When the Going Gets Tough, What Kind of Friend Are You?

A friend's rebound and a new book highlight the importance of being there when it counts

by Gary Drevitch • Next Avenue
holding hands image
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

The first thing you need to know is that Dave had always been there for me.

When we became friends in fourth grade, he quickly opened his basement and backyard to me, never questioning why I didn't have anyplace else to hang out. Years later, when I asked him to be best man at my wedding, he was there, even though it required taking a red-eye flight to New York from Las Vegas, where he had performed the same role for his younger brother the night before. His attitude about that, and so many other favors over the years, was simply: That's easy; I'll be there.

But then life got harder.

(MORE: The 30-Year-Old Regret That Still Keeps Me Up at Night)

In 2001, when we were in our mid-30s, Dave received a diagnosis of lymphoma. I was young enough not to be reflexively terrified of hearing he had cancer, but maybe too young to realize all that it meant, even in an age of advanced care. I did assume that, in the end, all would be fine. My friend was in for a stretch that would not be so easy, but he was smart, strong and otherwise healthy. I checked in with him periodically, but under normal circumstances, our relationship could survive indefinitely on four calls a year, and I didn't up the count by much.

As it happened, though, Dave's case was more complicated. With his immune system badly compromised, he eventually landed in a Boston hospital's "clean room" ward. To visit, I had to pass through an airlock and don gloves and a mask. Still, he didn't seem especially weak and his spirits appeared good, bolstered by his years-long habit of reading self-help books, which I once mocked.

And so there I sat, with my oldest friend – and, after the obligatory jokes about how he'd generated some "samples" to freeze in case he ever wanted to become a father, no idea what to say.

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