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    When Loved Ones ‘Ghost’ During Cancer


    Many cancer patients – myself included – have experienced an unpleasant surprise during the cancer journey: Someone they thought was really close to them disappeared, “ghosted.”

    When my father was dying of lung cancer 20 years ago, his sister (my aunt) ghosted for the last two months of his life. I remember being really angry at the time. How could she just abandon him like that? Our family was close—his cancer was tearing everyone apart—but why wouldn’t she steel herself and show her face? She and my dad were so close for most of their lives, how could she justify not being there for his end?

    When I had cancer, a couple friends disappeared out of my life. I don’t remember being angry that time; I was too distracted by my illness. Plenty of other friends were there for me during my active treatment.

    These days, though, I have a little more compassion for the ghosts.

    Sure, it would be better if everyone could face hard things and be present for someone with a scary illness. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that most everyone is fighting a battle that I know nothing about. The ghosting probably has nothing to do with my dad’s cancer, or my cancer, or your cancer. It has everything to do with the person who’s ghosted.

    After my dad died, my aunt gave a eulogy that was pretty close to a love letter to my dad. She was the younger sister, and I think she always looked up to, and idolized her brother, my dad. I think he was such a touchstone in her life, such a big figure for her, that she simply could not face the fact that he would soon die.

    In other words, she ghosted not because she didn’t love my dad, but because she did.

    People also disappear because they’re jerks. But that’s not always the case. Think about your ghosts. If you can, give them the benefit of the doubt.


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