Monday, February 27, 2012

When a Friend’s Diagnosis Scares You

“I read the news today, oh, boy…”

When I was a kid, it seemed that old people talked about nothing but aches and pains. If asked how she was feeling, the most optimistic response my great-aunt could come up with was, “well, not too bad”.

And while I’m not there yet, as we age we see glimpses of declining health. Sore knees and weakened eyes become the rule rather than the exception, both in ourselves and our friends.

We may complain about not being able to play certain sports anymore, but, hey, we’re still here, right?

Then one day you get the phone call or the email, or you see a post on Facebook. One of your friends is sick, really sick: dying. And the world stops.

We go into crisis mode: contacting our friend, offering assistance in any way we can. We stop obsessing about stupid things and concentrate on what we can do to help. We get out of ourselves, though it may only last a little while.

Deanna Watson, writing in yesterday’s Times Record News of Wichita Falls, Texas, is in the midst of one of those times. Her colleague, sports writer Nick Gholson, had surgery last week for advanced colon cancer.

Time has a way of standing still when we hear shocking news. Our minds struggle to understand the words and what they mean. They didn’t get all the cancer? What does that mean? Can they operate again? There’s something they can do, right? You’re going to be okay, right? RIGHT???

It’s the shock of the news, but it’s also the rush of selfishness we all feel: what about me? Some people may even feel guilty later on if they realize how they’re reacting, but it’s so very human and understandable.

We love our friends, or they wouldn’t be our friends. We share our lives with them. We want to always be able to do the things we do with them now, or have done for years.

So if your reaction to such devastating news is to think “I need you to be okay, I need everything to stay the way it is right now” you’re not alone. I remember thinking the same thing – and not admitting it to anyone – when hearing that friends were close to death.

The difference between this and dealing with the devastating news that a friend has died is that they’re still very much alive. As devastated as you are, you’ve been given a gift: time. No, it’s not as much time as you assumed you’d have. But it’s time: time to say what’s in your heart, time to help them, time to just hang out and be the friend you’ve always been.

Watson talks about how rattled she is: forgetting things, almost being in a daze. But she is as lucid as can be in the close of her article. Hers are words that we can all relate to and follow:

“I’m a different person today than I was, say, on Monday, when little things bothered me. I can feel it. I’ve aged.

I’m sure there will come a day, probably sooner than later, when the little things bother me again.

A friend will hurt my feelings.

I’ll drive over the speed limit on a winding, country road.

I’ll work a few minutes late, trying to squeeze in one more task.
I’ll fuss at the clutter in the living room.

But I can do that another day.

If I get another day.

This week, I’m learning a lesson I’ve been taught many times before.

Today is the only day that’s certain.

You fight for tomorrow.”


kathleen pooler said...

Viki, This post really resonates with me today as my favorite Aunt Rose is in the hospital,fighting leukemia I am remembering,she is still very much alive and we still have some precious time to spend together.In fact,today is all any of us have. Thanks for another great post that hones right in on what is really important.

Friend Grief said...

Kathy, you are lucky to have time with your aunt. My girlfriends and I had a long "conference" call the other night and were very aware of our mortality when we talked. Thanks for your always kind comments.