Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Friend

What is a bad friend? Let's start with a story.

Markus Aquarius and Rudy
There were two guys who were well liked by most people and pretty good friends. One was an outgoing viciously friendly guy who loved life and the people encountered along the way. This guy was always willing to help out his friends and mentor younger guys. He had a cheery disposition.

He also had cancer. He didn't know he had cancer, well, until he did. Cancer took his bladder and left him in the unenviable position to have a bag attached to his leg.

He battled cancer and beat it down. He went into remission.

But cancer is a dick, an ugly friend if you will who is always with you. It waited until his guard went down and came roaring back, attacking other organs and when he found out, it was already stage 4. Doctors gave him a short span to enjoy his time here and he set out to wrangle the disease again. He never lost hope, never accepted defeat, his attitude was always positive.

Or so I heard... I'm the other guy... the bad friend.

I've stewed on writing this because it was going to be hard. I may have to keep trying to write it and if you're reading it, I must have finished it.

Mark was my friend. He taught me more about reef tanks, life, parenting, and God than I ever had a chance to thank him for. The first time I got the news that Mark had cancer, I visited him once or twice. I told myself that I was staying out of the way of the healing process. He had plenty of visitors and I had life's challenges and raising kids to worry about.

I should have thrown the Excuse flag right then. I didn't want to deal with Cancer. I know it isn't contagious, but I couldn't deal with it. When I realized I wasn't dealing with it, I made the excuse that it was too long and too late and I couldn't go back and do it over. How could I walk back in as if nothing had ever happened?

And then he beat it down. I was excited for him. We chatted on Sundays. We didn't talk about cancer or survival or bladder bags. We didn't talk about my fear and cowardice and not visiting.

I had been downstairs with the kids on a particular Sunday a year or so later and didn't catch announcements and prayer requests, but got a call on my way home from work from Mark. He knew he hadn't seen me and wanted to tell me personally that the cancer was back. He told me the doctors had told him he was going to die, as matter of fact as that... because that was his nature. He said he was going to keep his head up because all the survivor stories he had heard involved people not losing hope.

It was at that point that I said I was sorry. I was sorry that I didn't know what else to say other than "I'm sorry." I was sorry that I hadn't been there on the first go around. I was sorry that I just couldn't deal with it and had difficulty not saying what was on my mind and being direct. I was sorry that I wasn't as hopeful as he was. I told him wanted to be there for him but that I didn't want to diminish his hope.

Like a good friend, he allayed my fears. He said that his hope was much stronger in its root than my fear. He told me as matter of fact that he had conversed with his wife and that they would enjoy whatever time the Lord allowed him on this earth and then he'd see her in Heaven. He said it in much the same way as you'd tell someone that you would meet them at a restaurant.

His first few weeks were a little rough and I visited him in the Hospital with my eldest son. Mark seemed impatient to begin treatment that he knew would eradicate the spreading ugliness of cancer. The doctors wanted all the right conditions for maximum effectiveness. A week or so later, I visited him at home with my middle son. With the winter pressing upon us, colds in the family kept me from visiting for fear of exposing him to something that he wouldn't be able to fight.

Spring led to my migraines that wouldn't go away, allergies crushing my spare time. My remaining spare time was spent on catching up on the chores that I needed to do. I always kept an eye on emails about his progress and things never looked down. I realized that people with great hope don't often have "bad" progress reports.

And then my wife called me at work one day and asked the words I already knew the answer to... "did you hear about Mark?"

I had done it again. This time, I couldn't apologize.

It has been more than two months since I got that call.

I am not certain I will ever meet someone as genuine as Mark. I have to imagine that if he were here with me, he'd be assuring me that I was a good friend during some of his best days, he wouldn't mention the bad days. He would forgive me and tell me that he can't wait to see me again. That's what Good friends do, or so I've been told.

But he's not here...

I have to believe he is enjoying the best fishing of his life.  I can't wait to see him again.

I'm linking to Dude Write this week. You should visit and read some great posts by Dudes!


