Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What does it mean to be a friend?

Somewhere in all the storage boxes in my garage is a copy of Joan Walsh Anglund's A Friend is Someone Who Likes You that was given to me by a friend when we were both in college together. I guess it is considered a children's book but the search for a friend and trying to understand the meaning and obligations of friendship certainly do not stop in childhood. A more recent exploration can be found in The Spare Room, a novel by Helen Garner.

It is the story of two women Helen and Nicola. Both are in their mid 60s and they have been friends for about 15 years. Helen was married and at the time of the story lives next door to her daughter and grandchildren in Melbourne. Nicola was never married and is a self-described hippie living in Sydney. But the more significant difference is that Nicola is suffering from a virulent form of cancer and asks her friend Helen if she Nicola can stay with Helen at Helen's home for the three weeks required for an alternative therapy. "Alternative" in this case includes intravenous injections of massive doses of Vitamin C and ozone saunas. The Vit. C injections have extremely debilitating side effects but Nicola is undeterred. As Helen accompanies her friend to the treatments, Helen becomes increasing skeptical of the Theodore Institute...and physically exhausted from caring for her friend...and ultimately very angry at Nicola.

Helen wants to support her friend but also feels an obligation to bring Nicola to confront the reality of her illness even including the "D" word. Nicola makes the argument that she just can't give in or give up, Helen that there are other therapies (morphine, surgery, hospice) that would be of greater benefit. But they are friends...and friends don't give up on each other even if there must be moments of painful honesty.

This story should be required reading for all of us as we enter these later decades. Some of us will be the caregivers, some the cared for and some of us may be both over time. To have a friend with whom to share that journey will be very special. But we must take care what we ask of our friend.

No comments:

Post a Comment