A Letter to a Friend

Hello old friend. Remember me?
It’s been a while: a year or few.

I just want you know I still think of you often. It might sound strange after all this time but I miss you; your friendship meant a lot to me.

The last few times we spoke it was always me that messaged you. You said how good it was to hear from me but you sounded like you had better things to be doing.

I’d heard you were having a hard time with work and family, said if you needed to talk I had a kettle and two sympathetic ears here waiting for you. You thanked me, said my offer was kind, but I think we both knew you wouldn’t take me up on it.

I suspect you thought it a ploy to get you to visit me. You envisaged an afternoon of dutiful sick visiting and an obligation to help with my shopping or housework. I just want you to know that the offer was genuine. There was no ulterior motive. You are welcome to come round anytime for a brew and a chat. It doesn’t have to be about me, in fact, I’d far rather hear about what you’ve been up to.

Things are no longer like they were the last time you saw me, gravely ill on a hospital ward, or struggling at home with inadequate care provision. It was pretty awkward wasn’t it? This whole illness thing was new to both of us so neither of us really knew what to say. I just want you to know things have moved on since then. It doesn’t have to be so awkward any more.

I know I’m still sick and that probably scares you, but it’s just part of my life now, part of who I am, like my blue-grey eyes or the extra weight that I’m carrying. There is no need for us to mention my illness and it needn’t be the elephant in the room. We both know it’s there, what more needs to be said? We can talk about whatever you want to talk about, two friends just chatting on the sofa like we used to.

We used to meet up every week no matter how busy we were. Whether I came to yours or you came to mine or we went somewhere together the result was the same: two friends setting the world to rights over a cup of tea. The only thing that’s changed is that I can’t come to you anymore. Apart from that I’m still the same person. Things don’t have to be any different.

We can still talk about all the things we used to talk about. We still like the same things and watch the same TV. We both know the same people, although no doubt you hear more about them than I do. How’s your Nan after her heart attack? How many nephews and nieces do you have now? Gosh haven’t they grown? Doesn’t time fly?

It’s ok to tell me about your problems. Life is tough for everyone sometimes. I know better than most how important it is to have someone non-judgemental to talk to. It’s ok to tell me that your boyfriend has left you, your auntie has cancer and you think your boss hates you. I not going to break if you tell me your problems, in fact hearing them might help put my own in perspective. I want to share your worries and celebrate your successes. It’s what friends do.

I don’t expect anything from you when you come to see me. Don’t bring me a gift or feel you have to pick up my groceries on your way over here. You never used to do those things for me. I don’t expect you to now. I won’t ask you to clean for me, or peg out my laundry. I have carers and cleaners, internet shopping and supermarket deliveries to do those things for me. I don’t need sick-visitors, I don’t need skivvies, I just need friends.

You may have to put the kettle on for us if you want that cup of tea but I swear that that’s all. You were always free to do that here anyway and you can even leave the dirty tea cups in the sink. The carer won’t complain about an extra mug or two.

I know you don’t really need my friendship after all these years. Your own life moved on when I dropped off your radar and new friends stepped in to take my place. I doubt you even miss me anymore but my own life stopped still all those years ago and I have no way to meet new friends to replace you so your friendship seems as real to me as if it were yesterday. I know that our friendship will always be inherently unequal. I need it more than you do while having far less to offer. I promise I’ll do my best not to let you see that. I don’t ever want it to feel like it’s a duty for you.

I don’t expect you’ll reply to this letter and I’ll never write another. I just needed to know I’d done all I could to reach you. The ball is firmly in your court now.

I know you’ll never take me up on that offer of a cup of tea, but I just want you to know it is always there if you want it no matter how much time passes. You have my email, my mobile, my Facebook – if you should ever need a friend, you know where to find me.

So farewell old friend.

I don’t suppose I’ll hear from you again but I just want you to know, it was great while it lasted.

Over to you:
How has chronic illness affected your friendships?
Have you lost touch with old friends and does your illness make it harder to replace them?
Are your friendships still on an equal footing or do they mean more to you than to the other person?

