Dear Readers: Every year I step away from my column to work on other projects. I hope you enjoy these "Best Of" columns. Today's topic is: Surviving loss. I'll be back with fresh columns in two weeks.
Dear Amy: Last year a good friend was diagnosed with cancer and embarked on chemotherapy treatment.
I let her know I would be there for whatever she needed, and until recently our friendship didn't seem to change. She had always been very active, and we continued to spend time together.
Last month she got the news that her chemo was failing and that her situation seems terminal. She suddenly ceased all communication — no answers to e-mails or phone messages.
I don't know her other friends well enough to have contact information, so I don't know if she has withdrawn from everyone.
She does have very strong, close family support, so at least I know she's not alone. But I can't help but feel that she has abandoned me. Not knowing how she is, and not having contact information for her family, I'm in the dark as to whether she's at home or in hospice or what, and it's breaking my heart.
I guess all I can do is continue to e-mail, send cards and post encouraging messages on her Facebook page. Any other suggestions?
Amy says: When facing the end of life, some people withdraw from all but a very small circle of people. You are right; this is heartbreaking, but this is what this individual wants to do. If you are in touch with your friend on Facebook, you also should be able to contact at least one of her family members through Facebook to see how she is.
Remember that they are also in a crisis moment.
Hospice care is a great gift to the dying and those who love them. A hospice counselor could speak with you, so at the very least you would understand the process in order not to take this personally, and to ease your own pain and feelings of loss.
Your local hospital should be able to connect you with a hospice volunteer. (April 2011)
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Dear Amy: The reader was devastated when her dying friend withdrew all contact from her. I had a similar experience with a relative. I didn't understand why this person would choose to distance herself from many near and dear to her as she approached the end of her life, but a hospice volunteer told me that this is common.
Amy says: Respecting the wishes of a dying person — even as they draw inward — is one of the burdens of being a survivor. (May 2011)
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Dear Amy: You've been running letters about what to do for those diagnosed with a terminal illness.
When my wife was given less than two months to live, I was faced with the decision of how to handle those two months.
I threw a major party for her to celebrate her life. More than 125 guests conveyed to her how she had affected their lives. After her funeral, everyone commented on what a wonderful gift they were given when they had the chance to help celebrate the life they had with her.
I knew how it had comforted her during her remaining days.
I can't take credit for the idea. I can take credit for celebrating her life (instead of mourning it) before she died.
Amy says: This celebration was a touching and tender gift for everyone involved. (June 2011)
Send questions to Amy Dickinson at email@example.com.