'My Friends Ghosted Me When Both My Parents Got Sick'

I don't know of anyone who will look back on the year 2020 with fondness.

It was a year that crashed into all of us in one way or another, from the global pandemic to racial injustice to political mayhem and social unrest. But 2020 for me was also, for personal reasons, the worst year of my life.

In August and September of 2020, both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer, one right after the other. It was the beginning of a year that would challenge me in many ways, break me and flip my entire life upside down. And ultimately, once the dust settled, leave me standing largely alone.

The night we received the call from the doctor changed our lives forever. Then, when we learned of my mom's metastatic cancer on the heels of my dad's prostate cancer diagnosis, I called three friends, all of whom I had known for more than 20 years. One was a lifelong best friend. In tears, I shared with each of them my earth-shattering news and then told them I would need them more than ever in the coming days. They each assured me they would be there for me. My lifelong best friend had grown up with my parents in her life, and another friend had known them for decades and spent time with them on numerous occasions. I had no reason to doubt that these three trusted friends who had been with me through some of my greatest highs would also stand with me through my most heartbreaking lows.

And yet, today, almost two years later, only one of them is still in my life.

Walking with a loved one—let alone two—through the cancer journey steals many things from you: Your joy, your peace, your routine, your future plans, your sleep schedule, your emotional and mental reserves, but what I could have never, in a million years, anticipated it stealing from me was my friendships.

Mandy Hale's Friends Ghosted Her
Mandy Hale with her parents. Mandy Hale

Friendship has always been something of a challenge for me. Whatever that skill is that so many people seem to possess, the one that gives them the ability to easily make and keep friends—I don't have it. I never have. I can remember as far back as first grade, struggling to make and hold onto real, tried and true friends. I'm honestly not really sure why that is. Perhaps my expectations are too high or I pick the wrong people or I'm just meant to walk through life as more of a loner than part of a crowd. But it hurts. And it's always made me feel alone. Like I am perpetually on the outside, looking in.

As much as I've written about heartbreak over the years, I think my heart has been broken more by failed friendships than by any man I've ever encountered.

As the months wore on and 2020 turned into 2021, I heard from two of these three friends less and less. One of them I had even helped secure work for, as she was starting her own freelancing business and needed clients. It seemed that she paid me back by slowly vanishing from my life when I needed her the most.

At one point my sister and I launched a meal train for my parents since we were struggling to juggle both of their many doctor's appointments and treatment schedules with planning healthy meals. Neither of these friends, though they had both known my parents for more than two decades, contributed in any way. I didn't specifically ask them to, as I knew they followed me on social media and would see my posts about it; plus, life was so heavy and so vulnerable for me at that time, I was fighting just to keep my own head above water. I suppose I also didn't feel like I should have to ask; sometimes we just need people to show up for us without us having to request it. But they didn't. Phone calls from them completely dropped off. Sparse and infrequent texts soon became non-existent; until eventually, my phone was silent.

Perhaps they didn't know what to say. Perhaps 2020 overwhelmed them like it did me and pretty much everyone else on earth. Or perhaps our friendship just wasn't as important to them as it was to me. Perhaps it's all of these things and none of them. I'll probably never know.

To my knowledge, there wasn't anything happening in either of their lives to impede their ability to be there for me. When I spoke to them last, both seemed to be doing well and adjusting to the oddness of pandemic life. Neither of them, as far as I knew, struggled with mental health issues, had lost a job due to COVID or had anything within their lives or their families even remotely like what I was going through. I can't think of any reasons for their baffling and hurtful behavior. So, after they both disappeared from my life, I just let them go.

I never sought them out for answers or explanations. If the past couple of years have taught me anything, it's that you have to hold people, and life itself, with an open hand. Nothing is promise or guaranteed, not even lifelong friendship.

But I still don't understand it. I'm not sure if I ever will.

I have since pondered what to do now; what did losing these friendships at one of the most critical junctures in my life teach me?

Mandy Hale's Friends Ghosted Her
Mandy Hale with her parents, who were both diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Mandy Hale

I know now that I can survive anything this life can throw at me, and I can do it on my own. I know now that nothing is certain in this world, and the sands of change are constantly shifting beneath us, even with friendships that seem to be rock solid. And, I know now that instead of gazing over my shoulder too long at what has gone, I'm going to keep my focus on what remains, and I'm going to celebrate it.

What remains is my parents, who are still here and still fighting, and thankfully winning, this awful disease every single day. What remains is the best friend who has steadfastly stood by my side. What remains is me; I didn't fold. I didn't surrender and I didn't give up.

And for the moment, that is enough.

Mandy Hale is the author of Turn Toward the Sun, available now in bookstores everywhere. You can follow her on Twitter @TheSingleWoman or @MissMandyHale.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.