Daily Press (Sunday)

Friends of sick wife disappear

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Dear Carolyn: For the last three years, my wife has suffered from cognitive problems like memory loss and some trouble speaking. She is in her early 50s, and makes her world very different from that of her friends.

I have become very resentful of her friends, who rarely reach out to her to do things, fail to return my wife’s — admittedly occasional — social invitation­s, and in many cases fail to honor my direct requests to simply meet my wife for a coffee or neighborho­od walk.

I know people are busy, and I have tried mightily to not seethe at this abandonmen­t, but I only grow angrier at them each day. How can I have a healthier perspectiv­e? — Resentful

Dear Resentful: I don’t think anger is unhealthy. Its causes can be, and what people do with it often is — but the feeling itself is health-neutral.

Your anger light is on for a good reason. Your wife is suffering, you are suffering and her friends, apparently, don’t care enough to show up for either of you.

One reason your anger is still mounting daily may be that you haven’t reckoned with that harsh reality in full. Each day, I’m guessing, you keep some hope alive that your wife’s friends will show up. Optimism may seem like the healthier option, but when you have ample evidence already that pessimism is more on the mark, it can actually be bad for your spirits to give these friends endlessly renewable chances to keep letting your family down.

t will free you, I hope, to look for support in places that might actually yield some. Organized groups for patients and caregivers like you, for example. Relatives. Your friends. Or choose the least disappoint­ing of her friends, note this person’s “yes” rate on visiting your wife, then mark your calendar to contact that friend at this self-selected rate.

Or choose the friend of hers you know best, set up a one-on-one conversati­on, and ask whether you’re missing something or being unrealisti­c.

Or be more creative than I am to cobble together more support — relying only on people you know will show up, not the ones you think are shamefully overdue to. Otherwise, you’ll be back in the mounting-anger loop.

One more thing: I chose the words “don’t care enough” carefully, because the absence of these friends doesn’t mean they don’t care, period.

It’s just not enough to get them there more often, past whatever obstacle lies in their path to your wife. Fear, sadness, superficia­lity, self-absorption, old grudges you weren’t privy to, their own very real struggles and obligation­s?

Not knowing for sure lets you assume the most forgivenes­s-worthy explanatio­n which can help you past this seething resentment that punishes no one but you.

Anger may be hardwired into the emotional panel, but forgivenes­s — only if and only when we’re ready, of course — lights us up toward a higher purpose.

I know I’m saying this before you’re ready, and it’s OK that you’re not. File it away for later. Now is the time for letting yourself be as angry as you need to be, and getting support you need.

I am so sorry your lives took this wrenching turn.

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