Grief Support Gone Wrong: When You’re Beyond Second Chances

Nothing puts a person’s support system to the test quite like a crisis. When the clouds of hardship dull the glare of more happy and carefree times, a person often sees their support system accurately for the very first time. For some people, this is a reassuring experience, as they find their support system is similar to what they had assumed it would be. For others, it’s a bit, shall we say, disconcerting.

Many grieving people find that changes and disappointments within their support system become a secondary loss. They had assumed a certain type of support would be given and they feel hurt and angry when it isn’t. People can let you down in all sorts of ways during times of hardship. Take, for example, these especially frustrating culprits.

  • The Grief-Ghoster: In case you aren’t hip like me, I should explain that ghosting is when a person suddenly ceases communication with someone out of nowhere, seemingly without warning or provocation. This term is usually applied to dating scenarios, but it’s a concept that translates to all those friends and family members who told you they’d be there for you and then vanished into thin air.
  • The Know-it-All: The name says it all here. The know-it-all acts like your loss is their opportunity to shine. They have all the answers, they know exactly how you should feel, and know exactly what you should do. Some people are know-it-alls in every facet of their lives, others are only know-it-alls when it comes to trauma and loss because they’ve experienced it themselves. Although a know-it-all can be helpful at times, often they come off as pushy and self-centered.
  • The No-Show: The no-show is the friend or family member who never showed up in the way you expected them to.  These people may be completely absent. They may be physically present, but refuse to acknowledge your loss or your ongoing grief.  Or they may shirk their duty to support you as you believe a best friend, parent, sibling (etc) should.

Of course, we can’t assume these people are all bad.  As we’ve said in past articles, most people lie somewhere in the middle of the amazing/terrible grief support continuum. Good people give bad grief support every day!

The trouble is, grieving people don’t always have the bandwidth to think about all the reasons why someone has let them down. I mean, consider the fact that on good days we as humans tend to attribute people’s actions to good and bad internal traits because it’s easier than considering outside situational influences. So giving people the benefit of the doubt or engaging in radical empathy when we’re grieving? Pfft…forget about it.

Oh, wait, no, I take that back.

We actually don’t want you to forget about it. The links between social support, health, and healing, both physical and emotional, are too compelling for us to let you write off all of your family and friends. Instead, we acknowledge that in some frustrating instances the burden falls on you as the grieving person to be the bigger, more patient person. Which is why we’ve written all of the following articles to help you navigate these scenarios:

THAT SAID…the next logical question is, inevitably and understandably, when is enough enough? What if a person isn’t worthy of a second chance? What if I don’t want that person back in my life? What if I’ve given the person too many chances? When is a relationship not worth holding onto?

Unfortunately, decisions like these are very personal so we can’t answer these questions for you. Nevertheless, we’ve put together a few guidelines to help you decide if it’s time to start drawing boundaries and/or cutting your losses with certain people in your life.


These are just a few things to take into consideration. Interpersonal relationships are so complicated and nuanced that we couldn’t possibly cover everything, so at the end of this article, feel free to add to these guidelines in the comments section.

Is the person toxic?

If you get the sense that someone in your life is manipulating you, taking advantage of you, and/or exploiting your grief-related feelings of vulnerability, then they may be a toxic person. For further information, please read this post on spotting emotional manipulation in your support system. Generally speaking, we recommend distancing yourself from toxic people as soon as you’ve identified them as such. Second chances and benefit of the doubt do not apply to toxic people, although they’ll try and convince you otherwise.

Is the person a threat to your healing?

Some people aren’t toxic, but they are draining, demanding, and/or have a bad influence on your healing. A very explicit example is if a friend knows you are trying to give up the negative coping skill of alcohol use, yet they continue to pressure you to go out drinking with them.

Other threats to healing may be more difficult to spot. For example, if you are trying to focus on having a more positive and constructive outlook, but your negative friend always sucks you into commiserating and complaining. Or if you realize that your friend or family member is a chronic taker.

Once you believe that a person is a threat to your healing, you should draw boundaries around how much time and energy you give to them. Many people find that once they are allowed to grow, recover, and heal, they outgrow these particular relationships, but if not, you can reconnect with them later on when you’re feeling stronger.

Have you communicated with the person about how they make you feel?

I know this is a difficult thing to do. Trust me, I am well versed in the perils of interpersonal awkwardness.  I, like many of you, would rather have a root canal than tell someone they are being a crappy friend, but we all know that stuffed feelings quickly lead to hurt, damaged relationships, and destructive outbursts.

If you believe that someone who has hurt you genuinely means well, then it’s worth speaking up about how they made (or how they’re making) you feel. If they don’t know, they can’t apologize or change.  If you do communicate with them and they make no effort to fix the problem, then at least you have peace of mind of knowing that you gave them a chance before quitting the relationship.

