When the little white lie of friendship is a matter of life or death 74



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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!

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.

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? 

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. When you are facing something like that, it takes time to get your head around it. You don’t want to share it because sharing means admitting you have it and you don’t want to. You feel angry and resentful when people say “you should have told me”. You don’t want to have to deal with their feelings on top of your own. You will be told when they can cope with it and after all, it is their right to share or not, not your right to know.

    2 REPLY
    • I agree with all the sentiments expressed, but I would add that non everyone feels the need to have people around at such a time.

  2. I totally agree Marnie. Until you have been in that position none of us know how we will handle it. But a lot of people choose to do it alone for quite a while and that is their right. Clearly this woman didn’t want them to know. She was even lying yo her daughter and telling her she was swapping catch ups to afternoons on treatment days. She would’ve told people in her own time and in her own way when and if she was ready.

  3. very touching and very poignant we all need to keep our friends in our confidence and they will keep our spirits up for us.

  4. I believe it was up to your friend whether she told you or not, I agree that we all need to pay attention to our friends but in a situation like you described it was your friends decision as it was her that was going through it, I’m sure she knew you would be there for her but it was not what she wanted at that time.

  5. Irene’s choice was clear and perhaps needs respecting

  6. When you face such things you find out who your true friends are. One very intuitive friend was there for me – she didn’t give advice – just gave a warm hug when I needed it.

  7. It is a hard call. There are some ignorant people out there who make people with cancer feel that they are not valued as human beings

  8. I feel the writer is not saying her friend should have said. But someone in the circle should have perhaps noticed she wasn’t well. Or been there on other days for her. We do get do involved in our own lives we forget to look outside it.

  9. I hope your friendship slips in to old times when she is feeling better about herself I am sure it will that’s what friends are for xx

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