Friday, May 25, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

Tell Me About It: Be honest with friends who were absent during illness

Q: I am 23. About a year ago I was diagnosed with what turned out to be a nonlife-threatening cancer. Throughout that time, I (or my family) sent infrequent update emails to friends and our extended family letting them know what was going on. At one point, I announced that I was ready for visitors and phone calls. I heard from a few people, but not at all from some friends I would have expected to hear from. I understand that some people didn't know how to react or what to say. Though my feelings were hurt at the time, this isn't something I am choosing to hold grudges over.

But now, as I'm re-emerging, friends will say things like, "Sorry I wasn't in touch more, but I knew you were well taken care of." How do I respond when they say things like this?

Healthy but Confused

A: Now that you're feeling better, you have an impulse to make people more crisis-friendly by educating them. I understand that. But it's not your job to change the way anyone responds to some friend's future illness. It is your job, as a friend, to be a friend, which includes sharing your feelings, and giving those close to you a chance to give you what you want and need. To those whose absence didn't rattle you, you give the hey-no-worries treatment. With friends whose absence did rattle you, deploy the truth: "I was well cared for, yes, but I missed you and was hurt you didn't come." If they take it as a guilt trip, then assure them that's not your intent. The results could be awkward. Or, the ensuing conversation could bring you closer to these select few friends than before.

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