Starting a friendship with someone who is dying

Starting a friendship with someone who is dying


I was at a late night business meeting recently where one of my colleagues joked “I’m not your friend, am I? Right?”  We all laughed but the question was pointed. See, as of late, I have made a few new acquaintances and friendships with people who are dying. One in particular, may or may not make it to the end of the year.  None of us know. If you bumped into him in the street you wouldn’t know. He is walking about with a full smile on his face and he is out and about enjoying life. The attitude is amazing. You can’t help but be infected by his optimism and just happiness.

With that said, you can’t help but be a little bit sad. And that sounds a bit trite but there is no other way of saying it. You leave his presence feeling inspired but also knowing that tomorrow may not come for him. Its a crapshoot. Obviously, tomorrow may never come for a huge number of people. We can’t take anything for granted.  Despite the websites that exists trying to foretell your expiration date, most of us do not know when that time will come. And obviously, it will come no matter what our current crop of science fiction movies envision. Despite knowing all of this, let me share with you all the difficulty of becoming friends with someone who is on a life countdown.

I hate the phrase bucket list. There is such misuse of that phrase exists currently in our society. I hate that six year old girls know have bucket lists. A six year old should have a dream wish list, not a bucket list. Despite my hatred of that phrase, I am becoming friends with someone who is actively engaged in coming up with and fulfilling bucket lists items.  Every day seems to be a bucket list fulfillment order and I happy to be a little part of that bucket.  Yet, what am I doing for my list? My dream list, that is. That, however, is not even what consumes me.

I am consumed by the thought of how I will say goodbye to this person and I just met them. I am consumed by how his life will be celebrated. I am consumed by what will happen to his child.  It is as if I am already in mourning and we just started to get get to know each other. When you first start a friendship, you get to learn about each other, where you have come from and where you are going? You think of points of commonality.  When someone is dying, does it even matter to try to find those points of commonality? That seems so agentic and unnecessary in such an instance.  In a way, starting a friendship with someone who is dying, affords the opportunity to really know the person.

With the person dying, you get to see what really matters to them and what drives them on a cloudy day. You get to see them free of some of the everyday fake trappings of life. It is as if you finally get to see Cher without any make up or scandalous outfits.  There is a real, raw nature to their being that also frees you from the trappings of appearing a certain way in order to get or sustain a friendship.  Well, let me back up on that last one. There are moments, where admittedly, you bite your tongue because you wonder why bother telling a dead man walking they are being an idiot.  There are also some moments where you see what would be a cognitive decline issue but you really don’t know.  It could be that they were always that goofy or that they are experiencing change sin their abilities. Yet, you don’t know since you didn’t know them before their illness.  That is a very strange situation to find oneself in.  You sit there, at times, wondering was this always their way of being?  If you tease them for always being late, is that a mean thing because their illness has change d them into a late person or, is it funny because they have always been inconsiderate of other people’s time?

The other thing I have come to experience is a patience with not knowing what is next? With this individual, it seems that he never knows what he is going to be doing the next hour. It would appear to me that he has stopped (or was he always this way) planning and has stopped caring what others think of that. A reserve of patience is highly needed and it is not a bad thing.

At the end of the day, I am happy to have met this person.  And, yes I am sad. The irony is that I am the type of person that reads book endings before starting a book.  I read spoilers on websites that give hints of what is to happen on a television show plot. I like to know how things are going to end.  I just wish, in this case, I did not.

5 replies »

  1. It’s interesting how knowing when one will die; imprisons them to a certain time frame but also frees one to be their true self as you say of your friend. It begs the question who are we living/ pretending for now when we have all this promise of life (or at least no *known* expected date of death)


  2. I’ve known quite a few elderly people who had life-limiting conditions, as they say – and, true to expectations, after a while they died. We accept it in the elderly, I guess – harder to deal with when it’s a younger person. Someone is there for a while, you like them – then they’re not there. The only people I’d find it impossible to be philosophical about, if they were going to die sooner rather than later, would be my two kids.


  3. I live with that daily now. It was daunting, after moving to our retirement community, and finding people who wanted to read my book (and claim to be waiting impatiently for the rest of the trilogy), to have one of them who was becoming a friend go home. I miss her still – she was a lovely person.

    On the other hand, it provides so many opportunities to be kind.

    Very odd, making a vow of stability to a group of strangers. Quite like that taken in some monastic communities.


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