I have a dear, wonderful, special friend in my life. Generally, he is a very lovely and caring person. Recently, he found out that his father has cancer. He tells me, "I got some really bad news today..." and told me in very general terms that his dad had a mass found in his colon. I immediately go into "care-taker" mode. I wasn't sure exactly what to say so I just asked him a number of questions -- trying to find out more (i.e has a biopsy been performed, has he had any scans, etc.).
I should mention that I lost both of my parents to cancer (mother when I was in my 20s, father when I was in my 30s) and just last year a good friend who was only 40 years old. So I feel like I know a bit about the disease and the stages and how things can help or hinder progress, etc.
As soon as I started asking him these questions he gets very defensive and says, "I know you know a lot about this but I don't want to talk about it". I responded by saying, "I understand, no pressure" and I told him then and the next day that I would hope he knows that he can lean on me if he needs some emotional support and that also I am available to do things that might alleviate stress.
He seemed very agitated and got up and left. I didn't talk to him until a day later and he still seemed weird. He said it was because I was acting weird. I explained that I was actually worried about him. He said that me worrying about him felt very insulting to him. I told him that I am currently under a lot of stress and I think that perhaps that may also be spilling into my "behavior." That seemed to pacify him.
This evening he calls and says he would like to hang out. We have a nice converstaon on the phone and then he says, "I've got some good news" and tells me that they did a cat scan and have not found any cancer outside of his colon -- it did not spread. I tell him it is wonderful and then started asking him some questions. He was trying to explain to me how this came about but I guess I interrupted him with a couple of questions. He immediately assumed that I wasn't listening to him and felt very insulted. I was only trying to help. He said he didn't want to hang out tonight and that he'd rather talk to me when I can pay attention to his needs. I apologized and said that I just misunderstood what he was saying. This was all on a cell phone and I was having difficulty discerning everything he said.
I'm now miserable. I want to be there for him. I guess I just need to sit and listen to him when he talks. However, I worry if I don't respond or ask questions he would take it as me not caring. I feel like I am putting my foot in my mouth and all I have are good intentions. I feel like that having gone through this twice with my parents, I have some insight, empathy and have shared the same feelings.
He said I am causing him stress and my worry is insulting. I feel like a total failure. This is something that touched me in my life. I did not know him then but I do remember how friends started to back away from me when my mother was very ill. I understand that cancer is not an easy subject but I remember wanting people to be there for me. Here I am trying to be there for him but am not successful at all.
How do you talk to someone who is going through a difficult time and is very sensitive to it? Also, I want him to make sure he eats and does things that he needs to do to take care of himself. I fear that if I back-off, he will then see it as desertion (the way I felt when "friends" started to back-off when I needed them most).
I don't have any experience with the kind of situation you are describing, but want to add my two cents anyway.
I felt bad for you reading your post. It is one of those situations, no matter what you do, it is not good. The only reason for your friend's reaction that I can think of is that he is so devastated and emotionally fragile that no matter what you do or say, he feels offended. Give him some time to absorb what is going on and he will hopefully get more rational. Since you lost loved ones to cancer, he must know that you understand the pain that comes with it. And, of course you are going to ask questions, that shows that you care.
You sound like a very good friend and I think if you wait a while, your friend is going to realize it. Maybe he is still in a state of chock right now.
I agree, he probably cannot take anything in, and having to think up answers to questions is a bit beyond him right now. Send him a card saying that you will listen whenever he wishes to talk. Then do that, just listen and reflect. When he can expand and wants to know more, then you will be the one. Do not beat yourself up over this, people react in so many different ways to traumatic events, but slow down and take your cues from him. Somebody who will just be there , if only to sit and listen to him and hold his hand may be as much help as he can deal with. Sera
My impression is that your friend is way too tensed. Either because he is going through a lot, or because that's his character (temperament). Perhaps he lives with his father, perhaps he depends on his father, perhaps his father depends on him, I don't know. To me, it's like he is scared of the consequences of this cancer.
I like the idea of your sending him a card telling him you will be there for him whenever he needs you. Don't bring up the cancer story again and don't make further questions. Let him set the pace and topic of your interactions. Allow him to ask you the questions, instead. Perhaps he needs you to be at his side simply rather than giving him "professional" advice. But if he keeps in this defensive and irritable mode, no matter what you say, if he never allows you to express yourself, if he "suffocates" you and never recognizes you, you'd be better to move away from him. Otherwise a painful and violent rupture may be unavoidable.
Your friend is right you are not listening. He doesn't care what your experience or expertise is he just wants you to sit and listen that's it.... nothing more...no suggestions,no nothing just listen. There are many people in my family that when it comes to things like this are extremely superficial and they prefer not to know anything more that what they know. They just can't handle anymore information and they never want to know. This is how they get through life. For example some of us want to know all the details and then there are others that are content to just say or hear that so and so died. They have no clue how this friend/relative died or when or where ...nor do they ever what to know the details. I am guessing your friend is also like that. He only can handle what he knows...not what you know...he can't deal with more information...he understands you are more than willing to share your knowledge with him but he doesn't want to know and he may never what to know. If you keep trying to tell him things he will not trust you at all and stop hanging around you.
I agree that sending him a thoughtful card expressing how you are there for him whenever he needs you is the way to go.
You have to remember that everyone handles things like this differently. When my father was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago my siblings and I all had different reactions. It is best to take his lead, listen when he talks, and rather than ask questions just use a blanketed "what can I do to help?". That way he feels like he is in control, because I'm sure that out of control feeling is a lot right now.