Q: I was told last week that my best friend has a neurological tumour. Her oncologist expects her to live no more than 12 months, and she most likely will die within six. My problem is that I do not know what to say to her. I have picked up the phone a number of times to call but I don’t make the call. I hang up the phone before I have finished dialing. Do you have any ideas that might help me figure out what to say to my friend?
A: People who are terminally ill are people first and terminally ill second. They deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as before they were diagnosed.
We tend to deny the inevitability of death. People who are terminally ill are either shifted to hospitals or palliative care units where they are out of sight or they are restricted to their homes and often not included in community activities. That is not respectful.
Respect begins with honesty. Be as honest as you can with your friend. That means telling her how confused and inadequate you feel. Chances are that she feels awkward also.
The more that the two of you are frank with each other, the better the chances are that you will be able to comfort and encourage her through her final months.
The key to respect is listening. Hopefully you will spend considerably more time listening than talking to your friend.
Sometimes that means listening in silence. Some of our most profound moments in relationships come in the stillness of the night, when being together supersedes the need to talk.
If your friend needs or wants to talk, she will do so. If she needs to bury herself in her own thoughts, let her.
Your friend needs to know how important she has been to you and that she will always be part of your memory.
The more that you are able to be with your friend at this moment in her life, the more you will be able to resolve your own crisis of mortality when your moment comes.
Don’t be afraid to appreciate the lessons she is sharing with you and recognize them as among the most meaningful moments in your life.