Are you seeking support that the person is not equipped to give?

Sometimes people disappoint you because they are flakey, selfish, and uncaring. Other times, they disappoint you because they aren’t good at giving you what you need. This is why we think it’s so important for grieving people to actively acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the people in their support system. It feels weird to think about your family and friends in such a deliberate way, but a little thought can go along way in ensuring you don’t set your loved ones up for failure.

Some people are good listeners, others are good at giving advice, others are good for comic relief…the list goes on. So, for example, if you want someone to listen to you without judgment, then don’t turn to your most opinionated friend. Sometimes her candor is exactly what you need, but it’s off-putting when all you want is a little acceptance and nurturing. For further discussion of assessing your needs and seeking help from the right person, head here.

How many chances have you given them?

Isn’t it funny how we’re willing to give some people 100 chances and others 1?  Pay attention to the number of chances you’ve given people. If it’s 1, then maybe give them a second.  If it’s 99, then maybe it’s time to move on.

What guidelines would you offer your fellow readers? Share in the comments below.


January 17, 2018

18 responses on "Grief Support Gone Wrong: When You're Beyond Second Chances"

  1. I am heartbroken that so many of you have gone through the same thing, and very sorry for each of your losses. I’ve been scouring the internet for “how to control anger while grieving” and found this site.. I wish I could say I’m glad I’m not alone in this, but I hate it for all of us. My little sister (best friend & only sibling) died in March. She had been fighting a recurring infection, but none of us suspected it was life-threatening until 2 days before she passed. She was 37. I’ve tried to be strong for my parents as much as possible, because I can’t even imagine their pain, and I’ve tried not to lean on my husband too much as we just lost his mom last summer. This leaves me with a lot of guilt, anger, devastation, etc. that I should be able to share with friends, but they seem to have disappeared since all this happened. Didn’t hear from one person at all. Two sent the obligatory “anything I can do” texts the following day but I haven’t heard from them in the 4 months since. One made a HUGE deal about opening up her friend’s bay house so my extended family could have a nice place to relax & she’d cook us a nice meal, blah blah blah.. she didn’t even come to the funeral. Or call to say she had a change of plans. As a matter of fact, none of my “friends” came to the funeral except one girl (bless her) I barely knew at work! It makes me want to cut ties with all of them. It just makes me sad because I’ve been friends with these people for 20+ years and any new friends I make won’t have known my sister. I don’t want to be the one to have to reach out and say “why haven’t you called me?” because then I look as desperate as I feel and if I have to remind you to be a decent person, is it safe to say you probably aren’t? And do I need you in my life? Argh. Thanks for the venting space & sorry to be a Negative Nelly.

  2. THIS is such a big problem, people “mean-well” but just do not know how to be there in the right ways. I’ve experienced this personally and professionally, I wish more people were informed with, ” what to do and what NOT to do.” Reading through these responses breaks my heart, I have found one resource that I have really appreciated and encourage EVERYONE to read. I recommend this resource, When Their World Stops by Anne-Marie Lockmyer. I hope this is helpful for some of you, I found it here, Grief and loss happen throughout our lives at some point. Knowing how to be there for someone is such an invaluable tool.

  3. My guy of 15 years passed away… I had to fly his remains down to Florida to his 87 years old grieving mother and six siblings… Alone!

    No one in my family even thought of coming with me. I get travel can be hard for some, but they have the means and the lattitude.

    So there I was on the morning of the funeral in a crummy hotel room trying to keep it together wondering where my brothers were and trying to figure out a scenario where one of their wives dies and I’m not right by their side.

    I guess I was looking for a white night gesture… I can only wonder if that Christmas party they went to was really more important than me.

    Family stinks… And now they wonder why I am distant… Go figure!

    They just don’t get it…I don’t need help going through his underwear drawer 3 months later…. I just needed one person to show me that I was important that horrible day and now I am mourning the loss of my family along with my guy.

    Good grief Charlie Brown!

  4. Three days after my precious husband of 25 years died, one sister called to share that an old boyfriend (my first love of 40 years prior) had also passed away and she wanted me to know so I could grieve them together… Seriously!??????? A week or so later, my other sister called. I was having a bad day and I was crying, cussing and screaming. She remarked “I was calling to see how you were doing, but it doesn’t sound like you are do so good, so I will let you go.” That is the kind of support I got! So, I decided it was much healthier for me to not have either sister in my life. Painful, but necessary. There was also much more that involved sister one that opened my eyes to her manipulative, narcissist behavior that helped me to make the decision that I am much better off without her in my life. Seeing other posts have helped me realize I am not in this alone.

