My childhood friend is one of those girls who can accessorize anything. She has a purple purse for the days she has purple nails. She doesn’t skip curling her hair on the weekends. She is put-together, observant, and socially fluent. I’ve known her since third grade and I’ve actually never seen her make a misstep. But, today she’s crying over brunch.
Her mother has terminal breast cancer. “It’s just that it’s not socially acceptable to keep talking about cancer past a certain point. At first everyone is interested, but after awhile I can tell that people feel like it’s a chore that they have to keep asking how my mom’s doing. I can tell that some people are kind of annoyed she hasn’t died yet because it means they haven’t to keep asking. They don’t want this to be a constant part of me.”
I know how she feels. It’s not that it’s anyone’s fault. It just gets awkward when it’s been a year and a half and I can’t say, “he’s great,” or “he’s cured,” or “things are fine.” Well, actually, frequently I do say those things. It’s just that they aren’t exactly true. We need friends more than ever and I’m constantly concerned that if I say what I’m really thinking, or how I’m really feeling, that I’ll lose the friends I so desperately need. I won’t lose them because they’re intentionally tired of talking to me, but it gets awkward for everyone when it’s been a long time with no progress and they have no advice to offer. And then they assume that it’s them and that other people do a better job responding to the cancer situation and you can feel things start to fizzle.
Sometimes I’m more exhausted from being socially acceptable than I am from the cancer.