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15 Things You Can Do or Say If You Notice a Friendship Fading Due to Illness

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For many, one of the hardest parts about being chronically sick is watching some relationships fade. Although true friends should stick by your side through ups and downs, illness can have a big impact on your lifestyle and day-to-day abilities, and these changes may result in distance between you and those you were once close with. Maybe illness has made you unable to do some of the activities you and your friend used to bond over, or maybe your friend just doesn’t know how to be around and support someone with a chronic illness.

A dissolving friendship isn’t necessarily one person’s fault – it’s natural for people to grow apart sometimes, even if the reason is totally out of your control. Still, it can be heartbreaking for friends and loved ones to start disappearing from your life because of illness.

Depending on your situation and relationship with the person, when you notice a friendship beginning to fade, you may respond in different ways. Sometimes it’s best to just let it go, and create room in your life for people who will always be there to love and support you. But other times, a fading relationship may simply stem from a misunderstanding, and can be resolved with some honest communication.

Either way, it can be tough to know exactly how to respond and potentially cope with the loss of a relationship. To give you some ideas from people who have been there, we asked our Mighty community to share what they do or say when they notice a friendship beginning to fade.

Remember: A fading friendship isn’t necessarily a reflection of the person you are. Illness or not, you are valuable and deserving of love, support and unconditional friendship.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

  1. “‘I know it’s hard to be my friend, hell, it’s hard to be me. I wish my bad days outweighed my good; I wish I was the same lively friend I used to be… If I could turn back the clock I would. I know this isn’t what you signed up for, and I understand if it’s too much for you… but I could really use a ‘ride or die’ friend now.’” – Kari L.
  2. Honestly, if the friendship failed because of an illness, then the person really wasn’t your friend in the first place. True friends will stick around no matter if you’re able to walk or be pushed in a wheelchair.” – Esther E.
  3. “‘I’m still here for you… how are you doing?’” – Rebecca G.
  4. I think the first step in any relationship, especially if there’s a perceived problem, is to say something. ‘Hey, I feel really distant from you since I/you got sick. Is that just my imagination? Is something up?’ Then you have to clearly state your needs. ‘For me to feel close to you in our friendship, I need to have a bit more consistent contact with you. And it really means a lot to me when you initiate us talking or hanging out. It tells me you value our friendship. What do you think? Is that possible?’ A true friend will be able to have that conversation. If you’re going to stay close, they’ll respond accordingly. I’ve had similar conversations with many people. Some have gotten closer. Some have dissolved altogether. And some relationships have just changed. They still care, but we’re not close. I don’t expect them to be there for me but I’m still happy to see them.” – Sarah A.
  5. I think sometimes someone gets tired of being told you can’t hang out or do something. Maybe suggesting something you can do, like a cup of coffee at home.” – Olivia R.
  6. I text randomly, just to let my BFF know I’m thinking about her. We both have chronic illnesses and we live over 1,000 miles apart, but I miss her every day. So even if she can’t talk, she knows I was thinking of her.” – Lona S.
  7. “‘Sorry I’m not around as much as I would like to be. I’m not canceling because I’m lazy or flaky, it’s just dependent on my symptoms on the day. ___ is better for me, e.g. small groups or quiet settings or short time frames or coming to my place instead of going out, etc.’ Just communicate what you need and see who is willing to accommodate for your needs.” – Nicky T.
  8. Communication is key, however if you felt the friendship fading long before your illness maybe losing that friend is for the best. If it’s someone you truly cherish you should be blunt and ask why they’ve become more distant and ask them to be honest with you. You may find out they’re scared they’ll say something wrong about your illness and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. If you are at a point where you can joke about it let them know. If you’re still unsure about bringing it up, let them know you’re scared also and you’d appreciate their support during this journey. I’ve been fortunate to have a great group of friends (they’re bikers who call our group family) who are supportive and know I stay as active as possible, but when I can’t get together or go on a planned outing they also understand and ask if I need anything.” – Sherrie P.S.
  9. Make/return that call! One simple joke from you may cheer that bad day up.” – Steph J.
  10. Nothing. If a friendship is meant to be there it will stay. It may not be the same, but not everyone is going to be with you for your whole life and I learned to embrace the friends and people I have in my life right now, and let go of the people who ‘used to be’ or are maybe just acquaintances. I also try to remember that many friends are yet to come, and not force anything.” – Cassidy S.
  11. It depends on the friendship. Some fade because the ‘friends’ were not who you thought they were. Others that have put in the time and energy and may be naturally slowing down for whatever reason I would just suggest doing an activity that they enjoy or if my illness is brought up, change the subject. Talking on the phone more is always great (no getting out of bed for this lady is a win). Just so they don’t feel like our friendship is depending on how healthy I am. But everyone else? Bye, Felicia.” – Kathryn B. 
  12. “‘Bye.’ Think of it as holding space for new people. Not every friend can endure a chronic journey. As with all things, they change and life goes on.” – Lola C.
  13. Honestly, they are letting go of something that is no longer serving them. And I think that’s fair. Not everyone is cut out to be friends with someone that is chronically ill and that’s OK. And if you have to try to convince someone to continue being your friend, isn’t the relationship tarnished? Sometimes as friends change individually, lifestyles don’t mesh. Being chronically ill is a lifestyle we don’t choose, but it’s still a lifestyle. I also try to take the opportunity to make new friends that might have a similar lifestyle.” – Jillian M.
  14. Don’t fight it. New friends will come along eventually. In the meantime, finding new hobbies and interests will help keep the boredom and loneliness at bay, and it’s actually a good way to start making new friends.” – Agatha C.M.M.
  15. I believe that you have different friends in different stages of your life. It means that you have friends who you need in that stage of life. If keeping a friendship takes too much energy for one or more, isn’t it selfish to call the other friend selfish? Let’s be honest, it’s hard to be ill all the time, it’s also hard for your friend to watch it. They should have a life too. Maybe small children, and friends to go out with. If you really care about your friend, you should be happy that (s)he can live the life (s)he wants to, and not feel guilty about it. And if the time is right, you’ll meet again.” – Wai-Chee L.
Originally published: April 2, 2018
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