I have unfortunately lost two best friends in a span of 5 years. Hasn't been a good few years. One of my friends lost her battle with Cystic Fibrosis and my other friend lost her battle with Breast Cancer. They both were already diagnosed when I met them so I did not have the difficult task of figuring out what to say when diagnosed but I do have a little insight on how to treat a friend who is terminally ill.
This post is going to focus on my friend J who passed away 5 years ago in June from complications of her Cystic Fibrosis. When I first met J I had no idea she was sick, she was so vivacious and full of life. She came to my job after not working for a while and I thought it was just a case of someone who quit and then after regret set in asked for her job back. We instantly related and were constantly in trouble for talking too much. Hello high school! Haha.
After a few weeks I learned that she didn't work for quite a while because she was sick but at that point I still didn't know quite how sick. I finally found out she had Cystic Fibrosis but still had no idea what that meant exactly. She finally explained to me that she was dying. The life expectancy of a CF patient was mid twenties and she was now in her late twenties. She told me about a party she had had because she had 6 months to live and how that was two years ago. She was defying the odds, I mean she rode a motorcycle for Christ's sake, how could she be sick?!
I actually moved in with J for a short time after her lung transplant and all this girl wanted to do was party. She was a fire cracker! Everyday she was ready for an adventure and I was lucky enough to go along for the ride. I feel that people who are terminally ill fall in one of two categories: those who are to depressed to live the life they have left and those who are going to get every bit of fun they can out of the time they have left. J was obviously the latter. Don't get me wrong she would get depressed once in a while but then again who wouldn't.
We would talk everyday and I did a lot of bitching about our job, which she was no longer at for health reasons. One day while complaining about my manager I stopped myself and said "I am so sorry, here I am complaining about work when you had an important doctor appointment today." She then said to me: "That is why I love hanging out with you. You don't treat me any different. I feel normal when I am with you. I don't want people feeling sorry for me, I want people to talk to me as if I was completely healthy."
We didn't talk about her sickness often because I don't think either of us wanted to face the fact that our fun together was limited but it worked for our relationship. Don't get me wrong, I visited her in the hospital and would always ask for updates on her health but then it would be on to normal bitching, complaining and talking about the next party. So many people focused solely on her because they didn't want to seem selfish when she had much bigger problems than all of them. All those people meant well, they truly did but it just made J focus on her illness when all she wanted to do was lead a normal life. I was her normal.
It's never easy when a loved one is dying but the only thing I can say is be there for them, give them help but also remember to treat them as if they were healthy as much as possible. They want to hear about your problems and triumphs, they don't want to feel as if nobody wants to share anything with them. And of course, my experience isn't everyone's experience but this is what I learned along the very difficult road.
|In memory of J 2/28/78 - 6/18/09|