My husband Larry’s best friend Jim has Stage 4 lung cancer and is under Hospice care. After visiting Jim yesterday, Larry wrote him the following note.
Before I came to visit you, I read an article by Colleen Arnold, MD, entitled Living with the Dying. Dr. Arnold gave me advice on how to walk this journey with you. She wrote, “Let [the patient] lead the conversation and resist the urge to steer it to happier topics. Do not insist that [he] keep fighting. That can make a patient feel like a failure, or that [he] has let you down.”
I thought, “Ok, I got it!”
Then I came to visit you. And what did I do, but stress my own agenda which was:
(1) I want you to live,
(2) I want us to be like we used to be—before cancer changed it all,
(3) I don’t want you to die, and
(4) I love you.
So pushing my agenda, I urged you to set some walking goals and to push yourself.
You pushed back saying, “You don’t understand.”
Then after a few gulps, I changed the subject, and tried to steer the conversation to more positive topics.
Now, here’s what I wish I would have said: “Jim, I want to understand. Help me understand what you are thinking and feeling. In the future I will try to be more sensitive to your agenda, your feelings and thoughts. I want to walk this journey with you.”
Readers, here is what our experience with our friend Jim has taught us about being a friend to someone with a terminal illness: Try to remember to not lead with your agenda. Instead, listen to your friend’s thoughts and feelings, and be realistic in your expectations.