Happy Friendship Day!

August 2, 2009

“The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”
– George Washington

I found these quotes particularly poignant for today’s posting, because I’ve been asked recently about the role that friends play during cancer diagnoses, treatments and even during the passing of a loved one.  I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to respond to this question, because it means that people are actively thinking about their role in someone’s life when tragic news hits… whether it’s a cancer patient diagnosis or a close friend having difficult times… these people were thinking about how they could best be supportive and helpful.  So, I’m going to do my best to give you my interpretation of what I expected and what I’ve come to expect of myself as others enter in and out of these valleys of their lives.

When my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer of an undetermined origin back in January of 2009, I read ravenously searching for every possible angle that might prolong his life, but secondly I began looking to others for insight, to act as a sounding board, or sometimes to distract me from the looming conversation of mortality. 

What I found was a myriad of responses; some overwhelmingly positive and still others that were shockingly negative.  In this post I think it’s best to focus on the positive.  If at some other point, people wish me to speak of the effects of negative friendship reactions, I will do so. 

The people who went above and beyond, I can not even begin to thank, because mere words do not completely encapsulate how loving, kind and gernerous they were and are. Their actions such as calling without prompt, sening emails, texts, showing up and more importantly and simply just asking about how my father was doing, or how my mother was coping were instrumental.  Those actions created an avenue for conversation, a means for my mother, my father, and me to discuss the extreme wave of emotions that existed within.  The trick is that each of my family members were attempting to remain strong for the rest of the family.  For me personally, I was attempting to keep my parents spirits high, not because I was trying to mislead them with false hopes, but because I really believed everything was going to be okay. I thought that if I worked hard enough, read enough, did enough, prayed enough, that somehow everything would work out. That page is sounds very familiar to Michael J. Fox (the Eternal Optimist), I believe that positive thinking can often  aid in the healing process where medicine can not.  Yet, even with as much positivity as I had, there were still moments of dread, concern, and fear, that needed to be expressed and the people who did all of the above provided me with the outlet to express those emotions.  That release allowed me to re-energize and come back the next day fighting.  The thing that impressed me the most were some of these people that responded, I hadn’t spoken to in years, yet our ties of friendship transcended the time gap and they were there when I needed them.  That to me is the definition of true friendship. 

I think the only other piece of advice that can really be given for someone who is trying to make sure that they there for their friends is to remember that the hard times don’t go away when the hustle and bustle subside. Sometimes that’s when your friends need you the most, as they are reacclamating themselves into their “normal” life, with either this new piece to cope with, or with the absence of something or someone that they  cared about. 

Either way remember the following lines:

“When true friends meet in adverse hour;
‘Tis like a sunbeam through a shower.
A watery way an instant seen,
The darkly closing clouds between.”
– Sir Walter Scott

Ask yourself the question, what have you done to cultivate your friendships? Because if you haven’t been there for them, how do you know that they will be there for you?


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