Dear Carolyn • I am 23. About a year ago I was diagnosed with what turned out to be a non-life-threatening cancer. During surgery and radiation, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful significant other and the care of my family. I’m healthy now. Throughout that time, I (or my family) sent infrequent update emails to friends and our extended family letting them know what was going on. At one point, I announced that I was ready for visitors and phone calls. I heard from a few people, but not at all from some friends I would have expected to hear from. Though my feelings were hurt at the time, this isn’t something I am choosing to hold grudges over. But now, as I’m re-emerging, friends will say things along the lines of, "Sorry I wasn’t in touch more, but I knew you were well taken care of," and I don’t know how to respond. I’m not angry, but I don’t want them to think that if another friend were to ask for visitors during an illness, it’s OK to just not reply. How do I respond when friends say things like this?
Healthy but Confused
Dear Healthy • First of all, congratulations, both on your health and on not holding grudges. Now that you’re feeling better on both counts, you have an impulse to make people more crisis-friendly by educating them. It’s not your responsibility, though — at least, it’s not your job to change the way anyone responds to some friend’s future illness. It is your job, as a friend, to be a friend, which includes: sharing your feelings, and giving those close to you a chance to give you what you want and need. If you look at it that way, then I think you’ll answer your own question on how to respond to your friends’ excuses. To mere acquaintances you give the hey-no-worries treatment. With friends whose absence did rattle you, deploy the truth as a matter of friendship: "I was well cared for, yes, but I missed you and was hurt you didn’t come." If they take as a guilt trip, then assure them that’s not your intent. Assure them you’re not upset or holding a grudge — you just didn’t want to give them some shallow, insincere "Hey, no worries!" when in fact it did matter to you.
Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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