In an earlier post, about Chris’ cancer diagnosis, I wrote about two former friends. They are former because they dumped me. One of them, I had spoken to on the phone nearly every day for 2 years. The other hadn’t been a friend as long, but she and I spent lots of time together. It was a devastating double dumping. It came at a time when I needed my friends the most and it was over the stupidest of things. I want to stress that this is my version of the events and that I would imagine that they view the events very differently (and that I am to blame).
Susan (not her real name) and I met because her kids and my kids found each other playing around our apartment complex. Her three kids were around the ages of the boys. Her daughter was the middle child. And to this day, I regret (and probably will always regret) what happened because of her daughter. Her daughter was special needs and needed someone in this world who was stable and there for her. Anyway, Susan’s husband was stationed overseas and she had just moved here. She came by about 2 weeks after the kids started playing together to see who I was and what I was like. I respected her for that – she worked full-time and her father was supposed to be watching the kids (he wasn’t doing a good job – and it turns out he was drinking).
I thought that Susan and I connected. She seemed to be an active mother to her children. She was funny and a bit dramatic (she always seemed to have drama in her life). Her kids and my boys were in and out both apartments all the time. The boys, especially our youngests, became best friends. I thought it was a good situation.
Just before her husband was due to return, she moved into a house not too far away. At this point, I had started to become friendly with Sally (not her real name either). Sally’s kids were in the boys’ classes. Her daughter was in Michael’s class and her son in David’s. Susan and I spoke about Sally who was still recovering from a very, very nasty divorce. Susan had some hand-me-downs from her daughter and she wanted them to go to someone who could really use them. I introduced Susan and Sally.
The three of us began to hang out – with all 7 kids running around. It was a lot of fun. It was what I imagined having sisters would be like – and having them live close with all of our kids hanging out and going back and forth. That is not to say that everything was perfect. There were some hurt feelings and some unkind things said. Susan and Sally both started working out together and I felt left out (I was invited, but at this point I was working on my Master’s and working full-time and was overwhelmed).
When Susan’s husband returned from overseas, things changed slightly. Susan and her husband would do a lot of things together so Susan didn’t have as much free time. Sally and I started to hang out more, but Susan and I were still closer friends.
And then it happened. Chris was in the hospital. Sally took the boys for dinner and dropped them at the hospital. Susan brought over some groceries. Sally kept saying that the cancer couldn’t be Stage IV and wouldn’t listen to anything that I had to say. She worked in a lab doing medical testing and felt that she knew it all. She continued to claim that Chris’ couldn’t have Stage IV Lung Cancer even though the doctors and my brother (the pulmomologist) all said he did.
And as it turns out Susan believed Sally. I was making this up. I was making more of it than it really was. My husband couldn’t have Stage IV Lung Cancer. Why would I do such a thing? I still can’t figure out why they would think that of me, but they did.
One of Michael’s classmate’s moms organized a meal calendar for us and coordinated a bunch of meals. Once Chris was released from the hospital, he returned to work. I was still working on student teaching and running with the boys. Chris was going to work and going to doctor’s appointments and treatment. The stress was incredible. And a stranger (but now a friend – thanks AG) arranged for people to bring us meals. We were blessed enough to have meals coming almost every other day from something like Oct. 10 through just before Thanksgiving. The outpouring of support was amazing and I am so grateful!
Of course, Susan felt that it was unethical for me to accept the meals – since Chris was working and I was working. Somehow we didn’t need help and were supposed to manage all on our own. I was supposed to tell people that I didn’t need anything when they offered help and I was supposed to say “no” if someone asked if they could bring a meal. It was crazy. People wanted to help, I could use the help – I missed a ton of work and so did Chris and we knew that the medical bills were going to be high. Not buying groceries was helpful financially. Having dinner arrive at our door was just pure relief because I didn’t have to try to manage everything. Chris was exhausted and sleeping a lot. The boys were a mess. It was a very difficult time and my supposed “best friend” didn’t think it was ethical for me to accept meals.
