An Open Letter From A Grieving Friend

Dear close friend who disappeared after someone I love died,

Hey there.  It’s been a while since we talked, a long while in fact.  I have been thinking about it and it seems time we catch up.  Let’s start by reviewing the course of events that contributed to the distance between us, as I remember them.

First, this terrible, devastating, tragic thing happened to me and you didn’t know what to do.  You made a couple efforts at the beginning but then you just disappeared.  I’m not going to lie, I was feeling pretty annoyed by that.  You let a lot of time pass without calling or texting or emailing or visiting.  Though this was probably because you felt awkward and were trying to figure out what to do or what to say, it doesn’t change the fact that I felt abandoned.  And now a bunch of time has passed and you probably feel super awkward reaching out.  Me too, it’s awkward-city around here.  I see this awkward-cycle continuing and, as much I want you to be the one to break it, I realize it is probably easier if I do it. So here I am, doing it.

Now, friend who disappeared, I have some good news for you. I am declaring an amnesty for all past weird, avoidant, awkward behavior. I am viewing this as a chance to pick our friendship up, dust it off, and see if we might just get back on track. It is an opportunity to collectively acknowledge that grief is hard and society doesn’t make it any easier to know how to navigate all this.  So if you can forgive me for some stuff I can forgive you for some stuff.

Here’s where I propose we start: text me, call me, message me, whatever.  It will probably take a little work from both of us, but I’m in. And because I hope you’re in, I am going to include in this letter some reasons this friendship may feel hard.  I am hoping if we talk about them it may make things just a wee bit easier.

First, you will probably ask me to do things we used to do on three or five or ten different occasions and I will say no every time and get a little annoyed that you keep asking me to do things.  You will give up and stop asking and then I’ll be sad you gave up.  I realize this seems irrational, but grief-brain can be a little irrational. You may think that when I am finally ready to do something we used to do I’ll just go ahead and call to make plans, and that is a reasonable thing to think. But I probably won’t, because I just don’t have the energy for that and, like I said, grief-brain is a little irrational. This could spiral us back into this same not-talking predicament again, and let’s agree we don’t want that.  So if you promise to ask me if it is okay to keep asking me to do stuff, I promise to tell you the truth and to try to find the motivation to text you if the whim to do something hits me.

Sometimes you will feel like you are being a good friend to me in my grief and I won’t be receiving it that way. Frustrating, I know.  There is nothing you can say or do that is going to bring back the person I really love who died, so just be there for me, offer support and at least pretend you aren’t scared of my intense grief emotions. I promise that will be a pretty safe place to start.  Though often I won’t know what I need or I won’t want to speak up about it when I do, I really will try to open up about that when I can.

One day you might say something that minimizes my grief or makes me feel like I haven’t been heard or supported by you.  I will be tempted to silently stew, hold it against you, or think it means you are a bad friend.  I promise to try to remember that it is hard for you to know what to say or do.  I will be honest with you about how it made me feel if you will be open to hearing it.  I promise not to hold it against you if you do your best not to rush me, not to look for silver-linings for me, and not to minimize my grief.

One day something will remind you of the person I really love who died and you won’t be sure if you should tell me because you have no idea if it will make me smile or cry. I have no idea if it will make me smile or cry either, but it is pretty safe to say even if it makes me cry I’ll still be really glad you were thinking about the person I love and wanted to talk about them.

I may get a little aggravated and judgy sometimes when you seem consumed by things that now feel totally unimportant to me. If you promise to bear with me when that happens, I will try to keep it in check and remember that even though my universe stopped, yours didn’t, and that’s okay.

On special days like holidays and birthdays and anniversaries I will probably be feeling especially low. If you could remember that and check in around then, just so I know you haven’t forgotten about me, that would be pretty great. So go ahead, set a reminder in your phone. Right now.  I’ll wait.

I may have a hard time letting go of the fact that we had a rocky patch at the beginning of all this, but I promise to work on remembering that it isn’t your fault.  You haven’t been through exactly what I have been through and you couldn’t read my mind to know exactly what I needed.  Heck, I barely knew what I needed.  I also promise to remember that I have been acting a little snippy and entitled and flakey and sad and angry and confused and intense and emotional and that doesn’t make me the easiest person to be friends with.  I hope you’ll remember that being there for me goes a really long way, even when it’s hard.  Especially when it’s hard, actually.

