How to Kill a Sick Friend
Sometimes having a sick friend is such a drag. They always need something.
Sometimes they're weepy, and they complain all the time. But there are
ways to get rid of this nuisance once and for all. The object is to "dump
the whiner." So, just follow these helpful steps:
- Never, ever call them. And don't return their calls. Even if they
are still occasionally calling you, they're so sick that they will lose
their momentum and eventually stop. After all, even if they listen to
your problems, you certainly don't want to hear theirs.
- Be harsh with them; say mean and spiteful things, especially when
they seem vulnerable. Remember, even if they were there for you in the
past, the idea is to get rid of them now. The sick and afraid are particularly
sensitive to cruelty, and the more you use, the better.
- Write them out of your life--don't tell them about social events,
especially parties you are holding. And if they actually try to have
one themselves, don't show up, and don't RSVP. That way they'll be wondering
if you are coming right up to the very last of the party.
- Never invite them to join you for lunch, or a concert or a show. That
would only make them think you cared.
- Never call just to say hi and see how they're doing. And never ask
them if they need anything at the store when you go.
These techniques will definitely kill them, one way or another. They
will definitely kill the friendship; and even if they don't kill physically,
psychological, emotional or spiritual murder also counts. If they had
the nerve to go and get sick, it's not your problem.
Remember, some sick people have some hope that anyone cares. These are
the toughest, so you must remember to stick with it. Don't let them wear
you down, and whatever you do, don't break down and care. You'll never
get rid of them that way.
How Not to Kill a Sick Friend
The previous section, is, of course, not what really happens. Very few people
actually plot out moves to kill sick friends and family. Unfortunately,
the end results of thoughts and actions are the same. It is important to
realize where these thoughts and actions come from, in order to change the
There are differences between disabilities that originate at birth and
disabilities that happen later. Both cause tremendous problems with our
image of that sick or disabled person.
There is great grief when a child is born with physical and/or mental
impairment. Even before a child is born, family and even friends have
a predetermined image of:
- what the child will look like
- what life will be like with the child
- what they will be like
- even what they will like to do, or
- how they will earn a living.
When the dream child doesn't arrive, it seems like instead of the person
they expected, a stranger has invaded the house. It is not surprising
that the rate of divorce among families with disabled children is higher
than the national average.
When the illness or accident occurs later, there is not only the grief
of family or friends, but now the particular disabled person has their
own grief to sustain as well. They have lost so much, it hurts just to
talk about it, because it overwhelms them and anyone who will listen.
Grief and loss accompany chronic illness and disability, but unless you're
affected, you may not realize the impact. Let's take a look at what can
be lost in chronic illness and disability:
- Dependability & Reliability
- Family support
- Health Insurance
There are also additions to life that are not welcome:
- Assistive devices
- Doctor bills
- Medical system run-around
- Conflicts with employers
- The Social Security Disability System
- Family doubt, grief, fear
Any of these alone would be definitely uncomfortable--combine them and
you have a very bleak picture--without friends to stand by you.
The process of rebuilding after such a big change is a decades-long
task. It is a series of two steps forward, three back that gradually,
over years of time can improve. But it is easier, faster, and more rewarding
when you can share even the smallest victory with a friend.
The "F" Word--Fear
This is the main reason why you will not act on your impulse to remain a
friend. Because of the changes that have occurred, you are confused and
feel helpless in the situation. You don't know what to say, what to do--so
you say or do nothing. It is less work to let a friendship die than to keep
But you're a busy person--you have responsibilities. Where can you find
time for someone who seems to need so much? If there was any time to spend
with them before they were disabled, then you have to decide to make time
again--if you are a friend.
But hospitals give you the creeps. That's too bad. Let me tell you who's
got a worse case of the creeps--the patient! If you think they like it
there, think again. Hospitals are not designed for anyone to feel comfortable.
Suck it up and go visit.
The "F" word and your response:
- "I don't want to hurt their feelings."
This is a common concern, and in some ways it can be hard to avoid.
You can try to walk in someone else's shoes, but in truth unless you
could actually trade bodies for a week, you will never have an idea
what that person's life is like. The trick, I guess, is to learn how
to think before you speak. Most adults have to learn to do this at work,
in their families. If you think it might hurt someone--don't say it.