Sally was quiet on the subject at first. And then she started saying that I was deceiving people because I was accepting meals. As I type this, almost 2 years later, I find that I am shaking my head in confusion. Why would it be deception to accept help? Because I didn’t need it? Who was to say I didn’t need it? My parents lived in North Carolina, my in-laws and Chris’ siblings in Illinois, and my brother in Michigan. We didn’t have much of a support network in Colorado. Besides, people kept offering help and offering help.
It was hard for me to accept the help, but I realized that people needed to do something to help themselves. When something like Chris’ diagnosis happens, it can hit people very hard. They imagine what it would be like if it were their husband or wife. They want to help, but aren’t sure what to do. They want to be supportive and food is an easy way to help. This is not to say that it was easy for everyone to cook for us and deliver the meals – but in society, when we don’t know what to do for someone, we bring food. It is an easy way to be supportive. Now, some people didn’t bring food – they sent gift cards to restaurants and movies. We got checks and we got cards.
A church youth group came at Christmas to decorate (I’m Jewish and I didn’t have the heart to decorate) and brought gifts for the boys, even though I told them that we were financially able to get the boys gifts. Susan and Sally wanted me to tell all of these people “no.” They felt that when Chris went back to work, we shouldn’t need any more help. But needing help, and accepting that help, is what makes us all human. It connects us with other people in the world and makes it a nicer place to be.
Susan and I had it out first. I typically don’t swear, but I did swear at her, asking her who the F— she thought she was telling me that I was unethical for accepting help. That people knew Chris was working (a number of his co-workers signed up to make meals) and if they wanted to help, I was going to let them. Susan called my parents in an effort to get me to . . . I don’t know what – stop letting people help. Of course, my parents didn’t give her any help and told her that she was not being a good friend. She wouldn’t return my house key and some DVDs of David’s plays that her husband was supposed to be copying for me and that was that. Chris met her for the key and DVD exchange, although one was missing and she said Sally had it. Susan would still text Chris until I told him that it bothered me that she was contacting him.
Things with Sally lasted a bit longer. I paid for her son to go to “Space Camp” that was being offered at their school in exchange for her picking up and driving David. She did this one time and then she “confronted” me about my unethical behavior and my lying to people because Chris didn’t have Stage IV Lung Cancer. Again, I used the F– word asking her who she thought she was – that she knew more than the doctors and she never saw Chris’ scans. I hung up on her – and she didn’t come to pick up David. We had to arrange another ride for him. Was her behavior ethical – accepting money in exchange for a ride and then not providing the ride?
As we approach the 2 year anniversary of Chris’ diagnosis, I am still shaking my head. Susan and Sally hurt me badly and dumped me at a time when I needed support. But they did me a favor too – they did it at a time when I couldn’t mull over it. I was too busy trying to keep things together and didn’t have time to really miss their supposed friendship. The boys lost several friends because I was no longer friends with Susan and Sally, even though I told the boys that Susan’s and Sally’s kids would be welcome in our home. The boys felt betrayed by Susan and Sally and wanted nothing to do with their kids.
Susan saw David at the Middle School earlier this year when he was attending a play that his friend was in. She approached him and asked him, “Do you remember me?” David said yes and walked away. I was very proud of him and angry with her. How dare she?
In all, I learned a lot. I learned that a crisis will show you who your friends really are. And the results are often surprising. I learned that my parents and my brother will always be there for me, no matter what I need or what time it is. I learned that strength is not only physical and that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. And I learned that being dumped by your girlfriends is worse than being dumped by a guy. And that being dumped is sometimes the best thing that can happen to you. I guess I would have preferred that Susan and Sally just faded out of my life, instead of dumping me, but it was probably better that they dumped me. Because they were then out of my life and I knew them for what they really were: never true friends and absolute trash.