So here it is- a clean slate. A new day. A fresh start.  I hope we’re in it together.

your grieving friend

 

 

March 28, 2017

26 responses on "An Open Letter From A Grieving Friend"

  1. One should not justify or excuse oneself for grieving. The disappearing friend is likely to run again when faced with another bend in the road. Forgiveness is fine but as long as the friend is willing to learn and grow. Although painful it is better to let go of those who wish to run. I am not in favour of begging someone to stay, it only creates more hurt.

    • Friends should show decency and compassion. Family/friends say the most stupid things which is a reflection of their expectations. Even trying to educate or explain your feelings sometimes won’t get through. I really do not think one should expend any further energy on friends who run and abandon. Seriously I think that person who exhibits such insensitivity is not worth the pain. Everyone should stop making excuses for so called friends. Have compassion and respect for yourself.

  2. Re: asking for what you need and how miscommunication can so easily happen, there’s a “tried and true” formula from relationship experts that works (at least with non-“toxic” people), and isn’t all that difficult to do, even in grief, assuming you DO have some clue as to what your needs AT THE TIME are.

    First rule of thumb — stick to sharing “I” statements, both initially, and henceforth in any following conversation or other contact. The 3-part formula:

    “When you (fill in the blank),” or “when (fill in the blank) happened”…”I felt (fill in the blank).” “I need (fill in the blank).” It’s simple and direct. You can also follow up the last statement with either asking if they feel they can give what you stated you need or want, or ask an open-ended question such as “can you share how you feel/think about that?”

    This method doesn’t make others guess at your needs, doesn’t attack them for their possible failings, garners respect for yourself, and potentially paves the way for further understanding on both ends. Unfortunately, it often does NOT work that well (if at all) with self-absorbed, “difficult” people who are not comfortable or desiring of honest communication, learning, or feeling empathy for others. With people like that, often the best thing is to simply distance yourself from them as soon as you can ascertain through trial and error that they’re not “interested” in good communication…most especially during the overly-vulnerable, sensitive states we find ourselves in when grieving.

    I have a ‘friend’ who I don’t even bother trying this with now, knowing it will only net me more self-centered, dismissive histrionics from her end. I learned this in part through sending her extremely thoughtful, personalized, empathetic cards for each of her own significant losses, including annual Death Anniversary acknowledgments and other personal occasions (like her birthdays), yet only ONE time over the years (just for Christmas) received anything reciprocal back for my OWN personally important dates and milestones…and despite gentle, timely reminders. With her, everything is a “contest” she is compelled to ‘win,’ no matter the cost to our relationship. I figure she’s like this with everybody, so I shouldn’t take it terribly personally. Still, it sucks.

    Sadly, many folks today are just “me-me-me” focused and painfully self-UNaware, and it’s an additionally traumatic experience to unexpectedly suffer their habitual egotism whenever we are at our most frail. Now I’ll only give these types a couple of chances to redeem themselves before I write them off as mere “acquaintances,” not those I can count on to be there for me when I really need them. As they wisely say, death (or any kind of loss) rewrites your address book.

  3. Ok, I have to post.
    There are a lot of people saying “perfect” etc.
    And I have been on both sides of this.
    If the friend reaches out and you reject it so many times, why WOULDN’T they assume you want some space?
    (And Gloria, your friend who sends ‘Thinking of you’ and ‘Miss you’ messages IS trying! I’m sorry they’re not asking EXACTLY what you want them to, but c’mon. Really. How are they to know unless you tell them?)
    From what is described in the letter above, it’s kind of an impossible scenario for the ‘disappearing friend’. You’re kind of expecting some mind-reading here. And that’s just not realistic.
    As I said, I have been on both sides of this. And yes, sometimes it is very very hard to ask for what you need. People are not very good at doing that. Especially women. We expect people (especially in heterosexual relationships) to ‘just know’ what we want/need/require. But people DON’T. And I really no longer think it’s realistic to expect someone to ‘just know’.
    People are very very different – not only in their ways of thinking, but also in their ways of grieving. People need different things. It is also not realistic to expect everyone to think the same way you do. Do you realize that part of what you are asking your friend to do is see through the fact that you don’t really mean what you say? How will the friend be able to tell the difference between this and when you do?

