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?