Some friends of mine are not doing well at all, and I'm struggling with how to help them, or if I'm even able to help them.
A friend from high school was diagnosed with ALS about two years ago. Another friend was recently diagnosed with leukemia. A third friend just found out his 85-year-old mom probably has late-stage lymphoma and she passed away barely 24 hours later.
I've been able to do little things for each of them, but I'm not sure what else, if anything, I can do, or, candidly, if I'm even emotionally or physically able to do it. I know their travails are indicative of the state of things at our age, which for us all is 65, but the range in which these predicaments present themselves swings dramatically. Other friends have gone through their own struggles... with brain cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, heart disease... and they've passed away from those illnesses. They no longer need our assistance. But there are plenty of others who do and this is a trend to continue for many of us.
My friend whose mom passed away can be helped simply by lending him an ear and a shoulder when they're needed. He was trying to do so much for her, and faced the reality that there simply was nothing else that could be done. My friend with leukemia is in remission, but is now faced with the ironic secondary issues that have arisen from his heavy chemotherapy; however, he seems to be staying positive and is moving forward, getting stronger every day.
But for my friend with ALS, it's as if he's physically vanishing before our eyes. Little by little, inexorably, he's less able to do much of anything for himself. He has to rely on so many others to do so many things for him. Little things. But make no mistake. He's still very much in there. He's still whip smart and still extremely --- and sometimes wickedly --- funny. But his other challenge comes just in finding reliable people to help him, and I include myself in this category. His contemporaries are unable to do much for him because they're his age and perhaps not fit or available enough for the physical demands that his situation requires. And his wonderful wife is struggling as well because so many things have fallen to her, and spouses who are care givers always seem to be affected as they suffer along with the one who is ill, mainly because of the effort and strain required to give care and the pain in watching their loved ones fail.
I called a great friend today to talk about things. I lost it on the phone with him. I broke down, unable to speak for a moment; I guess my heart is breaking, but this is not about me. After a really good cry, I've resolved just to do what I can, even if it's just to write some checks to related support organizations, to make calls and write letters to legislators who can affect change, to just sit with a friend and discuss whatever that friend wants to discuss, or to just listen and not speak.
It's all we can do, sometimes: to do whatever we can for whomever we can do it.