Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Where have all the friends gone?

Before H was diagnosed, we had lots of friends...friends accumulated over 10 years before he got sick. His friends, my friends, and our friends. Gay, straight, bi-, trans, and name it. B-day and anniversary parties would have ~50 people at our home and almost 100 showed up for our wedding, which we did on our 10 year anniversary.

When he was first diagnosed and in the hospital near death at 120 lbs, some wouldn't (should I say couldn't) come visit. Some wouldn't talk to me again after I told them he had AIDs. Some of my friends from college (mind you this is 20 years after college) just said, "I can't handle it. I've seen too many get sick and die" and poof, they were gone from my (our) life forever. I understand that some of them watched their friends/lovers die and can't deal, but it hurts nonetheless.

Ironically, it was the gay friends who disappeared the quickest. Not returing phone calls, not extending invites anymore, not even rsvping to events they had attened each year for 10+ years. So much for supporting your own.

It nets out to losing proably 3/4s or more of our friends since H got sick.

I guess that this "attrition" is not all the unusual when someone is very sick, especially when it's terminal or when the illness affects their mind. A neighbor of ours had lung cancer and her husband tells me that many, many of their friends accumulated over 40 years of marriage just disappeared. Just like happened to H and me.

God knows it IS scary to watch someone get very sick, to know that they will likely die from their illness, to see them change physcially and mentally. But we will all face illness and death, whether our own or someone that we love. I hope that when these former friends are in failing health or someone they love is that their friends stay around.

I think that people don't know what to do or say...don't know whether to talk about the illness explicitly or just chit chat or anywhere in between. I think that people also don't know what to do...perhaps they want to do something, anything to help...and they really can't change what's happening no matter what they do so there is a feeling of powerlessness. And, let's face it, mortality is not pretty, nor fun, nor sexy.

H and our neighbor both said that what we say isn't as important as just being there for the sick person. Just holding their hand or just sitting in the same room, telling them that you love them and talking to them as a friend. Simple. Why is this so hard?


Ron Hudson said...

Thank you for this very genuine and honest assessment to make us all think. I have seen the same thing happen at times, but also have found that AIDS has brought new, beautiful people into my life.

I wish you both the very best.

The Dreamer said...

Thanks for posting this, I can relate from the viewpoint of a man who is HIV+. It is unfortunate, that in my case also, what few gay friends I had all turned and ran when they learned of my diagnosis.

I had a wonderful partner for 6 years who was HIV negative, who dyed from metastatic kidney cancer. His gay friends were the first to anandon him, spreading rumors that his family lied and he died from AIDS and I was to bl;ame for that....which was the furthest thing from the truth.

I have been told time and time again that people are just plain ignorant and filled with fear when faced with mortality that's not portrayed on TV of movies. Seeing mortality up close and personal is too much for most sheeple to bear and they hide out of fear....after all it could be them some day that die.

I was there for my partner through it all to the end, and late stage cancer doesn't look that much different than end stage HIV. If I had tirned my back on my partner I doubt I could have ever lived with myself after, many lack any sense of conscience or responsibility today.

May Gid bless you and God help us all

A fellow contributor to the ICP

Biographic Summary said...

Thanks for posting this and be assured the phenomenon is not new. It has been happenning since the earliest stages of the epidemic though that does not make it any easier.
In my case, I have been left with one gay friend in my life. Even my partner of 21+ years (who is still negative thankfully) finally left though he has yet to admit it is because of this.
I can say that I was in some ways prepared as I worked voluntarily and professionally over a 20 year span with chronic and terminally ill people including both my parents. In all these cases, I saw the estrangement of friends through disassociation that you described.
I cannot and will not begin to pretend I understand their actions. I do feel a great sense of sorrow for them as I have experienced some of the greatest moments of unconditional love and opportunities of healing during these periods of illness.
We all have to decide for ourselves what we do each day and some of us are not conciously aware of our own decision making processes while others are too afraid of what might lie ahead or behind them.
Thanks again for your post and for letting me get on my soapbox.
Love to you and all of yours!!!

Anonymous said...

One of my dear friends is suffering the late stages of the AIDS virus. I've known him for 7 yrs & my heart is breaking, knowing that he is dying. I've known about his diagnosis for all this time, but only when the word "hospice" was mentioned, did I break down. I couldn't stop crying, no matter how non-chalant he seemed.

Through all of the pain, however, I realize that I could not stop being in contact with him or his negative husband. These are people I love, people who have become very dear to my husband and me. My heart goes out to you and I can only hope that you acquire new friends as you experience these changes in your life. Thank you for posting.