I have a friend — a good friend. We’ve known each other for a long time. When I was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, however, she wasn’t my most sympathetic friend. One of her typical reactions when I would talk about the bottomless fear of cancer recurrence that was swallowing me up was, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to get used to it.”
This was not really stellar support in my book; I think she could have done better. In my mind, because a close family member of hers had cancer in her past, she was not a stranger to its emotional component. Perhaps if no one in her life had ever had cancer I might have been more forgiving. Her relative was doing well, still in remission many years after her initial diagnosis. I mentally wrestled with myself: was I being too hard on a friend? After all, my emotions were on a rollercoaster. Things that didn’t bother me one day would infuriate me the next. Was I actually trying to let her off the hook for not emotionally supporting me? Was I excusing bad behavior? If those who have no experience with cancer shy away from those who are ill and those who have experience do so as well (if the memories are too painful to think about) then who is left to support you when needed? I couldn’t decide if I was expecting too much; maybe I was setting my friend up for failure.
Many times on the phone with her during my months on chemo as she proceeded to rant about the problems in her life and the ways in which things were not going her way, I wanted to point out to her how my life was “doing me wrong” in a bigger way.
Looking back, I wanted to trump her woe.
Lately, she has been having some medical issues of her own. Nothing permanent or relatively serious, but annoying and painful. For the last few weeks she has had some pain that is “excruciating.” She’s abroad this week, on vacation with her family. The pain, I guess, was not enough to keep her from that. While she has complained about her pain, her appointments, her problems for the last few weeks, I’ve really been holding back. I’ve really had to fight the part of me that wants to once again lash out.
“I guess you will just have to deal with it,” I want to say just like she did to me.
“I guess it’s not bad enough you can’t take your European vacation,” I want to say in a childish retort.
I want to trump her pain.
I want to wave the cancer card. Cancer trumps her issue, chemo trumps the discomfort she’s got.
Four years ago I found it almost intolerable that she should complain to me about the small things that were bugging her… the traffic on the way to school dropoff and how “inconvenient” her child’s schedules were. The way she had to take her child to the doctor twice in one week to check out an ear infection. How repairmen were keeping her waiting.
These things get sympathy from me under normal circumstances; these are things that bug me in my own daily life.
But not then.
While I kept silent then,
put it behind me then,
this latest round of friendship injustice just makes that time raw once more.
It brings that anger back.
My fear is that every time my friend has a hard time from now on, I am going to again have that feeling that she let me down when I needed her. I thought I had moved past it, but I guess not.
I don’t want it to get in the way of our friendship.
Maybe someone who wasn’t there for me then can’t really be a friend now.
Maybe some lessons can’t be learned until you go through them for yourself.
Maybe she can’t know how her responses hurt me unless she experiences it for herself someday.
The thing is: I don’t wish it on her.
People have different strengths.
We shouldn’t expect a person to be good at everything–
To fulfill all of our needs, all the time.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
Maybe that’s true of forgiveness too.