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This entry was posted in Hidden Disability, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to A Letter to a Friend

  1. saxoma says:

    Dear Sarah I’m sorry it feels like that. If I lived closer I would come over regularly. As it is the summer holidays are nearly upon us and I could manage to come across some day – just let me know what’s convenient to you and I will try and get across. I expect you miss having your mum in England – I’m sure she was a regular visitor. And don’t worry about the need for friends – I too have a need for a new best friend – my best friend died nearly 8 years ago of a brain tumour and I haven’t found anyone since who comes even close – the search goes on. I am sure God knows who it will be but sadly not me yet. Here the garden is going rampant now that we have sunshine and I am having to adopt slash and burn tactics to try and find the borders again. That’s the problem with gardens – you never get to just spend time in them – there is always work to be done. I hope this reply gets to you – please let me know. Much love Serena Derrett

  2. quiall says:

    I have no friends from when I was first diagnosed.The spectre of a “DISEASE” and they all abandoned me when I needed their friendship the most. It took me years to get over it but I am now surrounded by GOOD friends. My life is great, wheelchair and all!

    • I am glad you have managed to find new friends. One of the things I most look forward to if my health improves in the future is the idea of getting out in social situations where I can make new friends. As they will only ever have known me as a disabled person they won’t constantly compare my abilities with all the things we used to do together like the friends I have lost.

      • quiall says:

        NO,NO,NO! Do not think of yourself as disabled! You will become what you believe. I have red hair, I’m right-handed oh yes, and I have an itty,bitty,incurable disease. Toasters are disabled, cars are disabled not people. If you must use that word to describe yourself then say you have a disability but it does not have you! Attitude will get you through the dark days into the light. And you must NEVER compare yourself to those you call able bodied. EVERYONE deals with a disability of some kind: fears, phobias, shyness. We all bleed the same, we are all the same.

      • I think you have misunderstood the point I was trying to make. I was not comparing myself to able-bodied people but rather explaining that friends who knew me before I fell ill find it hard to accept that I can no longer do the things we used to do together. I used to be very able and active, I am now housebound, wheelchair dependant and confined to bed for much of the day. This makes it impossible for me to have the kind of social life I used to have. I would still be able to have limited social contact if former friends were willing to change what they were doing to include me but most of my friends have not done this. Many friends have told me that they miss me but are waiting for me to recover from my illness before we spend time together rather than finding ways to continue our relationship despite my limitations.

      • quiall says:

        My apologies! I have met far too many people with disabilities who see themselves as less than in comparison to others who are ablebodied. We are faced with more hurdles than others but we are still valuable.

  3. Miss Soul says:

    Sad how people vanish from our lives because we became sick. I learned to keep myself company and be content with it and I know now that the ‘friends’ I thought I had, were never real friends, why else would they stay away without a word ?

  4. Rachel says:

    I have a strange story about friends. I got ill at 15 by kissing a boy at a party. My school friend took me to this party and encouraged me to get my first kiss from the boy.. 6 weeks after that kiss I had swollen glands and temperature and the works. Diagnosed active Epstein Barr Virus (exact 6 week incubation period).. The symptoms never fully went away, then diagnosed M.E. While I still had EBV I told my friend and she refused to believe I caught it from that bloke or that it had anything to do with her. I developed ME and she said she “believed” in ME but had no idea how disabled I was even while seeing me miss school “lucky for some” she said once after the sympathy facade slipped for a second. I got intouch with her on a facebook after 15 years and after a long explanation of being housebound and symptoms this same bugger says “maybe Rolfing would help you”. It was her who actually caused it all, unintentionally, but still… amazing that someone can do so much harm to another persons life and not know or acknowledge it. All my other friends left me, of course. So zero friends the last 21 years of illness really. I found a new acquantance, not friend, which I email and who also has this. Her emails are precious to me but she told me that she keeps a distance from friends since she got ill and I myself learned to do the same. I keep a distance. I have no choice really. I get enough problems from strangers, acquantances, establishment and docs, don’t want more from “friends”. I luckily have elderly parents who understand. Someone who does not have that and no money or disability allowance is truly finished if they can’t work.

    • I too have a couple of pen pals/email aquaintances I’ve made since becoming housebound. Even virtual contact is precious when you are unable to go anywhere to make new friends but it can never quite replace being able to talk face to face, exchange hugs, or spending time with another person. Sometimes contact with other chronically ill people is easier than trying to maintain friendships with ‘normal’ people but when all your friends are ill themselves I have found that conversation can become very illness-focussed at the exclusion of other more positive things. It is hard to strike the balance.

