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Carolyn Hax: You can’t make friends more crisis-aware

Wed., Feb. 12, 2014

Dear Carolyn: I am 23. About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I was lucky to have a wonderful significant other and the care of my family. I’m healthy now.

Throughout that time, I sent 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. I heard from a few people, but not at all from some friends I would have expected to hear from.

But now friends will say things along the lines of, “Sorry I wasn’t in touch more, but I knew you were well taken care of,” and I don’t know how to respond. I don’t want them to think that if another friend were to ask for visitors during an illness, it’s OK to just not reply. – Healthy but Confused

First of all, congratulations, on your health.

Second: Welcome to the weirdness of crisis, where your besties can vanish while casual pals surprise and sustain you.

Now that you’re feeling better on both counts, you have an impulse to make people more crisis-friendly by educating them. I understand that. It’s not your responsibility, though.

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.

If you look at it that way, then I think you’ll answer your own question on how to respond to your friends’ excuses. To mere acquaintances you give the hey-no-worries treatment.

With friends whose absence did rattle you, deploy the truth as a matter of friendship: “I was well cared for, yes, but I missed you and was hurt you didn’t come.”

The results could be awkward. Or, the ensuing conversation could bring you closer to these select few friends than before. That’s just the way these things go, so, speak for yourself and see where that takes you.


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