Sunday, May 19, 2013

Friends and Acqaintances

Recently I was walking with a new friend when we come across one of her old friends. Her friend is suffering from Alzheimer Disease. The lady lit up and stretched her arms out to my friend, wanting a hug but the lady did not know my friend's name and did not remember that they had raised their kids together. She did know that it was someone she could trust. Once we walked on and were out of sight, my friend turned toward me and started sobbing in my arms. The person who was her old beloved friend and confidant is gone.  We talked later and she told me how she was the only one now that carried the memories that the two of them once shared. She told me that her friend was the person who always knew how to solve problems and was the one everyone would turn to and she also said that if something like this can happen to a bright woman like her friend, it can happen to anyone.

I have been giving this experience a lot of thought.  I am not sure that I have truly given enough consideration to the impact a life changing illness can have on the  survivor's friends.

One of the topics that comes up regularly at my Stroke Recovery groups is how social relations have been affected by stroke.  After a stroke a person experience so many changes that in many ways he, or she, is not the person they once were. Even someone who has a full recovery will have experienced a trauma that leaves him changed forever. He will never again feel quite so safe and invincible - he becomes aware of his own mortality.

If  you have physical and cognitive issues you need to learn how to negotiate basic life skills  in your home, neighbour hood and world once again. These changes affect your social life. Can you still be friends with the people you worked with if you no longer go to work? How about your your ability to enjoy the companionship of people with whom you shared sport activities?  If you have some cognitive issues, or are unable to talk fluently, how many of your friends are going to want to chat on the phone with you?  Limited energy reserves make even simple tasks exhausting so how can you find the energy to go out with a friend for coffee? Perhaps you will be embarrassed when you do go out if you need assistance to use a bathroom. What if you need help cutting your food? What will your friends think if you look different now?

Many survivors  find themselves leading lives where their outings revolve around doctors visits and rehab sessions. They become increasingly isolated in their own homes and their social circles becomes smaller and smaller. Isolation comes with increase risk of depression and poorer life choices that can affect their physical health even further, never mind the quality of life.

I  lost some people from my life over the past few years. A few friends and acquaintances did not have hope that I would have any real recovery. They more or less wrote me off and got on with their own lives.  I have spent a long time thinking that I had learned who my real friends were but perhaps what I was seeing was not their lack of interest in me. Maybe what I was witnessing was their own fear and vulnerability and inability to cope with the changes in me. Perhaps they were seeing, reflected in me, their own mortality. Maybe I am the one who needs to learn to be more compassionate.

photo source
I have been blessed to have had my family and several friends stand by me through the past 5 years.  I am fortunate to have also made so many terrific new friends online and in my local community.

I can't begin to express my gratitude for all the wonderful people that are in my life.

Thank-you!

7 comments:

Barb Polan said...

Bingo!

I have judged the people who seem to have abandoned me, but perhaps having compassion for them is a better response. The others have more than made up for those I haven't seen/heard from. Socially, I'm busier than ever, but I have been seeking out people more than I used to, exactly because I refuse to let my "circle get smaller."

The one I used to share a sport with (rowers) have become more important socially than they used to, partly because so many stepped forward to help just after I had the stroke.

As always, you have spoken to my heart and elicited tears.

Blue Shoe Farm said...

Well written!! I too noticed a change in friends, but definitely chalked it up to their own issues with mortality, illness and loss of independence. Their desire to know my stroke story was not for me, it was for them. And I am okay with that. We are not cookie cutter, and in some ways if my friend would have had a stroke first I cannot say I would not have handled it well. With love, yes, but would not have known how to navigate the changes. I have gotten more compassionate with others. And patient. Recognizing that I probably would have been a disappearing friend, maybe. None of us asked for this- We can do the best we know how t from here on out and work on the bigger picture. Thanks for sharing this.

Amy said...

I too have learned who my friends are.

Glynis Jolly said...

This is such a beautiful post, Linda. It says so much.

Elizabeth, John and Jack said...

I have moved more in this direction more recently, feeling more sympathy than anger/frustration with the people that were "unable" to cope with my situation. I got what I needed from the small circle that "could"help. The people that "couldn't" do the right thing need more help than I ever did. Sad for them. It was too hard for me to be the bigger person when I was sick, but I think I'm back on tract now. Thanks for the reminder to do the right thing. :)

Humpty Dumpty said...

Such an insightful post, Linda. I know from experience how hard it is to see how a serious illness affects a friend. One would hope that they would do their best to be supportive, but some people just don't know how to cope with those who may have 'special needs'. Your other points about them being faced with their own mortality, etc. are valid, too.

It's a good thing there are organizations like SAM that pull people together who have gone through stroke recovery (and other serious illnesses) so their social network will consist of new friends who truly understand them.

Grace Carpenter said...

What a beautiful post.

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