  5. Frances says:

    Hi Sarah! We’d probably never have regarded ourselves as “friends” in the way you described – after all I’m older than your parents, and we haven’t lived in the same part of the country since you were quite a little girl. However, I’d just like you to know that I’ve thought about you a great deal all the years that you’ve been ill, prayed for you, and your mum has always kept me up-to-date on how you are. I’m so glad that you’re better than you were, and I’m sure that your blog must be doing a lot to raise awareness of ME. I’m sorry that you’ve lost touch with so many people, you are a lovely person and always were – it really is their loss. It is possible to make good friends online, I’ve made several, and I do hope that you do too. Love, Frances xx

  6. sarsrose says:

    This post makes me sad, but it is true. I found that hard in the first few years of my illness, when it was at it’s worst. I lost a lot of friends. Not in horrible ways. They just moved on and I didn’t. People so often don’t know how to be friends with a sick person. Feeling your pain x

    • Although a few friends deliberately left because they were unable to comprehend the nature of ME, you are right that in most cases it was just a case of people carrying on with the kind of lives I could no longer be a part of. Many friends intended to visit in the early stage of my illness but with busy lives it just never happened. After a couple of years had passed I guess they felt they’d left it too long. Most people probably assume that other friends are still in touch with me so I have no need of them anymore. I can’t blame them for it as I would no doubt have behaved exactly the same if the roles were reversed.

  7. I just want you to know that I, too, have lost a close friend – and it had nothing to do with a chronic illness. The pain is the same. She and I became best friends when we were 7 years old and stayed best friends for nearly 40 years – through my joining the military, moving several times, marrying, having children. We always stayed in touch. Then a few years ago something changed. I can’t explain what exactly, but it was like our friendship disappeared like a ghost. We have not spoken in more than two years. I saw her once, in the grocery store. We came within a few feet of each other and did not speak, did not make eye contact, even though we were both well aware that the other was there. The loss of a close friend is something you never really get over, no matter how many others come into your life to fill their shoes. Praying God blesses you with a new, good friend.

  8. When I became ill, most of my friends and family walked out on me. As they were walking out, they did stop to say screw you. I have since forgiven them. But to have them back in my life? Not again. They used poor judgment in 1994. I just can’t risk being that hurt again. One of those friends has been by my blog and left some messages. My first reaction was to ignore it. Then I decided to respond briefly. I don’t know where this will go. I’m not sure how I feel. We had been friends for almost 25 years. It’s a very difficult situation. Everyone changes so much over the years that have passed. Maybe she’s learned a lesson? I just don’t know right now what will happen. Thoughtful letter you wrote.

  9. My sister has MS. She used to be the life of the party, loads of friends, loads of people round for dinner parties, lots of friends at work and at home. As she became more ill, her ‘friends’ started to fall away. She is now in a care home, severely disabled (she no longer even remembers me) and there are only two friends left, a married couple she met when she was on holiday.

  10. Kimmie says:

    I got very ill a handful of years ago. I was on a vent and in a hospital for over a month. After a temporary trach and some serious rehab, I tried to return to normalcy only to find a friendship had crumbled. She pushed away HARD and avoided me like the plague. For a long time I was very hurt by her actions, and when I asked her she admitted that she got scared of losing me so she pushed away. It made me even more angry bc I thought that was a copout and punishing me for her weakness and fear. We since have parted ways, and although sometimes I miss her friendship – she knows ITs truly her loss.

  11. Your post breaks my heart, as do the posts of those who have commented on this post. I don’t think I know anyone close to me who has a disabling disease, but I will definitely remember your words, and do my best to be a true friend to them. To not forget them, or let them slip out of my life. To truly be God’s hands and feet to them. I pray that you (all of you) will find friends that you can be close to again, but for now, I pray that God will be speaking His love for you powerfully. That with Him, you’ll never be lonely again. And please know that you are deeply, recklessly loved by Him.

  12. kelly says:

    hi i dont know if this is who i think it is or if iam crazy everyone told me you were dead they didnlet me go to the funeral iam so sick to my stomach crying i need to know if this is you i pray to the lord that it is

    • I think you must be confusing me for someone else. I can’t think of anyone I knew with your name and to the best of my knowledge there have been no rumours of my death. My old friends know I am very much alive they just haven’t kept in contact. I am very sorry to hear that you have obviously suffered a great loss.

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