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By Marjorie Turner Hollman

After brain surgery at age 37 to save my life, I woke paralyzed on my right side. Healing has come, including a measure of mobility, but not as I might have hoped. Before this sudden life change I had avoided writing like the plague, but soon embraced it when few obvious alternatives presented themselves. Expressing myself in writing has been a creative outlet, a source of income, and ultimately a passion.

I wrote this essay while learning to live with a changed life—learning that is still a work in progress. “Chronic Friends” is included in my latest book, My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places, a memoir, short essays written over nearly 30 years of healing.

Chronic Friends

Throughout the earliest years of recovery, my path felt less than smooth, the future unclear. I have been blessed with a number of what I call “friends of the heart,” who have remained close, regardless of distance and life events that have sometimes kept us physically apart.

A number of these friends and I have chronic conditions, rather varied in their symptoms yet similar in how they impact our everyday lives. We often feel an otherness that sets us apart. Most of us were already friends before we acquired our chronic conditions. We have the advantage of sharing many interests, and we feel a strong sense of “you know what I’m trying to say” when we talk. Conversations often take place over the phone. Our fellowship is widespread and time for personal visits is difficult to arrange in lives stressed by getting through daily life.

Our dark humor, the ability to find humor in the midst of difficult situations, has become a strong tie that binds us. Our laughter is based on a mutual understanding of the absurdities of life and its tenuousness. The joy I feel after a phone call with one of my “chronic friends” is deep and heartfelt.

We are less wary of complaining to one another than with most others, knowing that whining and complaining wears on people’s patience. When someone says to me, “Why complain? It never does any good,” my response is often, “I always feel better when I complain.” This often provokes at least a smile, if not a chuckle, which is my intent.

I choose my complainees carefully, knowing that not everyone is interested or able to listen to details of what at times can seem intractable and unbearable. Even in the midst of what may seem like impossible circumstances, life goes on, and can even offer some amusement along the way.

Do we rejoice in our tribulations? No. Each small triumph, accomplishment, positive happening, or improvement is greeted with joy. We strive to show a willingness to commiserate when life feels hard, and an eagerness to rejoice when something good happens, whatever that good thing is.

Must you have a chronic condition to join this club? No, since in the big scheme of things, life itself is filled with uncertainty and adventures that none of us, being able to look into the future, would greet with open arms. Membership requires an ability to listen well, laugh, and see that we’re in this boat together. The time we’ve been given in this world is short.

Anyone can become a member. It’s your choice. Life is chronic, and temporary, a paradox that should keep us laughing until we encounter something else to cry about. When tears are called for, they’re allowed to flow. So join the club. You’ll find some good company.

Marjorie Turner Hollman is a freelance writer/ editor who loves the outdoors, and has completed four books in the Easy Walks guide book series. Her latest book, My Liturgy of Easy Walks, is a memoir, with meditations on learning to live with chronic illness. A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! She has appeared on Boston’s WCVB Channel 5 TV news magazine show, Chronicle, the Boston Globe, local radio and cable TV shows, and been published in local, regional, and national publications. www.marjorieturner.com

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Sheila Hamwey
Sheila Hamwey
1 year ago

I love this term. “Chronic Friends”. I have them and didn’t know it. We all get there eventually and sharing this ride makes the adventure much more bearable. Thank you for this short story.

Annie Payne
Annie Payne
1 year ago

Brilliant, Marjorie! Osteoarthritis is my chronic companion, often requiring intensive surgery with long recovery periods. This insidious disease is a sentence for life and, yes, my ‘chronic friends’ help to keep my spirits up and remind me that humour is ‘the best medicine’! Keep your chin up, my friend – many of us empathise with your trials and tribulations!

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