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TROUBLESHOOTER / My old friend is sick and tells me not to visit her

The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 70s. I can’t hold back my wish to meet up with my best friend from junior high school who lives quite far away.

Her husband began suffering from dementia after his retirement. In her letter to me, she wrote about how her life was a struggle because she was caring for him, and he has also been in and out of a nursing facility.

I once told her I wanted to see her, but she declined, saying she didn’t have the mental capacity to do that.

A few years after that, I heard she had become ill herself and seen a psychiatrist. I didn’t receive a New Year’s greeting card from her, so I contacted her. Her reply — which looked more like scribble — subsequently arrived, saying she had collapsed and had been hospitalized. She also had limited use of her right hand.

I considered just dropping in to visit her, but my husband told me to “respect her feelings,” so I am being patient.

When I called her, she said she had already left the hospital and had been spending her days with assistance from a caregiver.

I don’t know much about nursing care or her disease, but how can I get more in line with her feelings?

C, Ibaraki Prefecture

Dear Ms. C:

Keeping relationships up with aging friends with an illness can be extremely difficult.

Basically, I want to visit my old friends as long as medical authorities concerned permit me to do so, and the friends themselves want the same. Once every one or two years, a few close friends of mine and I visit another friend of ours with dementia who has lived in a facility for seven years. It seems she can’t recognize us, but she appears to happily accept our visit. Of course, we tell the friend’s family and the facility in advance.

Things do not always go well. A friend of mine, who made the greatest impact on me when I was young, recently passed away. With both mental and physical illnesses, the friend refused to see me. My days as a youth were full of light thanks to this person. I want to convey my appreciation in the afterlife.

I have another close friend who says she is in a state of mild depression. When I invited her out to eat, she said, “I have no desire to eat in the first place.” This made me realize that people suffer in deeper and more diverse ways than I had imagined.

It’s probably best to refrain from visiting friends only for your self-satisfaction. I recommend you first express your sincere feelings in letters to her and her family to tell them how much you care.

Keiko Higuchi, critic

(from Sept. 9, 2018, issue)Speech

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