Judie Amyot: When friends get sick

What if what’s ailing a friend goes beyond a few days of feeling like dirt? What if what they have can’t be cured?

It never makes us feel good when we find out a friend is not feeling well. They have a cold or the flu or even the dreaded gastro that can be considered an instant diet. We keep in touch and wish them a speedy recovery but no hugging is allowed as we don’t want what they have. But what if what’s ailing them goes beyond a few days of feeling like dirt? What if what they have can’t be cured with antibiotics or a bowl of chicken soup? What if it can’t be cured at all?

I recently found out that a gal I went to high school with is now very ill and her future is cloudy and uncertain. I’m not sure why this has hit me like a lightning bolt as I haven’t been in contact with her in decades and only recently reconnected through the wonders of social media. Perhaps it’s because she was always one of the nice girls I knew who never judged anyone and whose ready smile was ever present. Or perhaps the realization that we are the same age forces me to dwell upon my own mortality all the while being grateful I am not in her shoes.

I’m not sure how I can support her during this difficult time. Words fail me and seem hollow in the face of all she is going through. I struggle to say something genuine and sincere that she hasn’t heard before, hoping it will comfort her and assure her that she isn’t going through this alone. Yet, in a way she is.

I have always been one who wants to take another person’s pain away and be the hero who is credited with saving their day. I can’t do that this time. I’ve never really been able to handle situations like this and when my mother was diagnosed as being terminally ill, falling into a state of denial seemed the best way for me to deal with it. I was very young and so was she. I tried to convince myself she would be fine as I selfishly went on with my life. I simply couldn’t accept losing a parent at that age. It was impossible to grasp and understand. In the end, I had to deal with it.

As we age, the loss of loved ones becomes more frequent. With grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles all gone, the inevitability of loss moves on to our spouses, partners, cousins and friends. We are tested in so many ways as we are faced with one sad announcement after the other. To rise up and be strong for someone in need is not an easy thing to do. The depth of our commitment to the relationships we have with others is clearly revealed in the way we relate to them after they are stricken. We may promise to help out but then shy away in the event that too much may be asked of us. We aren’t being disloyal. We just feel inept. Or we may dive right in, body and soul, and provide whatever is needed right until the end. Sometimes, though, being unable to accept that we will be part of the end keeps us from getting too involved.

Once a promise is made to someone in need, keeping it is the hard part. A friend who is ill will most likely understand if you don’t follow through and may graciously hide their hurt and disappointment knowing you are afraid to embark on this difficult journey with them. After all, there is no guarantee of a happy ending. But if all we can offer is a home cooked meal or a drive to a medical appointment, that can put a little happy in their day.

I am uncertain as to what I can do for my friend to provide solace as she navigates this very rocky road life has put her on. Perhaps it will be only conversation and companionship as the rest is in the hands of her doctors and her personal destiny. But if she does reach out to me I do know I will start with a hug.


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