  5. I am at a loss on how to deal with people in terms of my loss. I gave birth on Thanksgiving to my daughter who was stillborn. Her father has taken off, he simply had a major breakdown and could not take my grief. I have heard a word from him in 3 weeks. My friends, I dont know. Some ask me “How I am doing?” but that is it. No one has come to the house. No one calls. I find myself not talking to anyone because I feel like people are shying away from me because Im making them uncomfortable. It is so extremely lonely. I feel like I not only lost my daughter, but my best friend (her father) and my friends too. Then sometimes I get downright angry with people. They go on an on about their mundane problems..(the slow cashier at the store..etc) and I listen to them gripe but the second I tell them I am upset or having a bad day, they have to go. It is so frustrating.

    • Hi Clarissa,
      I am so deeply sorry for the loss of your baby girl, and of your husband. It sounds like your life has been shattered. I, too, have had this experience in my own way. I have found that turning to the merciful love of Jesus has healed my heart, body, mind, and soul and the pieces have been put back together. It has taken many years…but the love and peace I feel today are priceless. I will keep you in my prayers.

  6. Difficult sister will never change. Four months after my 80 year old father passed away from a major stroke, my mum is breaking my heart and turning against me as she is falling back in with my sister who disappeared for several years after creating much havoc for the entire family. She took my parents for lots of money more than enough to buy a house but has nothing to show for it. My sister actually married my ex son-in-law.. what a nightmare. He spent two months in jail for domestic violence against her and got right back together. She has a history of this with previous six husbands. I told my mum to be careful with her after hearing of them staying out all night at a casino. I mean please don’t keep mum out until 5 a.m. gambling. It was all down hill from there. She said, oh my God and walked out of the room. Then yelled that everybody was alienating my sister and does she have to pay for the rest of her life for her mistakes. Sister has history with all four of her children that now won’t speak to her. I tried to explain that I cannot let her back in my life and even had to get a court ordered restraining order against her for verbal harassment. Trying to move on and have a relationship with mum but am afraid that this is the beginning of the end. My sister’s son (whom won’t speak to her) is coming and hopes to explain to mum why we all can’t go through more of her narcissistic behavior. Feeling so lost to think of how hard I have worked for a good life and family to only be put in the same boat as a self centered irresponsible immature baby sister of 51 years old. At one time she even said that she didn’t think our dad was her father. How hurtful for him to be told that. I miss him so much and grieve for him and grief for my mum losing him after 60 years of marriage. Now going through a nightmare of her hurtful behavior toward me. Is it time to let go, I think it may be the only option.

  7. I went to a high school class reunion a few months after my wife died (she didn’t go to school there). The school was 1,300 miles from where I live, and I guess through my wife’s Facebook account the word had spread of her passing. So I was there just meeting and greeting people I haven’t seen in 30 years. I never mentioned my wife, I was just enjoying on hearing about what others were doing. I guess the word spread through the crowd about my wife’s passing. One person walked up to me and said, “I am so sorry to hear about your wife’s passing.” And then that person walked away. Another wanted to know if my wife had kept her good sense of humor about things. A couple of others sought me out and gave me a hug, and I don’t remember their comments. These gestures were quick, but very meaningful for me. They could have chosen to do nothing, but they made an effort to be part of an awkward situation. I didn’t care if they said the right thing or not. I was just touched that they sought me out and acknowledged my loss. I have no ill will towards those that were too uncomfortable to do anything. I get it. I think the lesson is that to always do something, just say one sentence, when you hear of someone’s difficult challenge.

  8. For me, I am tired of making excuses for others inability to deal with grief. I am a 63 year old woman~ at this point in life most everyone I know has had to deal with grief-be it death of a grandparent, parent, an aunt , an uncle , a friend , a “younger person”, a child or even a baby, including myself. Grief is not contagious, it is not a communicable disease. No one is immune from the experience of grief. Eventually, ALL of us will experience grief. Ignoring it does not mean it will not happen. Yet, my grief still makes many of the people I know uncomfortable. If a few minutes of my grief makes them uncomfortable, have they even stopped to consider how my grief makes me feel everyday? I don’t give second chances anymore. Their reaction gives me insight into what type of person they really are. Sometimes that insight can be very disappointing, especially when it is a friend of many years. Why should it be my responsibility to give them a second chance or to try or make them more comfortable with my grief or to tell them what I need? I have experienced many types of grief~ at 22 I delivered a stillborn daughter, at 29 my father was killed in a plane crash and his body was never found, at 40 my mother died after just a 10 week battle with cancer. I have attended funerals for three teenagers. A friend of 50 years died of ALS. Most recently, my daughter and son-in-law were expecting quadruplets, only for there to be complications and all four babies had to be delivered at 5 months and only lived 15 minutes. There is a saying “When someone shows you who they truly are, believe them”. If someone I know can’t be present with my grief, then I no longer need to be present with them.

