expect of a good friend, often people who weren't previously close.  The caring shines through.

But in many, many cases a good friend seemingly disappears.
  • I know of a guy who was in hospital for weeks because of a life-threatening disease.  Other than family, he had no visitors at all. This man is well respected in our industry and an invitation to his exclusive annual soirée is coveted.  And yet none could make it to his hospital bed or his home to say hi during recovery.  This was several years ago and the bad feelings linger.  He talks about how he thought he knew who his friends were (past tense).
  • A woman shared a similar story, to the point of naming mutual friends she doesn't expect to ever see socially again, so ostracized was she.  And she used the same words describing these people whom she once thought of as friends. "I found out who my friends really were."
  • Yet another still hasn't yet heard from some close family members, months into her husband's treatment. 
  • A fellow I know told me that after we was layed off from his job of nigh on 20 years only one of his former peers reached out in the first few months, and only a trickle since.  As he struggled for words to express his sadness upon learning of my my terminal diagnosis perhaps he got a hint of the struggle we all faced when he was canned. What to say?  When to call?
In the brief six months since my diagnosis and when I began to tell my friends and co-workers of this fatal disease in my abdomen, my lungs and my lymph nodes, with maybe as much time left on the grassy side of the lawn as has already passed since diagnosis, I have experienced similar aloneness. This is not to say I haven't had many visitors and wouldn't have already had so many more were it not for my wretched chemo (I hate the thought of being a less than gracious host for any reason and so I reluctantly ask for no visitors some days).  What I am saying is that I am absolutely dumbfounded that some very close and trusted friends seemed to have turned their backs and ignored my attempts to reach out to them.  I don't just sit here and wait for text messages!

But you will never hear me refer to any of these as people whom I "once thought were my" friends, in the past tense. I still consider them to be friends. I just don't have the temperament after several attempts to continue trying to bridge the scary divide this cancer has caused between us.  I hate to play the cancer card, but here goes...  I can't carry other people's baggage as well as carry my own. I'm not asking anyone to carry mine. I'm just asking them to walk with me like we used to before, when we immortals. 

You know something?  I kind of pride myself in not getting too preachy in these little opinion pieces I write, but maybe, if nothing more, a little attribution is appropriate. So here's the Gospel angle. 

If Jesus could go to the grave without an ounce of rancor towards those who denied him, betrayed him or turned their backs to him, I figure maybe so can I. It would do them as much good to know forgiveness as it does me good to beg for God's help to forgive them and that they might forgive me if I've hurt them. 

So What Do I Do Now?
There are so many reasons one might ignore a dying friend, all of them by themselves quite understandable, not many of them valid under ordinary circumstances. For every reason I'd suggest one of the following.

1.  Confront the problem. If there's something you need to hear from your friend; an apology, forgiveness, whatever...ask for it. Offer it. 

2.  Get over it, whatever "it" is.  Afraid to see her without hair? Not sure what to say? Hate hospitals?
Funeral homes?  Get over it.  Get past it.  She didn't volunteer to be there either. 

 3.  However it goes, go with it. Support your friend, his wife and family. Bring over a casserole, hide behind huge bouquet or just show up with an extra coffee in hand. Whatever happens after that, go with it, even if it means nothing changes. Life isn't a TV movie, sometimes there are unhappy and unresolved endings. No, we can't all get along. 

4.  Do it. Do it right now. Pray for a little help, if that's your thing. 

1 comment:

  1. I can always bring a coffee if you're ever up to having company.