    I know grieving is/can be extremely painful. But expecting someone to read your mind or automatically ‘just know’ what you need is only setting yourself up for more pain.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Hi Jen, Thanks for your comment. I am actually a little surprised that it read to you the way it did, as I wrote it feeling EXACTLY the opposite. I wrote it from the perspective that I (as the person grieving) am equally responsible for the problems in the friendship because I don’t know what I need, don’t always know how to articulate it, etc. My goal was to say, “I want to be better about that so you don’t have to be a mind reader, and if you could cut me some slack that would be great too”. Our whole website is dedicated to and founded on the premise that we all grieve differently, which is why you have to speak up about your needs. And it is why it is important to know that people grieving often don’t mean what they say, not because they are lying, but because they don’t know what they need. If they did life would be much easier. So it really takes equal parts- trying to, as a griever, figure that out and be honest about. But also as a friend being understanding that it isn’t easy to do that. I certainly don’t think a friend should be a mind reader. Having also been on both sides of this, as a friend and a professional, my goal was to say communication is hard and so both parties need to be thoughtful. Sorry that isn’t what came through to you reading it.

  4. I was looking for something to send to my cousin, who was with me when I found out my Laura had passed, to maybe help her to guide in how to just talk to me, and came upon this letter. I’m afraid to send it, I feel she might be insulted, because for the last year, she has sent, called, with “thinking of you”, “miss you” messages, I’m pretty sure she thinks she has shown me support by doing that. But never has she asked me “how are you??” or mentioned Laura’s name! Random Facebook posts don’t count from the person who was with me when I found out (I was in CO and had to fly home to IL). I know she doesn’t know what to say, but how about saying that???? Not even a call/text on the anniversary, though I got a card a few days later with an “article” she came upon, that I’m sure, is supposed to make it all good for me, once I read it!!!! Am I too harsh, can I even forgive, maybe she is the friend I don’t really need in my life anymore, but then I feel I should tell her that. I am going to read this letter over and decide. As good as it is, maybe I need to craft my own version. Thank you Litsa & Eleanor for this website.

    • I have the same exact situation except it is my sister. I have not heard from her since my 16 year old son died other than for her to invite me to my niece’s birthday party. I have not heard from my mother or several other family members either…. and a random text that says “thinking of you” or a ‘Like’ on Facebook just seems so empty. I have been considering crafting my own version of this letter as well. I am worried that maybe they don’t want to be a part of my life any longer. It is just so hurtful to not only grieve the death of my son but also grieve the loss of my relationship with family members as well. It’s hard to comprehend why they’ve decided to avoid me instead of support me. I am sure you feel the same way… just know you are not alone. I suppose some people just don’t know what to do… but it’s not like we are experts.

      • I always go with “they don’t know what to say”, but how about just saying THAT?? I think, after a year people just don’t get out, assume we “have gone on with our lives (like we will ever?!?) so they just say nothing. I’ve kind of given up on those people, & have found new people who get it!

  5. This is right on!

  6. If this friend hasn’t supported you and cared for you why are you asking her to step up now best thing is to look to those who have supported you and keep,them close don’t apologies for other people’s inadequaces

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      For me, it is because I know that many people just don’t know what to say or do. They are well intentioned and thing “giving space” or “privacy” is the right thing. Some people are wonderful friends, just not in every situation, and that’s okay. I wrote this post long after the two devastating losses that impacted me, and long after one of the friends who “disappeared” and I reconnected. She remains one of my closest, dearest friends who has supported me through so much in life and we can actually laugh now about what a friend-failure she was then, and also about how I wasn’t making it easy AT ALL. It wasn’t just her inadequacies, it was the fact that I was being closed, jaded, entitled, a total flake and a million other difficult things. If I couldn’t have owned my part in it and she couldn’t have owned her part I am sure we never would have been able to reconnect and move forward. I realize we were both very lucky to be able to do that.

