For the past two years, I’ve been pretty silent about sharing my thoughts about sickness and death with anyone. I never wanted to admit that I was seeing someone slowly dying, especially when it was someone so close to me. The fact is, it was my first time in the front row of witnessing a person from the moment they are diagnosed with cancer to their passing. I just didn’t want to burden anyone with that knowledge.
My friend M’s mom was recently diagnosed with cancer. She similarly did not want to tell anyone, even her close friends, about it because she did not want people to “give her space” aka avoid her or feel obligated to take care of her. This is what I told her: I went through the same logical process. However, I have come to learn a lot of life lessons on dealing with grief over these years. People who truly care about you will not tell you, “Let me know if you need anything.” While that may seem to be the proper thing to say, I’ve learned that to be a cop-out response to someone telling you they are dealing with death or sickness. Honestly, I can’t count how many times I have said that to people, but after my personal experience, I will never say that sentence again. If anything, I would say, “Hey, I am here for you. Call me at any odd hour to talk about life, death, school, movies, boys. What are you doing on Wednesday? Let’s go out.” If your friend is going through difficult times, he/she probably does not know what they need or at least unsure of how to put it into words. Here are some things they do need though:
1. They need trustworthy and honest people to surround them
2. They need friends who will still ask them to go out drinking with them
3. They need friends that they can call at 3am to sob on the phone with and complain to how unfair life is
These are things they probably do not realize they need. I didn’t know I needed those things until my friends did them for me. I am lucky to have friends who showed up at my door with popcorn and a movie on a random Tuesday night, invited me to midnight McDonald trips, and without asking me (because they knew I wouldn’t let them), spent $600 on last-minute plane tickets to fly to my house in Colorado to be there at the funeral. 11 of my friends from Berkeley came just for the 3 hour funeral service. I couldn’t believe it. Perhaps I happen to have the most ridiculously generous friends in the world, but I hope that isn’t the case. I hope that all friends act proactively. So, I told M that her true friends will not take the knowledge of her mom having lunch cancer as a burden. Instead, they want to know as early as possible so they can help carry the burden.
By no means am I an expert at teaching people how to be there for people who are dealing with death/illness. However, I learned that being proactive is key because my friends showed me how through their incredible kindness.