It Pains Me . . .

By Dick Barbuto

One of my previous posts dealt with people who were not sure how to treat people with disabilities i.e., people who wanted to be helpful but were not sure how to best accomplish that.  Here I will attempt to discuss relationships (or the lack thereof) with friends who cannot “handle” disabilities.  These people sometimes become former friends or friends that you longer spend much time with.  (For all you grammarians I am advised that it is now permissible to end a sentence with a preposition.)

              Let me tell you about two friends who had very strong reactions to my loss of sight.  A little background may be useful.  I have low vision and use a long white cane to get around.  This is the result of diabetic retinopathy which caused severe vision loss about 9 years ago. The first friend, we’ll call him A is also diabetic.  The second friend, B, had a wife who also has diabetes.  I don’t know if the fact that both had their lives influenced by diabetes is significant or not.  I point it out because I suspect that it does.  Maybe someone much smarter than I am can supply an answer to that one.

              Shortly after my vision loss I dined with A at a local restaurant.  During the meal A decided to tell me that “it pains me to see you like this.”  (I wasn’t too happy about the vision loss either in case you read this, A.)  And let me be clear, during this and subsequent conversations it became clear that A was looking at this not in the sense that he felt badly for me but rather, that my situation was difficult for him to handle.  Eventually, we no longer talked on the phone or got together socially, with rare exception.  When we did see one another it was fairly obvious that he was still “pained.”

              I was extremely friendly with B and had been for 25 of the 30 years that I knew him.  We worked in the same office for years, shared season tickets to the Jets, traveled and socialized with our spouses and most people knew us to be extremely close. 

              Unfortunately when I lost most of my vision things changed radically.  B stopped calling.  He infrequently took my calls and when I left him a message (numerous times) he almost never called back.  Even more importantly, we did not see one another for the last five years of his life.  B passed away about 3 years ago.
              With A, I was mildly disappointed for about 5 minutes that he was “pained to see me with visual issues.  With B, I was really pissed off.  I went to the funeral services for B.  Many people remembered some very funny stories about things that B and I had done in the past and some told me B was always telling people what a great guy I was.  I kept my mouth shut but wanted to ask how he knew, not having seen me and all for 5 years. 

              What does all this mean?  I’m not sure I know.  As I look back on the 2 relationships I should have handled them in a different fashion.  I should have tried to let both A and B know that I could still do everything (OK, I can’t drive) that I did before and I was the same guy.  I wish that I had done that.  I am still pissed off and maybe I wouldn’t be if I had been a little more ready to explore these situations. 

              So I guess the good news is that I have learned from these experiences.  I now have a lot of new friends.    What’s that about when one door closes another opens?