  1. The pain you feel is palpable in this post, but you need to forgive yourself, just as your friend would have. I'm not a particularly religious person but I remember from my Bible School days that Jesus forgave Peter for betraying Him three times. You didn't betray anyone but just didn't know what to say or do. You're only human. This post is a strong indication that you've grown from this experience. Your friend would be proud of you.

  2. Wow, this is an emotional and well-written post. Can I tell you that this reaction is normal? I work in Hospice and you acted no differently than most people do. Doesn't make it okay, doesn't make it wrong, just normal. And, even more importantly, when someome is dying, they often detach from the outside world and only want to spend time with those closest to them. So there's a good chance he wouldnt have been up to seeing you, even if you had tried.
    I don't mean to overstep my bounds, but maybe you could reach out to his wife and offer to help her with things? Maybe she needs help.around the house or

  3. I wrote this really nice response this morning, that was all sunshine and daisies. But it didn't post, and I just got off the phone with my insurance co about what is covered and not covered for me, and so I'm, shall we say, non-plussed. Which is California-speak for "about to rip off heads and shit down throats". So, I will still comment, but I am sorry I won't be as eloquent as I was this morning.

    Bravo for writing this----I just lost my Aunt to cancer, and Cancer FUCKING SUCKS. No one knows what to say or do, we all just wait. Wait, and wait, and wait, for the cancer to win--because it does many times. Your friend knew this, and he also knew each person would react differently, and he was gonna love them and their reactions just the same---it's hard to look mortality in the eye, and give it the finger. Especially when something like Cancer can hit anyone, at any time. It sucks. HARD.

    That being said, what he wanted from you was love and understanding, which you gave. And maybe he wanted you to write, to help others know they are not alone, that their fears are legit, that being scared is okay. So go forth, and know that you came out of this with more understanding, and more compassion.

  4. I was gonna be all eloquent, but "aww, gee, thanks!" (and you know me well enough to know I mean that)

  5. She is a pretty good friend as well. I'm sure at some point she will see this and perhaps want to discuss it (most likely to make me feel better, because she is good people like that.)
    Thanks Kianwi, I can't imagine working in Hospice and going though these emotions with families as my job. That is impossibly tough!

  6. Nice tribute to your friend...maybe that's your atonement, not that you did anything wrong.
    You sound like a pretty good friend to me.

  7. You cannot blame yourself or feel guilty about how you reacted to Mark's cancer. We don't plan our emotions.

  8. Thanks Joe. Writing this post was a little cathartic.

  9. Thanks Charlie. It felt awful to write it, but I am glad I did.

  10. Unfortunately, I'm not unfamiliar with this bastard 'friend' you call Cancer. I've lost my father and sister to this dreadful disease, and likely will add a cousin to the list very soon. My heart goes out to you, because no matter how we loose a loved one, we are never really truly prepared with dealing with their mortality.

    Scott, I know you are not a big fan of poetry, but I wanted to share a poem with you that I wrote when my sister passed that really helped me put words to the torment of feelings I had churning inside me. Like you, I sort of turned a blind eye after my sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Part of it was my sister not really sharing with her friends and family just how deadly the type of cancer she had was. It wasn't until after she passed that I found out that ovarian cancer has a 98% fatality rate - the highest of any cancer. The other part was me not wanting to accept her morality. In the back of my mind I always thought, "She's a Walker. She'll beat this no problem." The truth is, cancer doesn't care about pride. It doesn't care about ethnicity, race, gender, or social status. It doesn't care about feelings, gestures, or friendships. When it takes hold, it's like a ravaging pit pull and doesn't let go until it claims a life or is beat down into submission. I hope in some small way these words bring some manner of piece and comfort to you as they have done for me.

    Cry For Me No More

    Dear Family and Loved ones,

    I’m writing you this day

    To let you know I have arrived safely

    On the doorstep of Heaven to stay.

    I’m sorry I had to leave so soon,

    But it was time for me to go.

    God has new plans for me now,

    If you really want to know.

