Published on: October 26, 2011

When people find that a friend has been afflicted with a fatal disease, most keep away. It is not that they do not care; more often than not, it is just plain fear.

They do not know what to say if they visit. Therefore it is easier to keep away. They seldom have any idea of the pain and rejection that the patient will feel.

In The Guardian’s “What I’m really thinking” series, a terminally ill person speaks out:

What I’m really thinking: the terminally ill patient
‘I can count my real friends on the two fingers that I’d like to raise to the rest of them’

Since I was diagnosed as terminally ill this summer, friends have rapidly disappeared. I can count my real friends on the two fingers that I’d like to raise to the rest of them. It’s hard being friends with someone who’s dying, I know – I’ve been in that role myself – but it’s harder being the person saddened by the lame excuses for not making contact.

These all begin with, “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch, but…” A text from a “friend” of many years told me she’s been “busy, busy, busy”; another has been so tired after gardening she hasn’t been able to email. Another doesn’t know what to say. Well, how about talking about work, kids, partners, politics, weather, what’s on TV – like we used to?

Then there’s, “But I pray for you every day.” Every day? Does your compassionate God not tell you that he’s heard your prayers before, to stop repeating yourself, get up off your knees, pick up the phone and talk to me instead?

I listen to the excuses and say I understand, but I don’t. The two people who have been friends don’t do anything different. They just carry on visiting and having a laugh; they keep the emails coming and share their news with me, even when I’m not well enough to reply. Do those who’ve made the excuses believe what they say, or will they, for my funeral, suddenly find the time to attend, weep and say how much they miss me?

All those friends who do not call (because they dont know what to say) perhaps could be helped by a bit of education – like reading this article.

We have for too long been a death–denying society that articles like this, or discussions on the matter, are such rare events!

2 responses to ““I Don’t Know What to Say!””

  1. Nagesh Simha says:

    Brilliant and thought provoking piece. So true.
    Thanks for sharing it

  2. sheela says:

    Very touching and moving. I’m sure that reading this article will bring the desired change in keeping in touch. It’s made the action needed also so easy by saying that we can be ourselves, with our mundane thoughts and world, all that is required is share it along with your time with a friend who has been alienated by terminal illness. After reading this ,i feel maybe its not lack of empathy, but the confusion of assuming that one is supposed to empathize something of which we have no direct experience is what creates distance. This frees one from that assumption, and relieves us of the burden of freezing. Very NICE.