When the little white lie of friendship is a matter of life or death

I’m not usually one to share personal stories but right now I feel I need to share it with the Starts at 60 community, because it could save a life.

My beautiful friend Irene has been in my life for over 20 years. We met while working in the same organisation as mothers with young children. We sent them to the same schools and we lived in the same suburb. We raised our children together and over the years too many secrets and not enough wine was shared.

We’ve been part of a bigger friendship circle with other Mums from the school who’ve all stayed close and we just about always have twice weekly catch ups. We normally do one active thing like walking or tennis and one fun thing like lunch or coffee each week. As a group we’ve been through illness, death, divorce, second marriages, bankruptcy and the likes, so we have always been close and supportive.

I never once questioned anyone’s honesty, so when Irene began turning up less and less frequently I didn’t think anything of it. She would have reasons like doctors’ appointments, a cold, relatives visiting or grandchild minding – all very real things in our world – so it never once crossed my mind that she might have been telling a white lie.

We hadn’t seen her in just over three weeks when I had a call from her daughter Tess. Irene had been found at home unconscious after falling over and the doctors were worried it was from the cancer. Cancer? I had never heard of any cancer!

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After rushing to the hospital and speaking with Tess and her brother, I discovered that Irene was undergoing treatment. She hadn’t been babysitting and it was Tess who had been driving her every day. She’d been telling Tess she was still seeing us in the afternoons or mornings that alternate with her treatment. The reality was that she was very, very alone.

Irene had told us a white lie when she went for that first appointment. She’d told us another when she went to receive the test results. It had become so easy to lie to us, to escape from the reality of being honest about it that she’d continued these little white lies.

This entire time, the month and a half this had been going on, we could have been there for her supporting her. We could have helped to take the burden off her family and helped her to stay positive.

It frightened me that she would rather face this alone than with the support of friends, who’ve been there for each other many times before. For some people that little white lie is a lot easier than facing the reality but it comes at a big cost.

My heart broke when I learnt what Irene had been doing. To know that such a dear friend was going through pain without the support she needed and deserved.

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The reason I wanted to share this story with you is so that we can all be better friends. We can start to notice those little white lies when our friends tell us, we can start to consciously check up on those who we slowly stop seeing.

Friendship is so important and so too is support, let’s not let our friends fall out from under our wings when they need it most, let’s stop the cycle of that little white lie.


Have you experienced something similar? Have you watched a friend hide away at an important time in their life? How did you help them feel safe again?