This post was inspired by a recent conversation I had with a very close friend. She unfortunately has yet another friend who is in the final stages of this horrible fucking cancer thing.
Her friend’s partner, who sounds like an amazing man in his own right, confides emotionally in her whilst remaining at arm’s length to his friends and family over anything to do with his own wellbeing during the incredibly hard times they find themselves in, and my friend simply asked me if I had any insight on how she should approach the situation.
I must admit that this stopped me in my tracks.
What advice could I give? How can I even begin to understand what demons rage within this poor soul? Although I have trod a similar path, does this mean I am qualified to offer help or is that being egotistical?
I couldn’t even respond immediately it had me in such a quandary!
I was forced to retrace my journey over the last few years and try to isolate (which is nigh on impossible) the hallmarks of those people I found to be the most helpful in my hours of darkness. Those whom I turned to with least hesitation and an open heart when in need. (my friend happened to be one of these amazing souls)
Which sounds all very impersonal and even somewhat perversely analytical, but I was so shaken by this simplest of questions that I could think of no other way of providing help.
And as you can probably guess, the whole process was as cathartic as it was enlightening and inspiring.
I realised that one thing I have found hardest to cope with that was unexpected is the changed behaviour of, and treatment from, friends and family when tragedy strikes or is inevitable.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am as guilty of this as the next man. We all find it hard to know how to act, speak, and behave around someone, and their families, who has been given forewarning of their possible demise. And we all expect a level of consideration and understanding when we fall upon tough times.
It really is an insight into the fear and taboo western culture has surrounded the topic of death. After all, if there is one thing that we all have in common universally, is that we are all guaranteed to die. So why should it be worse if we know when? That’s a whole other article – back to the topic at hand.
It is hard enough to come to terms with losing someone you love, or leaving people you love, without the added stress of making others feel comfortable in your presence.
So what I discovered through this process was that my “rocks”, my go to friends I turned to, were those that treated me just as they always had. But with an understanding of the hard shit I was having to deal with.
OK, so maybe the shit-stirring jocularity was a little more tempered than usual, and hearing me out while I moaned and whined was more common than I’d been accustomed to, but all in all there was a distinct comfort in being surrounded by people who reminded me that I was still me. That illness and loss does not define a person.
So ultimately my advice to my friend was exactly that. Just keep being the good friend you have always been. Let them know that you are there if they need. Don’t force advice or discussion. Just love them and be ready when they are.
We are all faced with hardship and tragedy in life. It is unfortunately inevitable. It is part of this perplexing yet amazing journey we are undertaking without reason, justification or explanation.
Just be you, and treat your loved ones, indeed everyone, with compassion, understanding and kindness.