By: Ariel Fixler
What is it like not to be able to make peace with the ones you had conflict in “regular” life? Kinda shitty. When you have a terminal diagnosis it is the most gut-wrenching and gnawing feeling. In simple terms it is fucking unfair. It’s unfair to make the patient lay in waiting for a peaceful moment. A moment that can reconcile all that has slowly come undone.
Now, there are times you don’t have it in you to address a conflict. To go down that tattered road of back and forth and excuses on all ends. It’s endless and may get you nowhere (worse than when you started) or back at square one. It’s a time warp of pain sometimes. ALSO, I learned you can never force anyone to visit you or speak with you. They want to be communicative in their own way and many times it does not involve coming to see you. They just can’t handle taking their support to a face to face and scheduled level. It’s true and it’s something someone who is ill has to learn to make peace with from the get-go. Otherwise their road to recovery and stabilization will become very bitter and filled with exerted anger.
You can’t fault anyone because they are not acting in the manner you had hoped. Let them choose the method that is best to support you and also bring you peace and comfort. It’s not fair to anyone to put grandiose expectations on anyone at any time and at any point in your life. Support you had predetermined or had imagined in your head from their communicative outreach, may not be what they are currently capable of providing. If you don’t vocalize your needs sometimes, you can only fault yourself for your anger (not them). These self-realizations will make coping and expectations less difficult.
But if you are unable to come to some sort of peace. If you are in shutdown mode before you can even have a heart to heart, AHA OPRAH and COME TO JESUS MOMENT, it can feel Cool as Ice (especially in scenario #3 see below). And I am not talking about the sequel to Vanilla Ice’s debut movie.
Did it happen to people I care about? Hell Yea.
Did it happen to me? Yup.
Did it happen to me often?
Thank GOD NO.
Here are the rare scenarios.
The Two Mildest Scenarios (and ones I internally made peace with).
I had made peace with all the people I wanted to where I felt there was unrest. One friend it went down over email and text sadly. I realized this person I held so dearly did not know how to respond to my honest attempts to open up a dialogue about HOW I WAS FEELING. It made me sad but I also wasn’t angry (which told me something). It actually was the catapult for greater awareness of what I was putting out into the universe and learn from it. I was hoping we would have a face to face, a heart to heart, but for some reason once I had thought we had talked it over and we could move forward, there was radio silence. I was given space instead of coming closer together. Which is very fair and not at all in poor judgment. The actions that were undertaken made sense. So I call this a “half peace” or “peace at half-mast”. I was holding out against hope this person would come through on their idea to visit, meet their child, make peace and not sweep a pivotal teachable moment under the rug. Every time a message would come through I was hoping they were going to come through.
I also realized pushing this person would feel like a push and pull and it just didn’t feel right. You can’t force anyone to talk about anything they aren’t ready to discuss. You can’t force someone to come see you and sit down and come together, especially if they are more comfortable handing issues from the sidelines. My only qualm is so much can be misconstrued in writing. There is no tone and words and emotions aren’t clear. No emoji will suffice for a real hug. I learned so much about measuring people’s comfort levels when I was sick and how to accept it. I can’t push my agenda to bring someone closer and create a dialogue and openness because I needed it wrapped neatly into a neat little friendship bow. It seemed selfish of me and self-serving for my own personal need for inner and long-lasting peace.
If the person sees what went down differently and would rather not circle back and discuss it, get to the root of the discomfort, those are cognitive choices and I had to accept it. I just had to just leave it be, which is very hard for me. Before I became ill I was that person to a tee. I avoided things more than I would like to admit. I ran away more than I confronted and never had those same honest sit downs I currently craved with others. So I innately understood it and didn’t want to fight a possible losing battle. Sadly I was out of time and couldn’t play the waiting game with my limited time and reserves. I still had deep love for this person I was just sad at what could have been. Hoping we could continue to build on our friendship and not let silence ensue. I made peace with not making a real peace the best way I could.
The experience actually taught me more than I thought. Who knew I could learn at this late stage? To accept what may never come and make peace with it. Life is messy and problems don’t always get resolved in a timely manner. It’s not a network scripted drama.
My mom recently reminded of something the other night. She said I remember you being fearful that you would never get to meet this friends child. Well I was alive when they gave birth over a year ago. But in a sense she was right I foreshadowed that gut intuition of discomfort and space. As much as they proclaimed they wanted to me to meet their child and be an auntie it never happened. I celebrated the birth from afar, sent gifts and notes and a year later sadly I was right. Despite the ability, availability and circumstance I never met their child and I really wanted nothing more to be a part of that experience. Still I would be unable to connect with them and their new role as a mother. If I wanted to do that I had to be on social media right? So I had to let go and use it as a teachable and self-awareness moment.
