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A Friend In Need: Cancer And The Vanishing Friends

A short paragraph from the essay “Living With Cancer: Alone And Ghosted” by Susan Gubar (NYT August 6th), made me think about our expectations from friends:

“I depend on a circle of wonderful friends to whom I am enormously grateful. Quite a few gratify me with their company or by going on urgent errands; however, I have been shocked by several who have simply vanished. Perhaps my needs seem too pressing or never ending. Maybe these people feel inadequate, frightened or taken up with their own affairs. As troubles mount, will supporters dwindle?”

Gubar’s experience with her friends is similar to mine. When my husband became ill, many friends phoned to see how we were and  offered to help. They came to visit, and thought of creative ways to make our life more comfortable. For example, some colleagues from the university took him to sit by the sea. My husband enjoyed it all: being an introvert, he wasn’t used to being the center of attention, and often said that he was thankful that cancer made it possible for him to realize that he was loved by his friends.

Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-friend-in-need-cancer-and-the-vanishing-friends/

Comments 6

 
Katherine Gregor on Tuesday, 11 August 2015 13:28

Oh, dearest Orna, your piece touches a nerve. I, too, have behaved like one of your "vanishing" friends. A while back, one of my friends was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. There was only a limited amount of practical help I could provide, seeing we live in different cities but I did the usual thing of telling her to call me if she needed anything, and rang her after her early tests, to ask about the result. Then I asked her permission to send her some books I thought might help her and she accepted, so I ordered them for her and had them delivered to her. She didn't acknowledge them so I rang to check if they had arrived. Then, a couple of messages I left her remained unanswered. A couple of months later, it was Christmas, and I left another message. No reply. I told a few close friends about this and they advised me to give her some space and not put pressure on her, that she'd respond when and if she wished to. Good advice, I think, except that I couldn't lie to myself and not admit that I found it very convenient to follow it. The truth is, this person is not a close friends. It's someone I used to see as part of another group of people. We've always got on well but lately had only been meeting up every couple of years or so. She has friends much closer than I. Had she been a close friend, the lack of response from her would have prompted me to go and stand outside her front door until she opened and let me in. Still, however I tried to justify it, I felt deeply uncomfortable in my conscience for finding it so convenient and something of a relief (at the time I was under tremendous pressure with work, my mother's health, my own health and a couple of other personal issues) not to have to deal with her. It made me feel more ashamed of myself than I can say. No excuses.

Oh, dearest Orna, your piece touches a nerve. I, too, have behaved like one of your "vanishing" friends. A while back, one of my friends was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. There was only a limited amount of practical help I could provide, seeing we live in different cities but I did the usual thing of telling her to call me if she needed anything, and rang her after her early tests, to ask about the result. Then I asked her permission to send her some books I thought might help her and she accepted, so I ordered them for her and had them delivered to her. She didn't acknowledge them so I rang to check if they had arrived. Then, a couple of messages I left her remained unanswered. A couple of months later, it was Christmas, and I left another message. No reply. I told a few close friends about this and they advised me to give her some space and not put pressure on her, that she'd respond when and if she wished to. Good advice, I think, except that I couldn't lie to myself and not admit that I found it very convenient to follow it. The truth is, this person is not a close friends. It's someone I used to see as part of another group of people. We've always got on well but lately had only been meeting up every couple of years or so. She has friends much closer than I. Had she been a close friend, the lack of response from her would have prompted me to go and stand outside her front door until she opened and let me in. Still, however I tried to justify it, I felt deeply uncomfortable in my conscience for finding it so convenient and something of a relief (at the time I was under tremendous pressure with work, my mother's health, my own health and a couple of other personal issues) not to have to deal with her. It made me feel more ashamed of myself than I can say. No excuses.
Orna Raz on Tuesday, 11 August 2015 22:18

Dear Katia, You are a very kind person and in my book you didn't vanish, quite the contrary. Perhaps in your heart you feel that you could have done more, and it is always true. However, in order to do more we have to have some kind of response . It is not your fault that she got ill, you just wanted to help.

Dear Katia, You are a very kind person and in my book you didn't vanish, quite the contrary. Perhaps in your heart you feel that you could have done more, and it is always true. However, in order to do more we have to have some kind of response . It is not your fault that she got ill, you just wanted to help.
Rosy Cole on Tuesday, 11 August 2015 16:37

I feel this is not something we can take a judgemental line on from any angle. It's not a simple or straightforward issue on either side of the experience. There will be multiple factors in play and Katia has shared some of them. Those who pray will still pray for the needs of the dying, which they know is the first and last resource in any crisis. Proximity with death puts an altered complexion on all things, even practical help.