    • Cassandra,
      I completely understand this. I too have had to deal with so much death in my life. My mom died on my 16th birthday, my best friend commited suicide a few years ago..even my job, its an every night thing. I feel like I have put so much effort into trying to be a good friend to people in their times of need. I listen. I stay up all night with them. I try to help them come up with ways to cope..etc. Yet since my daughter was born stillborn a few months ago I feel like noone has put in an effort at all. I made her funeral arrangements alone. Planned her memorial alone..all of it. It almost makes me feel like Im a murderer. Do people blame me that she died? Do they think im guilty of something? Im sure this is just a stage that I am going through,but I cant help but feel completely abandoned. I truly feel for you and am sending a hug.

    • Cassandra, you said it. My sisters have have not been present since the death of my precious husband, so I have chosen to not be present for them. There is no going back. We are estranged only to communicate in regards to my elderly mother.

  9. I agree with the comments,however I know from experience people just do not understand real grief from loss. My own family have problems adjusting to my daughter’s death. We sometimes cannot support each other, unless you experience a loss no one really understands the pain you feel or your reaction to it.
    Everyone gets on with their life, they may have a bad day, they may think we should move on, but it’s their experience not ours. It’s our loss not theirs.
    I don’t think it makes them a bad person because they can’t support us I think we have to deal with what we’re feeling. Unless that person absolutely gives you toxic energy and bad vibes I would keep them in my life they’re just not a good support.

  10. Lost a treasured friendship after my son died 4 years ago. Gave the person many chances but got tired of hearing how I should “move on” that I should be over the loss after a set time. Which one of your 4 children could you “move on” without, knowing they are never walking through the door again?

  11. I think some mention as to be made of (not so) simple differences in how people as individuals, members of a particular family and receivers of different cultural mores may handle things. I come from a family of German ancestry in which certain ways have been passed down through the years. My SO for many years was Italian. Needless to say, what we needed and expected in the way of support were vastly different and actually quite opposite. What we each did instinctually when offering support was not at all what the other person expected, wanted or needed, or, frankly at times, could tolerate. While people offering support need to keep in mind that they need to support in the way the person needs support, some understanding may be in order that the person, try as he or she might, may not know how to be what the person needs them to be in a given moment. Communication is key, of course, but, as mentioned, can be difficult under trying circumstances and when two people speak different social languages.

  12. Since forever, I had the way of asking once, reminding next and if I had to repeat myself a third time, that other person is already half way out the door. During grief I instinctively did the same. I said in clear words that whatever was said was hurtful and please don’t do it again. The next time (same person) I “shouted” a little louder. If this same person did the same thing for a third time, I cut them out of my life. I still cannot deal with people who cannot hear or understand. Life is too short to keep on repeating oneself!

  13. Guess I’m not very forgiving but have cut all ties with my “ghosts”. Makes me sad but they disappeared when I needed them most so why give them a second chance? Two f them have tried to get back in touch with me but now I am ghosting them.

    • Amy – I totally get it. I can be a very tolerant person especially for those I love but everyone has their limits. But what do you do if the two people in this world who are supposed to support you most, your parents, ghost you when you experience an indescribable tragedy? My best friend of 25 years died on February 5, 2017 – tomorrow will be one year. We were supposed to watch the superbowl together. I called and texted without hearing from him. I went to his house, I had a key. I found him dead. It was like a nightmare. My parents were so…cavalier about it. I mean, he came to their wedding anniversary, holidays when he couldn’t go to see his own family. They knew him. He was my best friend. The day after he died, they drove me to his house so I could take care of his pets. When they dropped me off at home they waved goodbye and said, “Let us know if ya need anything!” Then didn’t contact me for 6 weeks. They used the excuse that they told me to let them know if I needed anything, and of course, I hadn’t reached out to them. What is worse, is my dad is a minister and spends time with people in hospitals, families in crises, etc counseling them, talking to them, comforting them. With me, I suffered the worst tragedy in my life and they completely and totally ignored me. How do you get over something like that? It made this impossibly HUGE tragedy even more painful. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. Yesterday my mom sent me a text that said, “I’ve been thinking about Scott (my friend who died) and wondering, how can we honor him since tomorrow is the date of his death?” I almost fell on the floor. How dare she? How dare she even say his name? I thought. I’m sorry to be dumping this on you, a perfect stranger but your post really stirred something inside me too.

Leave a Message

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


WYG provides general educational information from mental health professionals, but you should not substitute information on the What’s Your Grief website for professional advice. Please check out terms and conditions here

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255


Share Your Snapshot

Grief In 6 Words

Submit a Story to Us

What's Your Grief Podcast

Listen to our podcast