The other scenario I had reached out to this person and another to share my feelings and made peace. It was a group email to the two people who were best friends and why I was creating space. I explained why I needed to insulate and retreat and not have visitors anymore. One of the recipients responded the other did not. Later I found they said did (through a friend) but after going through my spam email and every message there was no response. This happened a lot with this person. I knew deep down this person’s emails would never go to spam unless I was sent an Evite or a Paperless Post as a response. But I gave them a shot.
So I wish they could just admit they didn’t respond. White lies are harmless, but sometimes when you lay your heart out there it isn’t a time to fib. I got it trust me. I used to do that too, until I realized that it took up more energy and memory resources to remember what you had said. I had drafted emails to ask about it but always deleted them. So I let it go. I didn’t have time to call them out like I would do in the past. I just had to swallow my pride and to let it go. Even my friend who relayed it to me (that they had responded) knew it probably was not the truth. That was sad we just accepted her limitations. I knew the response and forgiveness was put forward into the stratosphere, even if it was not tangible and responded to in the way I had hoped. I knew in my mind, they probably drafted a response, or deleted it and it just didn’t come. It was better to cover it up than to uncover and be caustic and accusatory. I did what I do best which was move on and accept the limitations. Sometimes calling people out takes more energy and resources than just letting it go.
2. The Most Unnecessary Scenario.
I got de-friended on Facebook like it was a throwback of passive aggressive Thursday. Who de-friends people nowadays at my age? Worse who de-friends someone who is terminally ill? Like really take a moment to process that, de-friending someone who is terminally ill who hasn’t posted a thing since summer 2014. I have no idea what I did. I barely talked to the person. I asked this persons friends why I was de-friended and felt 14 years old asking such a silly question. The friends had no idea. We came to the conclusion that I had made a comment among our friends that this person should not be re-posting a status on Facebook that says they are being raped by their cell phone carrier. It seemed like she may get flack for it since sexual assaults were currently trending and well rape isn’t a term to throw around to describe cell service quality. My friends thought that would be crazy to de-friend me over that (especially in my condition). I never like when people write one another off as insensitive or crazy (especially when it is within the female gender). It’s an unfair write off and I always want to believe there is more beneath the surface. I always want to delve deeper. I always try to see the best in people. Nothing is worse than girls calling each other “psycho”. It’s so vile and against sisterhood (and this speaking from the point of view of a non feminist to boot). So I didn’t want to think of her that way. So I thought fuck it, I will ask the person and be honest. I heard crickets. Re-friended like a robot and no response. However when I accidentally forgot they were on a mass email blast about selling my screenplay being acquired, this person was the first to send me congrats like I had never reached out to her beforehand. It was like a Twilight Zone episode that couldn’t be explained. I was baffled. But it spoke volumes as well. I will still never know. I can only assume and you know the saying about assuming….. it makes an ASS out of ME and YOU.
3. The scenario that lacked clarity and ushered in silence and confusion.
I have no idea what I did and it baffles everyone I know. If anything I should be the furious with this one the MOST. I gave on every end, career, love life, networking, connections, sent some of the images you see in the section with the kind phrases (supportive imagery). I helped with career assignments and gave this person a place to retreat and rest when an escape plan was needed from home life and crazy and cramped NYC roommate living. Even when I was the sick one who needed to be reclusive. I went to a ton of trouble to get her favorite comedy writer to personalize a message for her and sign her book.
You would think the character they are most obsessed with on television is now battling Liver failure and Liver Cancer would make them re-think or at least take a break and remind them of a real life scenario that wasn’t scripted. NOPE. A wall went up, shut down mode began and a restart and reboot mode was never addressed. When I told my friends they were all shocked. This person was a regular fixture at my bedside (hospital and home). They legit put on a show of sorts every time they visited. It was a song and dance hour. It was fun and a needed distraction. I joke unless I murdered someone in my sleep, there was nothing I could have done to upset this person to be so shut down and cruel. But I will never know right? That is an unfair hand to be dealt amongst everything else.
Worse this happened at the tale end of my illness when I was hooked up to a ventilator and could not be communicative.
But wait it gets WORSE, the outreach that started the whole non-responsive mode was asking her to speak at my funeral. As I was trying to listen to my doctors and be proactive about planning ahead. So talk about coming as a shock. I did not expect it at all. I heard nothing back. Can you imagine that feeling? Someone wishing you pass away rather than have to deal with explaining why they were upset with you? Asking one of your closest friends to honor you and not responding? Being the only person who didn’t respond? Suddenly going into silent mode seemed a cruel and unusual tactic. When they finally said something it was regarding their silence. They said I will let you know if and when I am ever ready to talk about it. It was heartless and I say that about almost no one if you know me. If you know me I don’t contact people when the message is clear. There were no follow ups or more asking what happened. Unlike when I needed space after conflict in the past with this person, my message box was peppered in outreach. They were pushing for a response and making sure we were A-OK when I wasn’t quite ready to forgive.
