How To Be Friends With A Disabled Person

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My Uncle Tommy’s blood didn’t clot very well, a disease known as hemophilia, so blood pooled up in his joints.  It ate away his cartilage.  Near the end of his life, when he moved his elbow, you could hear the bones rubbing against each other whisper-thin, like two dry crackers ground together.
So he walked slow.
So I walked slow.
To this day, Gini tells me I amble glacially – because I’m used to quietly keeping Tommy’s pace, not wanting to upset him.  Oh, I could have jogged on ahead; not that Tommy would have been devastated, as I was basically his son and he would have forgiven me the world.
But he had enough reminders that he was broken and frail.  He didn’t need another one from me.  So I crept at his pace, which only got slower as the years went by, and we passed the time as two humans.
This is what you do when you have a friend who’s disabled.
Let’s be blatantly honest and say that having disabled friends is often an inconvenience verging on annoyance.  They can’t get up stairs.  They cancel at the last minute because of unpredictable sicknesses.  There’s more planning to be find the right restaurant because of their diet.
If you think it’s an inconvenience to you, imagine how it feels to them.
Every day, the world wakes up and punches your pals in the fucking face, telling them “Hey, you know all those things you want to do?  You can’t.”
You can choose to be one of those blows.  Or you can be understanding and loving and help them to live a better life.
It’s that fucking simple.
They live in a smaller world because of something they don’t have control over.  I think a good friend will take that into account, and tread that fine line between “Yes, it’s an inconvenience and you may not always be able to come along” with a lot of love and understanding and bold attempts to make room for your friend because yes, they have a condition and it deserves to be accommodated whenever possible.
Because when you are that sick, you notice the way people cancel plans with you.  The way they quietly stop inviting you to parties.  The way you don’t defend them when other, healthier people, complain that they shouldn’t have to deal with your issues.
They’re sick, not stupid, and they feel their excision from your life as keenly as a cut.  One more cut in a life filled with them.
I’m not saying I was saccharine-sweet to Tommy.  I acknowledged the difficulty of his disabledness from time to time, because we were loving humans and that means being honest.  But I never made a big deal about the way we had to get to concerts half an hour early so he could get to his seat, or how we had to stay an hour late because the crowds might bump him too hard.
Instead, I used that extra time to talk to him, companionably walking at his cane-pace, as friends.  He must have noticed that his hyperactive teenaged nephew was walking slow.
But for a time, he had the ability to live his life as though nothing was wrong with him. And that was the greatest gift I could give him.

2 Comments

  1. charlotte
    May 16, 2012

    wow…sooo true in many many ways…..

  2. Jessica Moore
    May 17, 2012

    Thank you for this. I’ve read your musings/blatherings off and on for years now via livejournal and as usual this one delivers big time. Thank you once again for your kindness and honesty.

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