Neglected Friends

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?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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

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13 thoughts on “Neglected Friends

  1. I love this! I love seniors and have a lot of older friends at church, but especially at water therapy. Since more older people need therapy I am one of the young ones at the therapy pool and I am 51. :0) They are a wealth of knowledge and I enjoy them so much. We do therapy on our own schedule but I see a lot of the same people almost daily so right now these are some of my best friends. Thanks for your post.

  2. John Richardson

    If your elderly friends understand how much you enjoy your relationship with them and how important they are to you, I’m sure they would understand that when you’re not able to make it, it’s because you can’t. Nobody argues with necessity. I also think you’re right, just let them know that you love and miss them and then don’t worry about it. First things first. I’d sit here and be silent about this, I love your quote, but I doubt you’d even know I was here. God Bless!

  3. I know that feeling – not being able to make it, wanting to stay in bed all day, cannot go pick up my new Visa card, cannot go to that job interview, cannot be there fully for a friend in need – even though I don’t really have that many friends to begin with. Before my condition worsened I used to push myself to be there and it would drive me crazy, putting myself on the back burner

    But you say something that is very true. If I were sick in a hospital bed, people would be more understanding about why I can’t do something.

    You also say something else that is very important: this is YOUR illness, this is how YOU are feeling, these are thing YOU can/cannot do. YOU being the keyword.

    Yesterday I ignored my sister who has come to stay with me – suicide watch I guess and also to watch over side effects of the meds and speak to me when I talk half awake half asleep at night. I stayed in bed and watched mindless videos on my computer while she sat in the living room probably bored out of her mind. She came in twice to just stand at the door and look at me. Finally she asked me why I hadn’t been out of bed at all. I couldn’t explain it to her – how do you explain that you just can’t and expect people to understand? I told her I was feeling week and felt comfortable just sitting in bed. She accepted that and left me alone.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble. You’ve written a great post to bring out such rambles.

    1. No need to ever apologise for rambles. I think you raise an interesting point for me about how to be there for people who are struggling. Maybe what you did yesterday is exactly what you needed. Maybe all your sister needed to do was be there, without the need to say anything or do anything. I know that is difficult for people to understand, and some have an expectation that they are going to “fix’ us. Personally I run far away from that. I hope she can leave you alone if that is what you need. I think it’s also really hard for us when we get put on suicide watch, or whatever they choose to call it. When I’ve been put on that I’ve retreated to my room and tried to pretend the need was not there. It’s hard for everyone. Send ing lots of love.

  4. “And that’s the problem. It’s really hard to maintain friendships when I’m not well.” I struggle with this as well, especially in my marriage. Apparently we don’t get to take a break from being “married” during the sick times. I used to feel guilty about that, but you were able to remind me to accept my limitations. Posts like this also help my husband understand and accept them. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful for you both Nicole. I know that keeping a relationship together is hard when you’re sick. I hope you can both find a way that works for you.

  5. Pingback: “A friend who cares” ~ Henri Nouwen « Real Rest is the Best

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