I was better to this person than I was to myself during my illness. Whenever this person fell down in life, wanted to attend one of my film events or needed career and life advice, I made myself readily available (even when I couldn’t pick myself up from my illness).
When we stopped speaking, this person’s friends and significant others all started friending me like it was it was the advent of Myspace and Friendster and it was 2005. I was Mean Girl bullied but it wasn’t 2004 right? I was baffled and actually taken aback. I felt oddly slammed up against a “social” wall that I could never climb over. As my Cancer Care leader said it’s the most vocal and socially savvy person that uses this important platform to send a silent message, a non-verbal but poignant message.
I had no choice but to assume the worst for someone I saw the best in? Someone I saw as a sibling and my mom saw as a daughter. I wasn’t given an outlet to see or hear more. I had nothing left to give and was shut down. Was I hurt? Yes. Were my friends, Cancer Care, doctors, nurses and family shocked (yes even more than I was). But what I could do? I was struggling to stay cognizant and coherent and couldn’t fight inner and outer demons in this person that did not want to be awoken.
I knew I was loved by the people that mattered and never wanted ANYTHING from me ever other than mutual love, support and affection. The ones who didn’t buddy up to me to with an agenda in hand.
I had to accept I didn’t have to be loved by everyone (a lesson I learned later in life and expound upon in the helpful advice section).
It was a hard pill to swallow and I definitely had to grind it up and choke on it for a while before I could swallow and digest it. It was such an important lesson. Those who didn’t have the courage to come forward and seek the peace, have a real an honest face to face and heart to heart faced a larger fate worse than mine……..REGRET.
You have incurred and contracted:
Recurring Regret Syndrome.
You wake up feeling like you are missing something, you might panic, assess and regroup to figure out what was gone.
Treatment: There is NO CURE. You missed your chance to get a preemptive and preventative vaccine.
Have I faced this regret diagnosis? Yes, there are so many times I wished I had a chance to make, create a level of comfort, forgiveness and acceptance with those who are no longer with us and are still with us. So I am not sitting on my high horse or shaming anyone without recognizing I had done some soul searching and been more vocal. I write this because I know you never want to miss a a chance to feel the soothing effect of a healing conversation. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be in person, it just needs to exist.
Even though this is a post about not being given the chance to make peace and feel whole again. Here is a footnote that warmed my heart. I can actually end this post on a full circle and happy ending “note” that is pitch perfect and not auto-tuned.
I had wanted to reconnect with my friend Julia Bressman Kozumplik for a while. I had reconnected Julia with my friend Amy Watenmaker who lived by her in Northern California. The three of us were buddies in high school because of our visits and love of WASHU. But I hadn’t really connected with Julia beyond our social media interactions (which were such sweet and reminiscent banter). Since I took a massive step away from being “social” on and offline I wanted to connect in a more private setting.
This is someone I have amazing formative year memories with from high school, our road trips, concert comradery and my favorite “rebellious” moments with. Like me, Julia was a chick with dude like qualities which is the highest compliment. We liked to hang with the guys and go on our own little adventures. We didn’t always conform to the norm or try to keep up with the “Schechters”. Every time I spoke with our mutual high school friends we all had nothing but kinship and love for Julia. Annoyingly no one had her new contact information (beyond social media info).
So I tease that the least likely SSDS connector (connected us and they got to reconnect as well). I may have done that on purpose if you know me. Yes, I am talking to you Shanna Marcus Wollack. I picked up with Julia like no time had passed and it was truly such a blessing. We joked for over an hour and had a blast sharing old school photos and modern-day updates. Shanna has brought some really wonderful people into my life lately (including her best friend Brooke Baron).
So this is just another example of how even when you think you want to be left alone and isolate there is still room for old and new connections. You can make peace and acquire new support. I was able to laugh again and make jokes with someone who brought so much levity and absolute joy to my life (especially during my adolescent years).
To those who think it’s too late to reopen a door with someone, this is a prime example it is NEVER TOO LATE and there is always room for extra support. I wanted to end this rough post on a positive note and up to date “update”. Remember a genuine friend, with no agenda, no motive and just coming to you with love are all around you. You may not even know or recognize it. You can pick up like no time has passed and live in your moment with YOU. If you come across those people CHERISH THEM and THANK THEM.