Dealing with personal illness, grief and fair-weather friends

  • You will discover who your real friends are in times of grief or illness.

    You will discover who your real friends are in times of grief or illness. Stock Photo

Posted10/10/2020 6:00 AM

My dear Baheej grew up in a traditional culture in the Holy Land where there was a proverb or saying for everything, and a greeting or words of comfort for every occasion. These were collective ways of understanding and interpreting human behavior and natural events, used to help explain them and console or support others. Everyone knew what to say.

Well, there are lots of tried and true sayings I learned growing up here, as well. Not as comprehensive a collection, but useful nevertheless.


One is "when it rains, it pours." This generally means a lot of difficult problems or events can happen at the same time. "Fair-weather friends" is another. These are the supposed friends who are around when your fortunes and health are doing well, but who disappear when the going gets rough and you are facing problems.

One of the most difficult situations one can face is a personal illness while grieving over the death of a loved one. Sometimes in grief even more is heaped on you, such as loss of a job, the need to move, financial problems, a divorce, the loss of a pet or other stresses. These really rough times are when we especially need the encouragement of family and friends.

Of course, all this is further complicated by the social distance imposed by this awful coronavirus. But there are still ways friends can offer support and solace -- providing they are true friends and not fair-weather friends.

As people say, this is when you discover who your real friends are. Fair-weather friends have a way of making themselves scarce in hard times. This happens more often than one would think. Having other problems at the same time as grief makes the business of coping very difficult.

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One question is: Why do people disappear and withdraw in bad times? Well, we all know that "death denial" is still prevalent in our society. People tend to send a card or make an initial call and then nothing more. They don't want to talk about death. To some extent, this is also true of health issues. Some people just can't be bothered beyond a few initial or perfunctory gestures. So if you have a long-term recovery or chronic condition, you soon find yourself left more and more alone.

Probably a more important question is what to do about those fair-weather friends?

Human behavior can be very disappointing when you come across selfishness or thoughtlessness, but we need to protect ourselves from too much disappointment and certainly from anger. It's better to be realistic and know who your real friends are moving forward. I personally pretty much keep a distance from fair-weather friends. "Live and learn," as they say. These cliches sometimes express good advice.

So, cherish your real friends who stick with you and do not disappear. Invest your time and feelings in them, and cut the others loose.

Get involved in new activities and make some new friends, in addition to keeping in touch with the old friends who stayed true. This is not easy right now with all this "stay at home" isolation, but even relatively new friendships can be strengthened by email, phone calls and, while the weather is mild, personal visits with one or two people on your deck or outside porch, patio or backyard.

So the point is: Life has some hard lessons to hand us. Grief is one. A personal health problem or crisis is another, and fair-weather friends are best avoided. One can either be offended or hurt by such people, or take a realistic and practical approach and protect yourself while dealing with life's challenges. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has figured this out.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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