Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to Help A Friend Who’s Dying

Since I saw Dallas Buyers Club (my review here) I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Although the main character, Ron Woodroof, is initially focused only on his own survival, eventually the people he helps – especially Rayon – become friends. He is literally helping them stay alive. And that got me thinking: what would I do?

Sometimes what we are called upon to do, what we are able to do, seems insignificant: running errands, chauffeuring to doctor’s appointments, cooking meals. All serve a dual purpose: taking the burden of the mundane off the shoulders of someone who needs to focus all their attention and energy on fighting their disease, and also to provide a tangible example of friendship.

Not everyone’s good at asking for help, and those who are dying may be less likely. They don’t want to see ‘the look’ that we often unwittingly wear on our faces: a mixture of sympathy and pain that they’d never seen before.

But those of us who are lucky, really lucky, are allowed in to what my friend Delle called “the cancer vortex”. It may not be cancer that is killing our friend, but you get the idea. Reality has changed for your friend and for you.

What, then, are you willing to do? I don’t mean “call me if you need anything”. You’ll grow old and grey before you get that call. I mean what are you willing to actually do for them? Depending on your proximity and available time, there are many things:

-          Set up a Caring Bridge page or Facebook group to keep other far-flung friends up-do-date on their progress.

-          Schedule regular trips to the grocery store. Take them with you if they’re able.

-          Make a date for lunch or brunch, depending on their energy and appetite.

-          Do something stupid together that will make you both laugh.

-          Ask old friends to contact them.

-          Make their favorite foods, especially if their appetite is waning.

-          Do their laundry, or clean for them.

-          Don’t whine. Do your best to keep their spirits up. This isn't about you.

-          Send cards, DVD’s, packages; burn a CD or Skype..

These are all tasks that most people are capable of accomplishing. But what if the situation is drastic? What if, like Ron Woodroof, their doctor gives then 30 days to live? What would you do then?

-          Would you go public for them?

-          Would you steal for them?

-          Would you break the law for them?

I’ve had this conversation with several friends in the past few years. So far, what we’ve pledged to do has been without concerns about legal ramifications (I mean, really: does it matter if the marijuana is officially medicinal?).

I hope one of the conversations that comes out of Dallas Buyers Club is just this: what would you do for a friend who’s dying? Would you let your own fears or prejudices or disapproval stop you from supporting them? Or would you do whatever you could (and hopefully get away with) to help prolong their life, improve the quality of their life, or help them die as peaceful a death as possible?

Because I guarantee if you don’t, you won’t just feel guilty.

You’ll wonder what your remaining friends would do for you.

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