What I’d like to have written to my dying friend

This past weekend I followed my own advice about writing to someone who is dying, and knows it.

He is C., a friend from my youth who, in his early sixties now, has contracted an incredibly rare disease: approximately 2 in 1 million people get it. It is incurable and fatal within months of diagnosis.

writing to a friend who is dying

When someone is dying, all they have left is memories.

It is vicious, evil, and the most cruel part is that the conscious brain is the last bit to go when everything else has given up. Victims can track their own decline almost to the end.

Only a couple of weeks post-diagnosis he no longer can work his laptop or read his emails. His son contacted all our old group of friends to say his dad is still OK mentally so if we wanted to share our thoughts, we had to do it now, via emails. He will be reading them to him.

C. only has weeks to live and can’t have visitors other than immediate family. What could I possibly write to him?

For suggestions on what to write to friends and family at several different sad and difficult times, this article curates links to the whole series here on HTWB. Please help yourselves.

I can’t write the following to him: he doesn’t need reminding of these truths

My dear old C,

You, of all people, don’t deserve this. You’re one of life’s best, most loyal and wonderful friends.

A handsome, gorgeous man with an equally handsome and gorgeous personality.

The father of three beautiful kids who must be in bits right now at the thought you won’t be around to see next Christmas.

Much as I can appreciate that we all have to play the hand of cards we’ve been dealt, you were someone who not only played the hand well, but won game after game.

This time your cards were crappy.

What can anyone say to make you feel better? Nothing, of course. None of us would be stupid/insensitive enough to write smarmy platitudes about miracles and clinical trials and all that shit, knowing your diagnosis. Or any religious claptrap. I can’t remember if you believed in God or not but if you do, s/he’s calling time on you now.

Don’t be afraid of dying. Several times now, I’ve been with people through their deaths and all that happens is they go to sleep and don’t wake up – that time. Unlike people who suffer sudden, unexpected death, you’ll at least have morphine to hold your hand.

Are you still conscious? I hope so, because I want to tell you something vital before you die.

Yes, of course you were and are loved, admired, valued, treasured.

I loved you more than you ever knew. Not as a lover, because we each had our life-partners and were very happy with our families.

But do you know what? The love of a good friend, especially one who has been a good friend for so long, sharing so many of life’s ups and downs, to me is nearly the finest love of them all.

Yes, I loved you and I will love you always. And the thought of losing you breaks my heart.

Sz xx

A selfish response, of course. Here’s what I actually did write

It was an attempt at making him smile…it’s also all true, but it’s not true stuff that will remind him he hasn’t long to go.

Hi C

So saddened to hear your news. We forget that we’re no longer young. But we don’t forget how it felt to be young.

I remember those crazy days when we would have long, lazy lunches at (RESTAURANT #1) or (RESTAURANT #2) in London… solve all the problems of the world over a plate of pasta and far too much wine.

Do you remember (MUTUAL FRIEND’S) persistent cry to the waiters, ”More wine!! MORE WINE!!!” She stills shouts that out to this day…

Then, in my case anyway, it was a question of “where did I park my car?”

And once I eventually found it, “am I sober enough to drive home?”

Often the answer was “no,” but I got there in the end! Pre-breathalyser days…

At our age memories are increasingly important and I hope that you, like me, value them greatly.

I hope you and yours are continuing to make more memories now.

With lots of love from Sz x

Seems what I wrote made him laugh, and he hadn’t laughed in some time

Laughter is something we can all benefit from almost to our dying day. For me and many others like me, laughter is the best medicine that beats the pharmaceutical variety every time.

And, memories are priceless. When someone is dying, all they have left is memories.

As I mentioned in my actual email to C, I hope he and his family are still making memories for them to cherish.

Lessons to learn, perhaps:

1.Use humor if you can, especially if the dying person has a good sense of humour. Laughter is therapeutic even for the terminally ill.

2.Focus on memories, and good ones. Memories from a long time ago are best because they’re less likely to make him feel regretful.

What experiences do you have of writing to a dying friend or relative?

Please share.