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Friend’s words shocking, painful

Wed., Jan. 2, 2013

Hi Carolyn: My husband is in the limbo of being diagnosed with cancer – what kind, how far has it spread, prognosis.

I confided in a friend and told her how hard it was to not freak out, and she said, “Please, don’t make this about you. Support your husband.” Her words stung.

My friend’s reaction stunned me, but I said, “Yes, you are right.” We have not spoken since, although she sent a warm email to my husband expressing her best wishes.

And, for the record, I told one friend, not 20. – Not About Me

Since this is the one friend you told, I imagine she’s a close one?

Her response was an insensitive one, no matter the context; your freak-out impulse is hardly selfish. But there’s room for interpretation on her intent. It could have been as awful as it sounds, with her accusing you of self-absorption at an acutely vulnerable time – and if her history affirms that, then please do feel free to scratch her off your list of people to worry about as you focus on bigger things.

If instead context says she’s a more thoughtful person than that, then consider the possibility that her intent, whatever it was, got lost in abysmal phrasing.

It’s not surprising that you lost your footing in this conversation, and missed your chance to ask her to explain. It’s also not too late to go back to a valued friend with follow-up questions.

Remind her of her response and say you took it to mean you were being selfish. Point out the obvious – that you felt stung – then ask whether you misunderstood her and, if so, what she really meant.

No doubt you have enough going on without the added emotional drain of dealing with this. However, following through (when you’re good and ready) will bring either clarity or your friend back, both of which are useful when your world feels, as it surely must, like a strange and frightening place.


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