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When You Get Sick: The Character Of Those Around You

There’s an endless list of bad things about being sick. But what happens to the relationships you have with people around you when you become ill?

Let me tell you about a man I know. I will call him Bill, even though that’s not his real name.

Bill is a vital man in his 60s with two grown daughters. A few years ago, he was diagnosed with a serious illness. His illness isn’t going to kill him right away, but it has profoundly affected his ability to work and enjoy all the things he used to enjoy. Worse, he has had a difficult time with his doctors figuring out what exactly is wrong and the best way to proceed.

But all of this isn’t really the hardest part for Bill. The hard part for Bill is how his friends and family have reacted.

Bill’s two daughters have handled his illness in two different ways. Although she’s not a doctor, his older daughter has been doing everything she can to help her dad make sense of his problem and figure out the right things to do. Bill’s other daughter is a different story. She seems unable to come to terms with her father’s illness, and so has been almost entirely absent from his care.

Bill’s friends have had varied reactions, too. A few have been like his oldest daughter. Others have almost entirely disappeared. One of the people he thought was his closest friend stopped talking to him not long after he was diagnosed. Another, in the course of a conversation about his illness told him to stop being so self-absorbed. “I’m not sure what happened,” Bill told me.

It’s hard to be judgmental about people’s reactions. Everyone handles issues around death and serious illness differently. Who knows what baggage each of these people who have abandoned Bill carry around with them that caused them to react that way?

Still, the people who have stood by Bill also carry baggage with them — but are able to put it aside in order to help their friend. To me, the ability to do this is what defines character.

And so if you get sick, you’re going to find out a lot about the character of the people around you. The family members and friends who you thought were there for you unconditionally may not be. Then what?

Well, it’s part of a larger point.

If you get sick, no matter who you have around you, you need to realize that you are the one who has the most at stake. That you’re the one who cares the most about whether you’re being seen by the right doctors, that all of your questions are being answered, and that your personal and emotional needs as a human being are being tended to. You can hope that the people around you will step up and do their part, but you should plan for the possibility that they won’t, and be prepared to be your own best advocate, and your own best friend.

I think it’s the kind of advice Bill would give you.

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

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