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Posted: July 18, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Keeping Friendships and Dealing With Fatal Illness

When your loved one develops a terminal illness, they need your love and support and that of the rest of their family and friends. That isn’t always what they get, though. You are there for them no matter what happens. But others may not be. Sad, but true.
Your loved one can’t understand why everyone distances themselves. When you go someplace where friends used to be happy to see your loved one, they are suddenly silent and standoff-ish. They stand at a distance and look at your loved one with that strange expression on their face. When they do talk to your loved one, they have that “fake” smile and say they are happy to see you. Then they leave, using a weak excuse.
They used to invite your loved one to go golfing, or some other activity they both enjoyed. That stopped. Now, they don't call. They don’t come over to visit.
To put it plainly: They act as though your loved one has already died.
The day before they learned of the diagnosis, they didn’t act that way. Why did a word or two change them so much? After all, they aren't the one with the illness.
Your feelings are hurt because they are hurting your loved one. You feel like they slapped your loved one in the face for no reason at all. You feel like you would like to call them and tell them off. You feel like you want to drive to a quiet place with no one around and yell and scream at the top of your voice. You can't do that, though. That could just hurt your loved one more. Is there anything that will help this horrible situation?
Let's look at your loved one's reaction, and your reaction, to the fatal diagnosis. You are in disbelief. You are in shock. You can't believe it. When you go to work, walk down the street, or do anything else, it shows. It shows in the way you walk, the way you interact with each other and the dazed look on your face.
What do you do when you see someone else who looks that way? Are you afraid to approach them because you feel you would be interfering? Do you have any idea what to say? You probably don't know what to say or do, so you don't do or say anything.
When you know there has been an accident, illness or death of someone close to your friends, you probably don't know what to say or do either. You might walk up to them and tell them how sorry you are to hear the bad news, but then you go on your way into a more pleasant situation.
Now you are looking at things from the other angle. You are the one with the horrible illness. Now you see and understand what it is like to have people act that way. Is there anything you can do to help them over the "hump" so your relationship can get back to what it used to be?
There are approaches you can take, but not all your friends will respond to them. Some friends will still disappear.
When you see a friend who acts like they don't want to talk to your loved one, they might not know what to say. You and your loved one can walk up to them and start a conversation. I know the illness is on your mind 24 hours a day, but don't dwell on it. Tell them a little about it in two or three sentences, then go on to another subject. If they ask questions, answer as honestly as you can, but don't take hours doing it. Go on to another subject. Talk about something you both are interested in. Talk about work. Talk about golf. Talk about vacations. Talk about family. Talk about almost anything but the disease your loved one is facing.
Call your friends and family and invite them over. I wouldn't try to have a party with everyone; just invite a couple people at a time. Do something you all enjoy, like playing cards or watching a football game. You can make little comments about the disease occasionally because it is now a part of your life, but don't make very many comments at all, and don't dwell on the disease.
When they are ready to talk about your disease, they will start asking questions. Remember, they will react the same way as you at first. It does take a little time to adjust. When you have established stronger friendships, they will be there now as well as later.
Try to enjoy your life as long as possible. As you have come to realize, there will come an end to our lives. We are all born, and we will all die. It's just that we don't have to face dying until we develop a disease or face a fatal event. You may have to help your friends accept this eventuality, even though your loved one is the one with the illness.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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