Karen Tighe, trustee at St Luke’s, blogs about living with a terminal illness, and the positives of living with life limitation. To read Karen's previous blogs, click here
The other day I was on the phone with one of my closest friends and was saying I needed to write another blog. Most of the time I can come up with ideas myself, but sometimes my mind is a blank. Anyway, I was on the phone to her and I was a little down. She asked what I was doing at the weekend and I told her how busy it was and all the different friends that I was going to see, or who were coming to visit me. She said that's what you can write about. Write about friends.
Well it may seem a strange thing to write about, but actually since knowing I am living with life limitation an amazing thing has happened, friends, old and new, have made a huge effort to come and visit me. I mean really huge.
One of my best friends Stevi, who has lived in Dubai for the last fifteen years or so has, every time something bad has happened, hopped on a plane and come and seen me. We have also taken the opportunity to visit her too. In fact, I am sitting in her back garden in the shade writing this.
Facebook has proven to be a really good thing. It has put me back in contact with both primary and secondary school friends, as well as a range of people from different workplaces. Kate, from secondary school, where she boarded and I was a day pupil, came all the way from Malvern to see me and in fact she has booked in again in a couple of weeks. Geri, who moved back from New Zealand, made me one of her first visits when she got back to England and came to see me last week as she is about to return again to NZ. Karen, a good friend from University came from North Carolina in the US, Chris from Arizona and Dave from Belfast.
So many, in fact too many to list have also made a really great effort to come over and visit. As well as so many inviting me and John over to them. Often times I find it easier for people to visit me, as it is less tiring.
I have thought about why people have made such an effort. Part of me wonders if subconsciously they are coming to say goodbye. We always have a good time sometimes reminiscing, sometimes talking about people we still have in common, but often times at the moment, politics and how depressing it is! The time is never melancholic or sad, in fact most of the time there is lots of laughter, so much so my face hearts and my sides ache. Surprisingly to me, many times the conversations have been the most meaningful I have ever had with those individuals. Often talking about religious, or spiritual feelings relating to both life and death. However for friends who come from abroad, that final goodbye hug is often that little bit longer or that little bit tighter and I have to work hard at not welling up. This is because in reality, this might actually be the last time I ever see them. I don't consciously think about this whilst we are chatting, but when it comes time to say goodbye, that is when the potential reality creeps in.
John says I collect people and that I have always made such an effort to stay in contact, phone or visit people, that I am now reaping the benefit of that, but I think it is the fact that I am life limited. Time is limited and so people make the effort because they realise that they cannot just put it off forever.
I have considered what John said and it made me realise that I do make an effort with my friends, but I don't think any more than my friends do or have done for me. I don't consider that I work at friendship, but it is something that is so important to me that maybe I do that unconsciously. Family is also important of course, but you choose your friends. The best thing is where family are friends too. With this I am truly blessed. John is an identical twin and his sister-in-law is more like my sister. I don't have a sister and so in that respect I count myself as incredibly lucky.
You know friendships cannot be taken for granted. These relationships sway in terms of give and take. Sometimes you need support and your friends give that to you. Alternatively, your friends have need of your time and care and so you support them. When a relationship is overall in balance it works, but if overall one person takes more, then perhaps that friendship needs to be reviewed. I know now in my life that almost all my friendships have been in balance, but now I feel that perhaps I am taking a bit more and that does not sit too well with me. Of course there is nothing I can do about it, but it shows me that people really do want to do something and coming to see me for a chat is the most practical thing that they can do.
I know for some of my very close friends, you know those ones who you can count on your fingers, that I will never be able to repay them. The ones for me who have at the drop of a hat come to hospital, or just phone every week. Those friends who have listened to me cry and made me laugh to feel better. The ones who just pop round. It makes me a little sad that I will never be able to return the favour and support them, when they really really need it. Be there to listen and support and give back as much as they have given to me. It just shows you how amazing and important friends are and how incredibly lucky I am with the close, but also the broad range of friends I have made over the years. I am hugely and eternally grateful to every single one. The number of visits, notes, flowers, thoughtful gifts and just the volume of warmth and love I have been shown fills me full of love and appreciation and has just made the quality of life that I have since I retired so wonderful.
My husband who is my very best friend has given the most amazing gift. He decided that he would stop work until I die. Of course, we have no idea when that will be; it could be a short time if I catch a nasty infection, or get run over by a bus, or it could be many months or several years, which is of course what I hope for. How amazing is that. We get on so well and enjoy each other's company that spending so much time together is really fun. Not a day goes past where we don't laugh ourselves silly at something no one else, but us, would find funny. He does all the cooking and so I get healthy food prepared with love. I never take this for granted and make sure I always say thank you. The day I take him for granted, is the day I don't deserve him.
So, the most important thing is to never take friendship for granted. Nurture and value your friends. Love them and support them as you never know when you are really going to need them.....