I can't promise I won’t get scared sometimes. But I am not afraid.
Before meeting Fran I had little direct experience of illness, primarily because throughout my adult life I chose to distance myself from its impact. My sister was diagnosed with manic depression in her early twenties, and my mother has known mental breakdown, depression and anxiety. In each case I fled the scene, literally and emotionally, appalled at the depth of their need.
Years later a friend developed multiple sclerosis, and whilst I was not utterly absent, I helped her very little. Her sobbing telephone calls terrified me. I rarely phoned her and never visited. Instead, I wrote letters to her every day through what turned out to be the final two years of her life. It allowed me to feel I was doing something, but it was not what she most needed.
There is little honour in absenting oneself from the pain of others but I can be honest enough with myself to admit that I have done so. It is fortunate that I had grown in awareness by the time I met Fran, although our success as friends owes as much to those who helped me to grow, and to Fran herself, as it does to me.
The key message, then, is that you don't need special qualities or experience in order to be of help and support to your friend. Whatever your personal history and previous failings, real or imagined, what counts is what you do and who you are now. It is okay to be less than perfect, because none of us is. It is okay to get things wrong sometimes, because we all do that. It is okay to get upset or frustrated or even angry, because we all feel those things from time to time. What counts is having the courage to be honest with yourself and with your friend, and finding ways through to the other side.