    I know it must seem that I am so far away,

    But if you look closely you will see,

    I am closer now than I ever was before,

    In your hearts I will always be.

    No more misery, no more sorrow,

    No more worries, no more fears,

    No more suffering, no more pain,

    No more heartache, no more tears.

    In closing I wanted to say to you,

    Remember, I am here with you forever more,

    Walking beside you hand in hand.

    So please, cry for me no more.

    Michael A. WalkerDefying Procrastination

  11. The mere fact that you're writing this tells me you're not as bad a friend as you may think you are. There's no "Cancer 101" rulebook that tells us what to do in these situations. You've dealt with it the way you could.

    I'm sorry about Mark and I hope writing this post helps you move on somehow. Who knows, maybe you'll both be fishing together decades down the line.

  12. Mod Mom Beyond IndieDomAugust 25, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    WilyGuy, I so relate to this post. I had a friend many years ago who died of AIDS and I still regret not having gone to see him in the hospital. I was told he didn't want me to see him, but later found out other friends went. I still wish I'd gone anyway. But like your friend, I think my friend would have understood too. I agree with Kanwi - sometimes we just don't know what to do in such situations or life takes hold and we don't get the chance to be there for our friends like we'd want to. I hope that you'll forgive yourself. It's a wonderful thing that you told him how you felt when he called you and that you got a chance to apologize. I'm sure that meant a lot. I'm sorry for your loss. This was a beautiful post.

  13. Wow what awesome post cancer is just such a horrible condition and it sucks fully..............I would like to write more but I am just so tired that I can't think straight

  14. That was fantastic my friend and very helpful, thanks for sharing.

  15. Thanks. As I've said, it was hard to write, but the fact that so many people understand is a testament to friendships.

  16. I plan to fish with him someday. Thanks Daniel.

  17. Retrospect is a bitch, isn't it? My father in law died a little over 4 years ago, after suffering a massive heart attack. I played the 'support' role, watching my kids so my wife and family can be there for him 24/7. In the end, I only visited him in the hospital 4 times (he was in there 2 weeks before passing) and I feel bad.

    Did I do what I felt was the right thing? Absolutely, but I was persecuted for it. I didn't care enough to visit or to grieve like everyone else, yet I felt like the best thing I could do is be strong and be there to hold everything together while everyone else fell apart.

    To this day, my ex wife thinks I never really cared about him, and that breaks my heart. Be glad you knew Mark, and he considered you a friend until the end. That is what matters, and how you remember him.

  18. I would not think there was anything else for you to do, Brandon.

  19. There's nothing I can say except that I'm sure your friend understood how you felt even better than you. People in his situation often have clearer vision than the rest of us.

  20. Thanks Red. I hadn't thought of that.

  21. It's so easy to look back and know the right thing to do. I am not good at going to visit people when they are doing well, so it gets even worse when they are not. I try to do better when I think about it, but it rarely happens.

  22. This post was very touching - and honest... I agree with Stephen, it is time to forgive yourself.

  23. Creatures of habit are we...

  24. Dude, this is a beautifully written, heartfelt really put a lump in my throat - I could relate to it on so many levels.
    I understand that writing this was, in some ways, a therapy for you - a way of trying to understand the guilt you must be feeling. You know, this post speaks volumes about you as a person - it tells me that this person has a good heart... Thanks for sharing what must have been a very difficult post to write...All the best,Jamie

  25. This is the first post I read as soon as it came up here. It's the last one I have to leave a comment at because I've been spending some time thinking about it.This was an incredibly powerful and though provoking post. I tend to be like that myself. It isn't something I'm happy with myself about. Sometimes, I think that I want to remember the person as they were, not the person cancer has made them. That's not the right way to look at it, I know. You've left me thinking here.

  26. Thanks Jamie. It was certainly a deviation from my normal norm.

  27. Your best written piece so far, in my opinion.

    I have a frighteningly similar story, most of which I have already written. Dunno if I am brave enough to post it publicly, though.

    I agree with Kianwi about maybe reaching out to his wife.

  28. High Praise my friend!




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