When Jesus knew that his hour had come
to depart out of this world to the Father,
having loved his own who were in the world,
he loved them to the end.
We all need real friends.
We know we are in deep trouble if we have none.
But we may be in even worse trouble
if we think we have real friends
only to find out –when the chips are down– that we don’t.
In previous posts, we explored how to identify a real friend:
What does it mean to be a true friend?
Who is my best friend?
Which of your friends will still be there for you when you’re 64?
But you still need to ask:
Which of your friends will love you to the end?
You may be assuming that event is so far in the future
that you don’t need to know.
Yeah, that’s what we all think.
But cancer, covid, sepsis, and many other common conditions
can be terminal at any age.
So if one day you find yourself in an incurable condition
who is going to be there with you when you die?
Friends have limits
Even our close friends may have limits when it comes to facing mortality:
theirs, or anyone else’s.
Some people are simply incapable of looking death in the face.
Some people can love you only till it gets too painful for them.
So it is a good idea to ask yourself well ahead of time:
If I were to get seriously ill,
who would stand by me and never abandon me?
You need to know.
Because it is hard enough to die
without dying alone.
Facing our mortality
I recently held the hands of my best friend
in his last hours as he was dying.
I saw how much that meant to him.
I saw how it comforted him to be held close
by a person he loved, and who loved him.
I was deeply willing to be there with him.
I felt I was right where I belonged.
I saw how calm it made him that I spoke gently to him
thanking him for all he had given us
and telling him we love him.
It reassured him that I was right there.
He could feel that I wasn’t scared,
and that helped him not to be scared.
In the days that followed, I asked myself:
Why was I able to be there?
Why did it feel natural and right
to be there with a man as he died?
I realized that I’ve been face-to-face with mortality for a long time.
As a psychologist working in cancer wards and high security forensic units
I experienced a lot of death and grief, up close and personal.
And before that, I was blessed to be with my mother when she died.
I have learned not to run from a person who is dying.
Instead, I move in closer.
Some people will run
You need to be prepared, and realize that some people
–maybe most people–will run when you are in deep trouble.
I think back on the time in my life
when I was doing psychotherapy with the most serious cases
in the hospital and was suddenly devastated by catastrophic losses.
I recall my shock and sorrow to find
that even some of those persons who loved me most dearly
were simply unable to be there for me.
They could not face that I was incapacitated by grief.
I think they thought I was indestructible.
Yes, I thought so, too. But no one is.
You will be fortunate
You will be fortunate if even one of your friends
actually wants to be there with you
when life has knocked you flat out
–whether by a serious medical condition
or some other form of major loss or trauma.
And it will be very valuable to figure out beforehand
who you can count on.
How can you tell?
Observe how your friends treat people who are in distress.
Do they spend time with friends and family when they are sick?
Do they go see them when they are in hospital?
If you tell them you are having tests (X rays, biopsy, blood analysis)
do they show real interest or do they change the subject?
Do they grieve and comfort others when they get news of a death?
If you share an emotional pain you are having, do they offer support
or do they just self reference and tell you about their pain?
Do they avoid people when they are in difficulty,
as if they think a person’s misery is contagious?
So, let’s figure it out
Now that you have asked yourself all these questions–
who is it?
Which friend has the loyalty, the compassion, and the guts
to stand by you and love you to the end?
Let’s do a quick 3 step exercise
and let your unconscious mind answer the question.
Take out a sheet of paper and write down the names
of the friends you spend time with in person.
(Not just on the phone or texting. In person.)
Imagine your doctor just told you that you have terminal cancer
and have only six months to live.
Look at your list of friends
and underline the name of each one
you would sit down with and tell face to face
what the doctor told you.
Now, looking at the names you just underlined
circle the name of the one person
you know would be there holding your hand when you die.
THIS is your friend who will love you to the end.
And now, one more question…
Now it’s time to ask yourself:
What about me?
Am I a person who will love my friends to the end?
Listen to the beautiful elegy
Brothers in Arms
where Mark Knopfler sings:
you did not desert me
my brothers in arms
We all need to become human beings
who do not desert others.
And who do not desert ourselves, either.
Not only when we die
but at any time in our lives
when pain, fear, loss and tragedy strike.
Let each one of us become a person
who can be counted on
to love to the end.