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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Do Unto Others

ferncohen.com

A few days ago, the widow whose husband’s funeral I attended, came to my door. She thanked me for coming, I asked her how she was doing, and with her voice cracking, she said she wasn’t doing so well. She thanked me for expressing concern, and then said “If there is anything I can do to help you, please let me know.”

Maybe it’s a good thing I can’t speak, because I wanted to say “that would have been nice to hear three years ago”. Of course, I won’t call on her, because by now I have adjusted to not expecting anything from anybody. But if I showed her I can be a good neighbor, and if it made her think for one moment about helping someone who could use a little help, then I did some good by going to her husband’s funeral.

In these times of air-conditioning, computers, and cell phones, we tend to forget the importance of face-to-face and person-to-person contact. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own little worlds, and forget about that sick person, that elderly person, that widow or widower who is left alone after the death of a spouse.

I am guilty of this too. I wish I had looked in on my elderly neighbors when I had the strength to do so. One of the reasons I attended my neighbor’s funeral was that I felt it was the right thing to do. And now that the mourning period is over, and the visitors have stopped coming, I’m sure Mrs. G. is going to go through a painful depression.

So I thought I would take this opportunity to enlighten those who never know what to do, or what to say. I can only speak for someone in my situation, but a lot can apply to your friends, relatives and neighbors with cancer, MS, or any chronic illness, or to anyone who lost someone through death. Sometimes all you need to do is bring some food, dessert, or beverage, and watch TV or a DVD, go to a nearby park, or store. I know, in my case, I don’t need anybody to bring me groceries anymore, since I have aides round the clock, but an elderly neighbor might be very grateful for that, especially in nasty weather.

Sometimes, your neighbor doesn’t need someone to run errands. Sometimes, your neighbor or friend wants to have some company for a little while. Aides and nurses are not friends, and they don’t take the place of a social life. I know that I am very grateful when a friend comes to watch a DVD with me. In my case, and in the case of anyone who really can’t go places alone, a trip to see a movie is golden. When possible, take your friend for a stroll on a boardwalk, or just to a park. We chronically-ill people tend to stay to ourselves inside when we don’t have anywhere to go, like to the doctor’s office. I make a weekly trip to see a therapist in Manhattan. Most weeks, that is my only outing, This is the first summer in my entire life that I have not seen the ocean. I look forward to my two support groups a month; it is when I get to see my friends in the ALS community. That is my time to share about my ALS.

The rest of the time, I am not my disease. Some people want or need to talk about the illness, the surgery, the cancer. But there is a person inside, and I get my “ALS fix” at my support groups. Otherwise, I watch TV, follow politics and current events, and love to look at art and photography. Jody from the ALS Association met me at PS1 Museum a few weeks ago, and we had a great time. I didn’t talk about my ALS, although I can’t hide the fact that I have it. And unfortunately ALS is not pretty, and makes other people nervous and uncomfortable.
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