      • And even though I identify with the writer of the letter, I’m also afraid to say I identify with the receiver. Before I had had any experience of a devastating loss I ended up sort of moving away from a friend who lost her mum. I felt bad for her but just didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know how to be around her and I didn’t know how to cope with her sadness and grief that she carried with her for what, at the time I thought, was a long time. I didn’t know how to change how I was reacting. Now, unfortunately, I’ve gained the same experience she has gained from losing a parent. And I actually now actively seek out people who know loss and have experienced grief. I can be with my friend now and rest with her sorrow and grief. I hope she forgives me for not being near her in the first year just and that she understands it was what it was. Just as I too try to see my friends who struggle to know how to be round me.
        That’s how I see it.

  7. For someone who lost their loved one in “a terrorist attack” (the gov’t insisted on calling it that for months after it first happened) the idea of picking anything back up after the people in question clearly DIDN’T make even “a few efforts at the beginning,” just ran the other way as fast as they could go the very first time they heard of it, the letter feels like a laugh and not a funny one.
    I remember losing my temporary job position bc of how the supervisor reacted to the news one day and then the NEXT day no longer needed me and neither did any OTHER Temporary Jobs and decided they were NEVER going to need me again.
    That’s all I’m going to say about it, except that if it weren’t for Richard, my daughter’s godfather who helped me out (and didn’t even fire me when my brother went to Iraq and I completely fell apart one day, after making the mistake of walking past a news selling bin that was showing giant fires all over Iraq and couldn’t help losing my composure,) I probably never would have gotten another job. Richard wasn’t related to me but he’s my daughter’s godfather as chosen by her dad in his Will and he’s also a Vietnam Veteran, who thinks media are idiots about how they cover wars, “especially if they expect to do that and then act surprised when family members of soldiers become excessively concerned about it.”
    I simply couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t get a job right after it happened bc of what that supervisor did and couldn’t get employed until Richard offered me something in June of 2002, nine months later. Then in 2003 I thought I was going to lose another family member in Iraq, and I had nothing left to be able to handle any more violent deaths. I couldn’t even handle the possibility that it MIGHT happen. My brother wanted to go because he thought doing so was some way of avenging what had happened. I couldn’t talk him out of going if I tried but I didn’t try that hard.
    People seem to not want ANYthing to do with you if you lose a loved one to homicide, they act like it’s a gd contagion that they’ll catch via airborne vector, like if you breathe on them they’ll catch it. That’s how some of them act.
    They also act that way about suicides and even overdose deaths. As a paramedic I’ve seen lots of OD deaths. I never met so many judgmental people in my life as I have being a paramedic. I met one just yesterday. I find them annoying since our captain is exactly opposite of that and tells us not to judge people, while this person’s handing them out like he has a Judgment Pez dispenser and popping them out all over the scene.

  8. This letter is perfect! If the recipient does not respond they are not worth thinking about. I could not have composed anything better. This letter speaks my mind, and I may even send my own version out to some family members.

  9. I have had the experience of a really close friend to disappear when my precious boyfriend died a year & a half ago. I don’t feel as magnanimous as this letter writer. I can now see a pattern of their disappearing on other occasions when things got sad.

    I’ve also ended a couple of other relationships in my grief. Right or wrong, I chose to end them. Grief can be very isolating. I feel so changed, different, & also less tolerant of being in relationships that are not a two – way street.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Ah, don’t worry Robin, as the author of this letter I am with you that it is not appropriate to hit the reset button with all friends. Sometimes it is moments like this that you realize that maybe you have been in a one-way relationship, an emotionally manipulative relationship, etc. We have written about when it might be a good idea to cut certain people out of your life here, and talked about how to recognize that some friends might be okay for certain things but not as good grief support here. Also, we have written about how to rebuild your support system and making “grief friends” after a loss. Last but not least, we have written about how grief can change your priorities here, which can make you feel isolated and disconnected from old friends. Hope some of those might help with what you’re going through.

      • Dear Litsa,
        Your letter, and this post, are a great comfort to me, as I have experienced what Robin has. People I thought were my friends used me to do large favors for them in some of the worst times of my grief; I was trying to honor my son by picking up the shawl of Acts of Kindness that he willingly wore through his life. Instead, I got used as a tool that which I know in hindsight because those assumed friends became ‘deeply hurt & crushed’ when I stopped doing for them as I tried to bury my grief. I appreciate the extra references you included in your post; I’m going there now. Thank you.