It could be that we are conditioned to expect, or even merely hope for, too much from others.

Death is a mirror that reflects who we are. We mature when we realise that, however close our relationships, we die alone. It's a personal journey to be respected. This is not as bleak as it sounds. When analysed deeply, it lifts quite a burden from the subject and the observer. (Grief, I think, is something else.) For most people, dying is a natural process, in psychological, emotional and physical terms. The truth is, a point is reached where our 'help' and our 'presence' become irrelevant. The structures of this world are passing away. Love lives on, but in a new context.

I hope Katia won't continue to beat herself up about this. We are human and by ourselves very little able to solve the problems of mortality. I understand well enough, too, that one extra grief, predicament, or trauma can break the camel's back. There comes a point when we cease to function in any capacity and it can take a very long time to mend. This is particularly true for those who have not known the underpinning of a secure family background, with many interactive relationships, whom these tragedies hit all the harder. To be 'peopled' in such a way is a foundation for life.

As I understand it, care of the struggling, the sick and the dying is implicit in the Old Testament blueprint for living. In the New Testament, it is acknowledged as an essential manifestation of Christian love. And, yes, we regularly fall short and need to call on the Grace of God.

I feel this is not something we can take a judgemental line on from any angle. It's not a simple or straightforward issue on either side of the experience. There will be multiple factors in play and Katia has shared some of them. Those who pray will still pray for the needs of the dying, which they know is the first and last resource in any crisis. Proximity with death puts an altered complexion on all things, even practical help. It could be that we are conditioned to expect, or even merely hope for, too much from others. Death is a mirror that reflects who we are. We mature when we realise that, however close our relationships, we die alone. It's a personal journey to be respected. This is not as bleak as it sounds. When analysed deeply, it lifts quite a burden from the subject and the observer. (Grief, I think, is something else.) For most people, dying is a natural process, in psychological, emotional and physical terms. The truth is, a point is reached where our 'help' and our 'presence' become irrelevant. The structures of this world are passing away. Love lives on, but in a new context. I hope Katia won't continue to beat herself up about this. We are human and by ourselves very little able to solve the problems of mortality. I understand well enough, too, that one extra grief, predicament, or trauma can break the camel's back. There comes a point when we cease to function in any capacity and it can take a very long time to mend. This is particularly true for those who have not known the underpinning of a secure family background, with many interactive relationships, whom these tragedies hit all the harder. To be 'peopled' in such a way is a foundation for life. As I understand it, care of the struggling, the sick and the dying is implicit in the Old Testament blueprint for living. In the New Testament, it is acknowledged as an essential manifestation of Christian love. And, yes, we regularly fall short and need to call on the Grace of God.
Orna Raz on Tuesday, 11 August 2015 22:23

Thank you dear Rosy, it always amazes me that grown-ups are too scared to visit the sick or to pay Shiva call. It is true that it is hard, but I wonder wheat they teach their children. Luckily most people overcome their fears, perhaps more so in Britain the mother of "stiff upper lip"?

Thank you dear Rosy, it always amazes me that grown-ups are too scared to visit the sick or to pay Shiva call. It is true that it is hard, but I wonder wheat they teach their children. Luckily most people overcome their fears, perhaps more so in Britain the mother of "stiff upper lip"?
Rosy Cole on Wednesday, 12 August 2015 10:27

Orna, I think the genius of the problem lies in the first half of the title. It's a mirror image, with many implications. Perhaps we shouldn't assume that hesitation is always caused by fear, or lack of empathy.

One thing we can be certain of is that God - the Creator - promises he will not fail us or forsake us, no matter race, creed, or religion. We are not alone. He will provide in some way for those who call upon his name and ask for help, or who are in receipt of the prayers of friends and onlookers, whether, for whatever reason, that results in direct intervention from them, or not.

Thank you for your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, post.

Orna, I think the genius of the problem lies in the first half of the title. It's a mirror image, with many implications. Perhaps we shouldn't assume that hesitation is always caused by fear, or lack of empathy. One thing we can be certain of is that God - the Creator - promises he will not fail us or forsake us, no matter race, creed, or religion. We are not alone. He will provide in some way for those who call upon his name and ask for help, or who are in receipt of the prayers of friends and onlookers, whether, for whatever reason, that results in direct intervention from them, or not. Thank you for your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, post.
Orna Raz on Wednesday, 12 August 2015 16:03

Thank you dear Rosy, I wish I felt the same about the consistency of God, but it does help to acknowledge that we don't understand His mysterious ways.

Thank you dear Rosy, I wish I felt the same about the consistency of God, but it does help to acknowledge that we don't understand His mysterious ways.
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