This post is one of those which started out being about something completely different, but evolved into this. Am I the only one that does that on a regular basis? Is it some type of blogger affliction?
I have a number of friends in their nineties. Yes, old people. I like old people. They are generally not caught up in sex, drugs and energy drinks. They don’t spend hours on Facebook posting seemingly inane statuses. They’ve probably never sent an email in their lives, and they have no idea what blogging is.
In spite of loving these people dearly, I need to be quite clear that I don’t believe anyone over 70 should be allowed to drive a car. No offence intended. Just stating the obvious.
The thing about old people is that they have lived, usually through incredibly hard times. Think World Wars. The Great Depression. They are likely to be living with the daily reality of pain and reduced mobility, yet the people I’m thinking of still have a smile for me when I see them.
And therein lies the problem. I’m sure that after this year, they are probably all thinking I’m not the friend they thought I was. Actually I suspect this doesn’t just apply to my friends about to clock up 100 years, because this year I appear to have neglected so many of my friends and family.
My elderly friends tend to have more limitations on them than younger friends. Because of their age and perhaps frailty, the load of ensuring the friendship is maintained tends to fall on me. And that’s the problem. It’s really hard to maintain friendships when I’m not well.
I used to be a pretty good friend. I’m not so sure anymore. I prefer an afternoon sleep instead of jumping in the car and heading off to visit a friend. I make plans with friends, and have to cancel them at the last minute because I am having a bad pain day. Maybe my head is too full of fog to be able to sit and have a conversation with a friend. Sometimes it’s that I feel depressed, and walking out the door is just too hard.
Yesterday I had to say no to another regular commitment. Over recent months my health has rendered me unreliable in terms of actually being able to turn up on the day. While I didn’t want to do this, because I know it was helping someone out, I knew that my health meant that he could no longer rely on me. Another friend (this time also family) neglected.
You might think that I am feeling guilty… but I’m not. I know I’m neglecting friendships and I hate that, but I know too that I need to put myself first this time. I’m sure not everyone understands this. I know for a fact that some people just think I’m lazy and don’t want to see them. They can think what they like. Yes that attitude hurts but I don’t have the energy to worry.
There is a lot of talk about invisible illnesses, and how difficult they are because others can’t see my hardship or pain. When I think about it, most illnesses are invisible. There’s only a few where we can see the physical effects of the illness, but even then do we automatically assume that means they are sick and/or in pain? Not always. And how do we see pain? Realistically we can’t. What a person experiences as pain is beyond the grasp of another. I know this well because I have a condition (fibromyalgia) that is known to be about chronic pain. But knowing that does not enable another to understand just what that pain is and how it affects me.
I’ve heard people say that it’s not fair that people with cancer apparently get more compassion than someone with an invisible illness. I believe that is a generalisation that isn’t helpful for anyone. The thing is that we are all struggling in our own way. My reason for not being able to maintain friendships to the degree I would like to is my physical health, but it could just as easily be something else, equally as valid.
Everyone is fighting their own battles. My battles are not necessarily and greater than yours. They’re just different, but equally valid. I guess what it teaches me is not to jump to conclusions. Not to assume I know why a friend appears to have let me down. I hope my friends (and family) can do the same for me.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey
- Loyal (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)