Staying at your friend's side

NICK BARNETT
Last updated 12:00 11/12/2012

In the past few days I've read about two singers who have put friendship ahead of career and money.

Amanda Palmer called off a tour, including two shows in New Zealand, to be with her best friend as he faces cancer treatment. She's putting that friendship before career and money, and hoping that ticket buyers will understand - which I think they will.

Fiona Apple with JanetFiona Apple cancelled her tour of South America, also because a great friend is ailing - an elderly pitbull named Janet who's suffering Addison's disease and a chest tumour. Apple also hopes that ticket buyers will understand, and has explained herself in a handwritten letter that she posted on Facebook.

You can read that powerful letter here or here (transcribed). It will resonate with many of you who have formed a deep friendship with a dog or other species of pet in your life.

Janet is ill, and her owner needs to be with her. Apple says: "I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship. I am the woman who stays home, baking Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend. And helps her be comfortable & comforted & safe & important."

Janet is going to die, and her owner needs to be there for that. Apple says: "I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments ... it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I've ever known."

I don't know what Fiona Apple's music sounds like, or whether I'd like it if I heard it. But I think she must be a good friend to have, and I can identify enormously with what she's doing.

I'm repeating myself, but I do believe that the longer you live with a pet and draw happiness from it, the more you become in debt to it. And the time when you have to repay that debt is often - usually - in the pet's last days.

Fiona Apple is right to say that the last moments of her dog's life will be an indispensable experience for her - not as some self-centred kind of therapy, but as a reciprocation, an obligation, a completion of a friendship.

And Apple's letter makes me think of a dawn phone call I received a couple of years ago from a lady at a hospice, to tell me that my sister had stopped breathing a few minutes earlier. "She was a lovely woman," the hospice volunteer said of my sister, "and it was a privilege to be with her at her last moment."

That word struck me at the time, "privilege", how incongruous it was but also how true. It's essentially what Fiona Apple is saying about her choice to be with Janet. It'll be painful for Apple to see her friend die, but even at that moment, Janet will be enriching her owner's life.

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