One side effect of an illness can be a loss of friends

“Don’t you wish you had just slapped her in the hospital?” a good friend asked me after my daughter had recovered from a four-year battle with anorexia.

It was hard for me to hear that -- she had successfully recovered and yet I was still criticized. It was equally difficult for me to erase the whispers I’d sensed behind my back while I opted to work with her at home, with three professionals, rather than place her in a clinic.

“You are wrong to leave him there!” chastised a solid friend of 20 years when both the hospice and my father’s family physician insisted I place him in an Alzheimer’s facility for his own safety. Worse than that to her mind was the fact that the facility (wisely, it turns out) had advocated I stay away for eight weeks in order for my father to adapt more easily to his unfamiliar surroundings.

Mary, we will call her, still refuses to speak to me.

Prepare yourself to be criticized and lose friends as you make decisions about a family member’s treatment. Just as your patient may suffer unforeseen side effects to various medications and emotions, so too shall you, the caregiver, be ambushed by unanticipated animosity from longtime companions.

Once you have overcome the additional grief of losing a friend over what feels like unfair judgment, you may or may not discover reasons for that friend’s behavior. Is she herself threatened by the existence of such serendipitous sorrow as the random and sudden onset of an uncontrollable illness?

Following my mother’s stroke and accompanying paralysis, her friends flocked to the house, content to sit with her and bring her the news about town. For a while.

After a month or two, the steady stream of spike heels diminished until the only footsteps through the screen door were mine. She couldn’t blame them. They were her contemporaries who looked with one eye to her and the other to themselves: “When will this be me?”

After a time, I guess it was simply easier not to have to face it.

The loss of friendship in the wake of gravity is, perhaps in part, the inevitable shedding of one life stage for another. In the end, it does no good to judge a friend’s judgment -- unfair though it may be.

“There but for the grace of God go I,” my mother used to say when seeing someone in a wheelchair.

God bestowed a different sort of grace upon her, my father and my daughter. I wish friends could have seen past their own fear, to see the hope in that.

Miller is the author of 300 essays and stories that have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor. Her column, “Peaks and Valleys,” appears in Montana Woman Magazine. She lives in Huson, Mont.

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