It's hard to do--but like everything else in life, practice makes perfect.
- "What do I say to someone who is hurting?"
Would you feel less pressure if you didn't have to say anything at all?
Then relax, because sometimes the less you say the better. It is more
often your actions that will speak for you. And the action of listening
instead of persisting in idle chatter can mean so much more to someone
that still needs that shoulder of yours, even if it's getting a little
soggy. What does it cost to give a hug? What is the price of holding
someone's hand for a few minutes? What is the financial expenditure
of a mild neck rub, or an arm to lean on as they walk? Once you find
that the human cost of not doing these things is much more expensive,
you will be ready to be a friend.
This question has many answers, and many have come from disabled
people I know. These may not be hard and fast rules, and may need
to be adjusted for the situation, but they end up being universal.
- "You look great!" Or, "You're looking much better!"
This implies that you expect them to feel great, when that may not be
the case. Many illnesses and disabilities are invisible, and belie the
underlying pain and suffering accompanying them. Instead ASK how they
feel, and really listen. Take your cue for further comments about their
appearance from their answers.
- "At least you're not in a wheelchair."
What you don't hear is the rest of that statement. In response to that
comment, the disabled person may think "not yet, anyway--and then I
can count on you to say something else hurtful to me."
- "At least you can still (hear, see, walk)." Or, the classic: "You
should count your blessings."
If you have not experienced the loss, don't assume it's easy to discount
one. If you have, you are still too bitter to help anyone yet.
- "You shouldn't have tried to work two jobs."
Is it really your call to blame a sick person for their illness? No.
Blame is the most worthless concept on the planet. It accomplishes nothing,
except to hurt the target. This applies in all areas of life--there
is no reason for blame except to hurt someone. Try to remember who hurts
most when you blame yourself for anything. And how the situation remains
amazingly the same.
- "You just haven't found the right doctor."
And you can't understand what chronic illness/disability means. Some
illnesses make a person sick for many years without killing them. Pain,
trouble walking and working accompany this person every single day of
their lives, and there is no end in sight. If anything, there have been
too many doctors with too many conflicting answers. The probability
of a cure is not an issue--the necessity of living with illness is the
only acceptable option. Your acceptance of their reality impinges on
the disabled person's acceptance of life with illness/disability.
Even when you try, things don't always work out...
- "What if they say no, they can't do whatever?"
Let's say you asked them to lunch, or for coffee. The person says they
are not up to it now. Think about making a contact possible--on their
terms. What if you brought over some treat, stayed for a short time,
and gave a rain check for an outing for a week later? Maybe they are
not able to "entertain" and they feel pressure to entertain people that
come over. Can you think of a way to visit and be the entertainment
so they don't need to? Can you stop by with some food that can be warmed
up later for their dinner, not stay long, and then call them later in
- "What if they say yes and cancel at the last minute?"
This is common with chronic illnesses that ebb and flow, like Multiple
Sclerosis, Lupus, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for example. The person
really wanted to go, gets psyched up for it, and when the day comes
there is physically no way they can go. They feel bad for disappointing
you, and they are disappointed in themselves. They can't control their
bodies, and that is frightening.
Can you save the day? Are you flexible enough to translate their
unpredictable health into your talent for spontaneity? Rent a movie
and bring it to them. Order a pizza, or pick up sandwiches, and make
it a small mini-party. After all, who is going to miss you more--the
Eagles or your friend?
- "They have a phone, too--why don't they call me?"
There is a difference in the dynamic when you call from when they call.
When you call, you always have something to offer, if only your companionship,
a kind word, an errand. When a sick person calls, it is an imposition
on your time, and no one wants to impose. They don't want to be a bother,
and if they have already had friends disappear into the woodwork, they'll
stop calling anyone just in case they feel they pushed others away with
"being needy." You need to make the call, and keep making the call.
- "What can I do for anyone?"
Next time you head out to the grocery, try calling your pal and asking
if they need a few things, then get them. When you bring them by, no
big deal, no dramatics. You may slowly becoming an angel on earth, but
you don't have to tell anyone that.
- Make the call
- Keep calling
- Keep asking
- Keep contact
- Don't give up
- Don't give up
- Don't give up
© Sue Klaus, M.A. 1996
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