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Dear Little Bobby,
My creative partner, and friend of many years, has been having some serious health issues lately. It has been a painful year for her, which in turn has been difficult for me. She has not had a terminal diagnosis, but that could change at any time. We have continued to create together, because we each love it and as a distraction. Lately, due to physical pain and emotional stress she has been getting upset at me and others. This may sound like a stupid question, but can you help me to not take it personally when she gets mad? I get defensive when she snaps at me, and then I feel terrible about it because I know she is hurting.
—Trying to Help a Sick Friend
Dear Trying To Help A Sick Friend,
Good for you for trying to help. It can be very difficult, but helping a friend (or a stranger) who is truly in need is a wonderful thing to do, and dealing with a life-threatening illness definitely counts as a true need. I once helped a friend who was dying of liver cancer, simply by visiting him. I suddenly found out he had about a week to live and a mutual friend invited me to come see our sick friend in hospice.
I visited him every day during that week. It was very hard for me, but I quickly noticed that for some people it was too hard, so they did not visit. Each day, during my relatively brief visits I also saw one of his best friends by his bedside for hours on end. That friend was in the room when he died. It was a very difficult experience, but I felt honored that the Universe allowed me to help someone in their final days even if it was just with my presence, to tell a joke, to listen to a joke, to get another pillow or to get him a drink of water…the little things.
It is a privilege and a blessing to be able to help someone.
I hope and pray that your friend’s illness does not become terminal, but in any case it’s clear the pain and stress are already present. When she gets frustrated you can remind yourself of the pain that she is in, but it probably is not ever too far from your mind. Compassion is the key for you to help in the best way. If her anger and sadness persist, you have a choice of whether you want to be a part of it.
If a terminal diagnosis is where this eventually goes, it is quite possible that depression and anger will be a part of that. Some people accept the circumstances that they are in much easier than others. Because you and I have not ever received a terminal diagnosis we do not know what that would feel like and we are not in a place to judge how someone else reacts to that news. Remind yourself of that fact and do it as often as you need to.
Depending on the situation you may be able to help your friend simply by being there, by creating with her, or by just listening. The little things in life can go a long way towards helping someone, like getting that drink of water or that other pillow, but you might also need to do the big things aside from the physical, like being there emotionally with your friend to cry, to be scared, to be angry, to not be alone.
There is also the act of allowing her to be angry at you, and accepting it without taking it personally because you are doing it with compassion, always remembering that you do not know how it feels to be her. This will not be fun or easy, but this is not about fun and easy, this is about helping someone in need. This is about how would you like to be treated if you were going through something painful and scary. Even if you got mad, how would you like to be treated? If you are like me and most people, you would like to not be alone.
Only you can decide if you are up to this. I am not telling you to do it if you cannot. I am not telling you to stay in this challenging and changing situation if YOUR anger and frustration are making hers worse. But I am telling you that it is a privilege and a blessing to be able to help someone. I want the best for you both. Take care. Let me know if you need more help.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody.” —The Beatles, “Help” 1965