The Friend Affect
For the sake of this post I'm going to use the word friends, but I mean it interchangeably with family. Friends and family are complicated and painfully inadequate words. We all have family who we have virtually no contact with but we share genetic info. And we all have friends who are quite simply, family. So I'm going with the word friends, even though many of whom I speak of are either genetically linked to me or my husband. I hope you are ok with that, the word "friend" has the highest meaning in my heart.
You may or may not be aware but each and every one of us has a mental file that is called the "Things you don't know you need until you need them". Mine has been filling up quite a bit of late. I'd like to share some of them. My hope is that most of you reading this will never learn this for yourself but I know a couple of you already have unfortunately.
One of those items is this. You need friends in your life to whom you can say "I'm afraid I'm going to die". But more than that, you need that friend to come back at you with "I understand." You don't need "Oh don't be silly", "don't be so negative", "please don't fell that way". And it would be a perfectly reasonable response from your friends, but to come back with "I know you are, I would be too" is what you need to hear back. You wouldn't think that but you do. You need that fear acknowledged, that it's real.
Now I knew before this happened that I was blessed with true and wonderful friends. But I didn't realize how many friends I have who fit the above description. That's an amazing thing. Feelings like this are strong, to put them in someone's direction feels very burdensome. To have your friends shoulder it for your sake is a very humbling, beautiful experience.
I'm also blessed that these same friends have a natural ability to balance the gravity of it and yet still figure out when I just need to shoot the breeze. Recognizing how I shouldn't be living and breathing all this every moment of everyday. To be snarky and funny and talk of non-cancer things. Friends like this find a way to quietly throw you a life raft and get it around your waist. Pulling you from drowning in the stress of it all and pull you out of yourself.
They take on different roles, cheerleader, therapist, drill sergeant, spiritual advisor, event coordinator, gossip columnist, researcher, teacher, etc... Friends who faced down the same enemy who let you know they did it, you can do it too. Friends who have the answers you need about chemo and hair loss and nausea. They each tap into the part of you they know best and bring it out of you, piece you back together, make you whole. Slowly arming you with the very things you need.
I choose not to name these people if that's ok. They know who they are and if they do not recognize themselves in this, I'm not doing a good enough job telling them I love them.
The other thing that is so overwhelming is the amount of people who just reach out to you. People I haven't seen in a decade or more, taking a moment to tell me they are thinking of me. What is so interesting is how many people who did reach out qualified it with some sort of apology. As though telling me they were sorry would add to my burden in some way. But the truth is the devastation of it all hit me like a tsunami. It was pretty complete. No amount of sympathetic expression could add to it. In fact it has the opposite effect.
When I would check facebook and see my inbox, or heard who called my parents and my in-laws. To get e-mails, cards, prayer cards, deliveries, etc... People from high school saying "hell, I know we haven't seen each other in 20 years but if you need a babysitter or a cup of coffee I'm there!" I can't adequately explain the effect that it has but I'll try. It's kinda like all of these hands coming together and taking a little piece of this and lifting it. And together it lifts just enough so that you no longer feel like you are crushing underneath it. Like a groundswell of, "If we just all put one hand in, maybe she can stand up under the weight of it".
And then there's the humor. I don't think I'm that funny or smart, but I do like to see the humor in life. Even when it's painful. The first joke I made was in the ER to the PA Adam who was going over the symptoms I had leading to my diagnosis. Now that we knew it was lung caner, everything needed to be re-evaluated. Among them was loss of appetite. "So you mean this new found self-control was just cancer? I guess I can return my copy of "I can make you thin"." Having friends see the humor and meet you with it back is just awesome. I mean come on, it's not like I just got hit with this. I spent 5 years looking for wrong cancer. In cancer cell comedy clubs, this is hilarious. And I get the joke.
Then there are the prayers. Some people ask me if I mind that they pray for me, some people ask me if I'm sick of hearing that people are praying for me. Are you joking? First of all just cause I'm a Pagan doesn't mean I dismiss other people's faith, I embrace it and fully respect it's power. Pray away, just cause Jesus isn't my god doesn't mean I don't want him in my corner. I've read about him, I'm down him. Not so sure he really looked that much like Andy Gibb, but I dig him. And to know that people are taking the time out of their day, turning their thoughts to me and asking their god to help me. It's overwhelming.
And then there are the things that are happening from people I just don't know. John's coworkers are raising funds, cooking meals, sending cards, flowers, shoveling snow. I've always believed people are good, but this is beyond anything I've ever known. This is the stuff of Oprah episodes.
And then of course there is my husband, parents and in-laws who have turned their lives upside down to care for me, that's of course the hardest part. They don't make thank you cards for that. It's just too much.