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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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My Ever Decreasing Circle Of Good Friends

(Names have been changed)

My mother used to say you never know who your good friends are until you go through a crisis. As a child and teen, I took great offense to that expression. I was convinced my friends were ‘gold’ and would always be there for me. I was sure I had made good choices and knew the character of the people I surrounded myself with.

As I grew older, I began to get an inkling of the reality of that statement. Today, as a well spouse of over 30 years, the expression has come to be a cornerstone of what I believe. Well spouses and their partners have many needs, and it is unrealistic to expect people to be there for you all the time or even a lot of the time. People change, situations change, everyone has problems. Some of us react to a hangnail with the depth of depression that another will reserve only for the worst of crises. That is life. We are all different with different tolerance for pain and adversity.

Understanding this, I have come to lower my expectations of myself and of those around me to a more minimal and realistic level. It is, however, when my minimal level of response is not met over a very long period of time (perhaps measured in years) that I can come to some solid conclusions. Sometimes friends make verbal claims of profuse caring and concern, only to totally ignore my concrete requests for help. At that point, it is time to move on to new friendships. It is time to trade in the friendships that are there because of a common history, to ones that meet the mutual needs of both parties.

What does “being there for each other” mean? To me, it is a simple display of caring during a time of crisis that can express itself in a flower, a call, a card and, mostly, some kind words. It is an expression of caring that can reflect in being taken for a cup of coffee, joining a couple for an outing, or being invited for a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal when alone.

It can be a melon left at your doorstep when there is no time to cook a meal. It can be an offer of a ride or a volunteer at babysitting. It need not occur often, but it needs to happen at some point over a year or two of hardship.

No one will starve if a meal is not brought in a crisis. Somehow, we will all manage. But it is the absence of anything ? the total ignoring of a person and family in dire need, that makes getting through the crisis more difficult than it need be.

When you are left with the feeling that no one cares enough about you to make a five-minute call in the course of an ordeal that has lasted months, or respond to a request you have made ? or even just sincerely ask how you are and listen to the answer, you are left devastated.

It had been a difficult year and a half for the Gold family. . Mr. Gold’s chronic illness had taken a sharp turn for the worse. It seemed that the last 18 months had seen crisis after crisis. Mr. Gold’s repeated hospitalization had lasted months and now the need for a nursing home was a real possibility. Over the last 10 years, the Golds had invited two couples every Passover. They were couples that relied on the Golds for a Passover seder and knowing this, the Golds always gladly hosted them, no matter what difficulty they were going through.

This year, however, Mr. Gold would be in the hospital for Passover. Mrs. Gold found herself drained and deeply depressed as the holiday approached. She had difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and wondered how she would ever manage to get Passover together.

After discussion with her husband, it was decided that for the first time in over 30 years, she would go to her children for the family seder. It was time to give it over to the next generation.

When she called the first couple to let them know she would not be having a seder this year, they were supportive and glad for her. They had been there, visiting and encouraging throughout the last 18 months. They even said they would go to the hospital and keep her husband company the night of the seders.

Before she got a chance to call the second couple, she received a call from them. They just wanted to let her know they were taking a vacation during Passover and would not be able to attend the seder as usual. Mrs. Gold was speechless. She wondered how they would even assume she would make a seder this year ? and even have the energy for guests if she did. Furthermore, this couple had not bothered to visit her husband in the hospital more than once though they worked only five minutes away from the hospital. Over the last months, Mrs. Gold rarely heard from them and if she did, it was usually because of another agenda.

Each time they spoke, the couple said how guilty they felt for not having visited him or called her in the past months, but they neither visited nor called after that. Mrs. Gold decided it was time to seek friends elsewhere.

Malka and Miriam shared a history. They had been close friends in college and had stayed friends over the years despite the distance between them. E-mail helped.

Malka often asked Miriam for advice and support as she went through life’s passages. When Miriam’s husband became chronically ill, Malka expressed her concern for him. When Miriam tried to share some of what she was experiencing as a well spouse, Malka responded with e-mails about her headaches, flu, persistent coughs, and job problems without so much as a supportive sentence or two for Miriam.

Miriam kept up the contact for a few years, but as her husband’s condition worsened and she herself became ill, the lack of a few words of support from her friend were beginning to bother her. She tried many different ways to ask for support in her e-mails but each attempt was just met with more words of how difficult Malka’s life was. Finally, Miriam just stopped answering the e-mails. It was time to cut her losses and move on.

Well spouses tend to be people you want as friends. They are supportive, know how to give of themselves, and generally make lemonade from lemons. But they too have needs and like everyone else, need supportive friends. When old patterns prevent you from getting the support you need in the friendship, it may be time to reevaluate and determine if the friendship is worth keeping. It is a personal choice and a difficult one. Only you know when and if it is time to move on.

I have many fewer friends now than I did as a child and a young woman. But the friends I have are not gold ? they are platinum to me! I hope I am at least gold to them. ◙

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/my-ever-decreasing-circle-of-good-friends/2004/12/01/

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