"He sat next to me in the front seat of his station wagon as I took a scenic route along the Jersey Shore, heading to the home where I grew up. At a stoplight I looked over at him and let my gaze linger a moment. Before the cancer, Dad had been a heavy-set man. Baking was his only hobby and eating his main passion. Now his appetite and energy were all but gone. He had lost his zest for life. He appeared deflated, as though the wind had been knocked out of him. The bones of his face were prominent — his skeleton asserting itself.

"We knew that treatment couldn't cure him, but hoped it might buy him some time. I knew that time was precious and that he wanted to savor every minute we had. My mom wasn't expecting us for at least another hour, so I asked Dad if he wanted to get a cup of coffee or a hot dog at a favorite lunch place owned by a friend of his.

"He said, 'No, I don't think so.' When I persisted, he said, 'I don't look so good. I look sick and I think I smell bad, sicklike, too.' I hid my tears from him as I drove, but I will never forget the unfairness of my father feeling embarrassed simply for being ill!

"Americans have an exaggerated notion of the importance of being independent and self-sufficient — both of which can be virtues. At some point, however, it is entirely appropriate to rely on others. It is important to recognize your need for others when you're ill. To do otherwise is unhealthy, not just physically, but also emotionally. I have seen people who refuse to do so: the hard-charging executive who refuses to admit that his heart condition is forcing him to slow down; the frail, forgetful 85-year-old woman who refuses to stop driving. At some point it becomes just plain unnatural.

"Some self-help books have made 'codependence' into a pathological diagnosis. Certainly, unhealthy relationships do exist that reinforce people's addictions and unhealthy patterns of behavior. That's not what we're talking about here. It is wholly natural, normal, and necessary for human beings to depend on one another. Wholesome codependence is part of loving relationships between spouses, parents, and children and close friends."