Companions, Allies and Advocates

We need different kinds of friendships for different situations, sometimes a companion, sometimes an ally, and sometimes an advocate.

Friends make good times better and bad times easier. Countless research studies have found that friendships increase our overall quality of life, including our health and longevity.

No one will argue that having caring people around us is a good thing. But what about when times get tough? These are the moments when we really see the distinction between superficial friends and tried and true friends, the ones with a deeper connection to us.

We need different kinds of friends for different situations. Sometimes we need someone to listen; other times we need a “fixer;” and still at other times we need the perspective of someone who has been there before. I often hear, “I have friendships — lots of them. They come in different varieties and some are deeper than others, but I’m pretty sure if anything bad happened, my friends would show up and help.” This sounds reasonable, but it leaves a few questions.

Here’s a simple way to identify the kinds of friends we have and how they might show up in a time of need. Make a list with three columns. Head each column with: Companion, Ally, and Advocate.

A Companion is a person who is happy to be with us. Companions will walk with us despite possible personal differences. They will let us lead the way and make decisions, and are happy to accompany us on the journey. They will hold our hand and are satisfied to share time with us.

An Ally is a person who stands beside us and shares similar values, thoughts or experiences. Allies are colleagues or other people who share a common language or perspective with us. They are the “Oh, Honey! Been there, done that!” kind of friends.

An Advocate is a person who is willing to go to bat for us. Advocates are willing and able to stand up for us in a protective and loving way. This is the friend who will ask the oncologist 10 more questions on our behalf and defend our rights and wishes with the gardener and the realtor.

When we think about sorting our friends into these three categories, we may find that we are abundant in one group and a bit lean in another. When it comes to preparing for end-of-life needs, we definitely need at least a few Allies and Companions. But identifying who our Advocates are or will be is the most critical.

It may be difficult to tell a friend, “I will need you as an Advocate.” But it is far easier now, while we are strong and healthy, than it will be later, with a diagnosis prompting the conversation.

If you find you are deficient in one group, then make plans to enlist additional support through your social circles such as clubs, book groups, church or professional associations. If you are still coming up short, then consider hiring professionals to fill the gaps in your support system, especially when it comes to Advocacy. In end-of-life care, having an Advocate is essential.

Ashley T Benem is the founder of the nonprofit A Sacred Passing: Death Midwifery Service, and the creator of the Art of Death Conference. She is an advocate for palliative and end-of-life care issues, and empowers and supports families to reclaim their right to die in congruence with their lives. Contact Ashley at asacredpassing@gmail.com.

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