Friends: Where Did They Go?

By Walt Kilcullen




“After my stroke, many friends came to visit me in the hospital and in the re-hab facility. But after a while, my friends were not around anymore. When my wife called them, they always had an excuse.”


“I had plenty of support in the hospital, but once I came home, the contact stopped. I haven’t seen any of them for years.”


“I lost most of my friends, maybe because I have aphasia and speaking is difficult. The few friends that I still have don’t understand my difficulties and they don’t try to communicate with me.”


These are not direct quotes from any one person. They are typical, however, of some of the comments that I hear from stroke survivors.


For the last ten years I have been mentoring Sandy Smethers, a 49 year old single mother of two. She had her stroke ten years ago and, at the time, I did not know her very well. The stroke left her right arm paralyzed, and weak in her right leg. She is able to walk without help, but at a slow pace.  She also has expressive aphasia which makes speaking very difficult.


When I first went to see her in the hospital in December, 2000, she had many visitors who introduced themselves as friends of Sandy. Later, when she came home, these friends and more, told me they intended to stick with her as life-long friends. As time went on, however, most of these friends disappeared. So I asked myself, “Where did they all go?”


Why do friends disappear in so many cases?


Keeping friends depends on many variables.


How many friends did you have before the stroke?
Are you living with your wife/husband, your family, or do you live alone?
What are your disabilities as a result of your stroke?


I asked several survivors, caregivers, and professionals about why they thought friends disappear after a stroke. Here is what they said.


Some friends are uncomfortable seeing a once strong person that is now suffering with a disability which is sometimes extreme. It might be similar to visiting a cancer patient that has little time to live. It is easier to avoid the discomfort.
A stroke alters a person’s life. It can change the survivor’s values, goals, attitudes, etc. When these changes occur, whatever the survivor and friend had in common in the first place, may be lost after the stroke.
Sometimes, different emotions that are the result of the stroke, such as depression, unexplained crying, anger, etc., can make it difficult for the friend to remain a friend.
Sometimes it is just that friends have moved on in their lives. They get married; they move; they have children; they are involved with a host of activities, or their job becomes demanding. Perhaps they now have someone in their own family that needs their attention. The point is, they have moved on to life’s changes and the survivor has not.



So what should you do if you, the survivor, would like to reconnect with old friends and establish new friends?


Old Friends Even if married, having friends to do things with is very rewarding and it is important to give the caregiver a break. First, you must take on an attitude that says, “I can handle rejection and I will become an initiator.” Start out by trying to re-connect with old friends that you haven’t seen for awhile and that you think you would like to see. You will know soon enough if they are interested or not. Remember, rejection is OK.
Facebook Many people in your circumstances have found friendship on Facebook. Friends on Facebook do not provide the same type of friendship as an in-person friend, but it may be a good supplement. You can accomplish the same thing by participating in a stroke chat site.
Support Groups

Another way to meet new friends is to join a support group. I have talked about the value of a support group in previous articles that I have written for Strokenetwork.  Invite someone from the group to have lunch, or better yet, start a once a week lunch group. You get to pick the people that you think might be interested.  

Class Take a class in an adult night program that you can handle and would interest you. It is another opportunity to meet new people. The same can happen at a house of worship if you are so inclined.
Get Out There! The main message here is to get out and take the initiative. Don’t wait for people to contact you.  The more you get involved with community groups and in groups with other stroke patients, the more you can expand your social life.


Good Luck!



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 The Stroke Network, Inc.

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