Who will be sitting or standing next to me in my deathbed*?
A surprising number of people don’t have a clear answer to this hypothetical question. And a good portion of those who think they have the answer, find out later in life that they had the wrong idea.
I was hit with this very conundrum a few nights ago, when on an otherwise uneventful evening, my husband finished a phone call and shocked me with the news that one of his good friends that lives about 200 miles away from us, had a stroke, was found hours later by a neighbor, and was now semi-conscious and restrained to a hospital bed. With no wife, girlfriend or partner, no kids and one chronically ill brother living on the opposite coast of the country, he struck out when his only companion, a faithful dog, passed away and left him completely alone. He was still lucky someone found him, but an unattended stroke episode degenerates fast. This is the loneliness that takes the lives of American men every year, according to the latest findings. Yes, loneliness, and more specifically, having no one to trust fully, comes at a high price in modern society.
This man, as it turns out, does have one very good friend (let’s call him “Ed”), who flew in from his home state to help his buddy through the process of recuperation. He went in to sign all the necessary paperwork (DNR’s, insurance, etc.), made sure he understood what he had been through and what his options were for this next (or last?) part of his life. It was thanks to this loyal friend who literally went the extra mile(s) to help his buddy that he was able to have options; without him, he would’ve spent his last days at the least expensive hospice the system could accommodate him into.
The whole story stuck with me and faced me with the question: Do I have an “Ed” in my life? Do I have a friend that would fly across the country in my hour of need, if my husband or my mother were no longer alive? Do you?
The “intimacy circle”, the image that accompanies this post designed by a good friend of mine for a workshop I imparted in the Bay Area a couple of years ago based on documented information, is a tool where we can place everyone we know in their true corresponding level, and be clear about the level of trust and sharing that we have with each of them. The first thing to know is that this tool has movement. Some colleagues from work that are at Level 5 when we first begin our new job, might move up to Level 4 once we start having lunch together frequently. If we make a good connection and we start to build trust, they might even become the Level 3 kind of friends: the ones you invite over to your home and know more about your personal life. Most of us have seen past partners go from Level 6 (strangers) all the way to Level 1 (forming a couple) and then back to Level 6 when things stopped working out. And while Level 2 friends might know our darker side or our sad moments, it’s only the few ones in Level 1 that will really get out of their comfort zone for you (like your mother or your husband would, or at least should). This is why it becomes very important to know who sits in which circle in our lives. Yes, sometimes friends in the closest levels will grow apart, and we’ll be left with fewer options. But the way the system currently works, having no one to answer on your behalf really puts you in a dismissible situation. If no one answers for you, why should strangers care whether you live or die, or where your belongings end up?
After being a spectator of this man’s ordeal for survival, I took a long, hard look at my options and began to have more serious conversations with those I considered to be in Level’s 1 and 2 to reassess. You can intuit that it was not an easy feat, mostly because it forced me to see the true colors of each of my close relationships. I ended up making some adjustments to my original “list of names” in those first circles, but I now feel better prepared for the unexpected and the «worst case scenario», and as an added bonus, I feel tighter to those in my closest circle.
As the old saying states in more elegant words than mine, the reality is that Level 1 is populated by two or three souls, if you’re lucky and if you’ve done due diligence of being that for someone else yourself. I share this with you to encourage you to take a long hard look at the women, men and non-binaries that you call your friends, place them realistically in their corresponding level of intimacy so you don’t get confused (read more about how to do that if you’re unsure, two options here and here) and make the cold hard realization that you, me, and everyone living in this civilization, really needs at least one close, trustworthy relationship to survive in the best possible way.
*We don’t know if we’ll leave this world in a “deathbed”; the question is posed as a hypothesis to figure out the details.