    • Robin – I agree…..in looking back at the last 40 yrs, my “friend” is more about what I can do for her instead of a give/take/50-50 or anything remotely close to that in support for me.

      • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

        Ah Tootie, yes this is definitely the type of relationship you want to be cautious of. The sad reality is that some people are ‘givers’, some are ‘takers’ and when a giver and taker are in a friendship or other relationship together it can become incredibly one-sided and draining. This may be one of those moments when you recognize something that has been a chronic issue. I am so sorry you have recognized this about your friend. It can really be a secondary loss when we lose friends as a result of a death, even when we know perhaps it was for the best.

  10. Absolutely perfect! I had two very dear friends for decades. One got married, moved, and changed her phone number without telling me not long after I lost my beloved husband. The second friend did stay around longer, just long enough for me to be supportive of her, emotionally and physically, carrying her through 5 years that included a bloody divorce, disability lawsuits, and getting her once again financially and physically back up on her feet. Once she was stable and in a good place, she jumped back into the dating pool, unfriended me on Facebook, and stopped taking my calls, emails, etc.

  11. Thanks, Litsa, for this letter. It’s a double whammy to lose someone to death, and someone else to disappearance just when you need them the most. Two of my closest friends disengaged from me last year, shortly after my most beloved cat died. I was two years out from a brain injury that in some ways, radically changed my being and behaviour. I leaned hard on these friends for several months; for a time, our relations were not as reciprocal as they’d once been. It nearly did me in to lose three of my primary bonds in a two-month period. I’ve thought and *thought* about trying to engage with these two people again; one seems potentially open to restored contact; the other does not. A second rejection would hurt too much … I’ve just recently lost two more loved ones to death. Too many losses, too few bonds remaining. ~ There are so many avenues to loss and grief and sometimes the ones closest to us are precisely the ones who fall away when we need them the most. I remind myself that something may be happening in their lives that I know nothing about … and one person’s grief can so easily strike the grief-strings in another’s heart to an intolerable degree. We often don’t know what to do, so we do nothing (which is sometimes the best thing … simply to be present with one in mourning means so much), or we run away. I sometimes think that, in the long term, a death is easier to integrate than a rejection … Death is final, and the person is unequivocally *gone*. With a rejection, the person is still present, and it can be an agony to encounter him/her, as I did recently, at another mutual friend’s deathbed. It was clear that this person was still closed to me. God, it hurt. There are few rejections more painful than those by longtime friends. This is a topic that we need to discuss …. so again, thank you. Wishing you a close and steady circle of friends around you.

    • Courage,
      I just wanted to say that I can hugely relate to what you said, and I feel as much compassion you as I do for myself, having gone through similar things…and yes, including the loss of support over the deaths of beloved fur-kids. And I agree, too, that this is a topic that bears more discussion. Thank you so much for sharing.

      Litsa,
      What a fantastically-composed letter! So open and honest, yet very tough to put together when beset with a “grief-mind”! Thank you, thank you, thank you, for such a wonderful contribution!! I assume any of us could use it as a template, as need may be??

    • I must say, too, that my heart breaks for you and your losses, especially of your beloved furry friend. I met grief for the first time when my first “living away from home” cat passed away suddenly. My world fell apart. Four months later my mom had a sudden, devastating stroke she nearly didn’t survive, my second cat declined and we had to make that agonizing decision to end his suffering. Twelve days later, we had to do the same for his sweet little buddy. She missed him so much and declined rapidly in those 12 days. I didn’t think my heart could take anymore…we don’t have children and put all of our love into our furry kids. Then my mom had another stroke eight months later and passed away (age 72). I’m dealing with catch-up grief according to my counselor.

      I apologize for rambling on about myself. I just wanted you to know you aren’t alone in grieving a beloved pet. Wishing you much healing through this difficult journey. ❤️

  12. That was perfect!! All the words I needed and I need my old friends who disappeared to know as well. Thank you.

  13. Dear L,
    What a wonderful letter.
    I did actually get advised to write such a letter to a former (I think) best friend. I was hopefully that things would change but I’m still waiting. It’s so hard. It’s hard to keep your end of the bargain up, to keep trying to communicate, when you’re also grieving. I wished I had added a P.S. to my letter – please ask about my Dad.
    Thank you for this and for sharing with us that we are not alone.
    Yours,
    Y.

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