Hey Old Friend: reconnecting with people who matter

For a while now I have been thinking about the way people come in and out of our lives.  This isn’t an issue unique to grief, but it seems to come up a lot here in grief-land.  When we experience a devastating loss, many dominos can fall.  Sometimes friends disappear.  Sometimes we isolate ourselves or alienate other people, even old friends who we love. Sometimes families have falling outs.  Sometimes our priorities change and that means letting some people go. The reasons are endless.

Sometimes people disappear from our lives for reasons totally unrelated to grief.  There are times when life gets busy, people move away, change jobs, have kids, and suddenly someone who meant a lot is no longer around.   Whatever the reasons, sometimes we look around and realize that we just don’t have quite as much love and community as we used to or as we need.  The pain of those people who have disappeared can feel even more intense when we’re grieving and really could use their love and support.

This morning I had breakfast with an old friend, a friend who goes back to college years.  This is a person who just makes me feel good about life and humanity.  He is a person who makes the world a better place, who makes me want to make the world a better place, and who reminds me what love, compassion, and community are all about.  Before this morning I hadn’t seen him in a few years.  I would like to say that we got together because I was thoughtful and self-aware about how much I missed having him in my life, so reached out.  But that isn’t what happened.  I saw him because I ran into his mom and step-dad.  I know, lame.  That chance encounter led to a text and a call and ultimately a breakfast where we both talked about how excited we were to see one another, to collaborate to help people grieving here in Baltimore, and to spend some time together again.

I drove away from breakfast thinking about this article.  I wanted to write it because I know this is a common issue.  I wanted to write it soon because the holidays are coming (like it or not) and our awareness of those people missing from our lives (both dead and alive) can become deeply intensified. But I just kept staring at it, thinking “I know this is important, why can’t I get it written?”  I can’t say for sure what the block was, but after breakfast today I rushed home to start writing.  I think the big difference was that I remembered that feeling again.  It wasn’t the abstract idea that it is hard when we lose touch with people who mean something to us.  It also wasn’t the vague notion that it is good to reconnect again or rekindle relationships with people who bring love, hope, and support to our lives.  It was the actual feeling of being in the presence of another person who I connect with, care about, and am excited to be around (even after I let way too many years slip by).

We don’t always have control over people disappearing from our lives and sometimes there is no way to get them back.  People we love die – you probably know that well, it’s probably why you’re here. In that case, there is truly no control.  You can continue your bond with them, love and remember them, but you can’t make them reappear.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is, sometimes we do have control, even when it doesn’t feel like it.  Many times we’ve just told ourselves stories that make us think we don’t.  We say things like,

“oh, it has been way too long, it would be weird to reach out”. 

“if my grief scared them away, they won’t want to be friends, or they aren’t worth being friends with”

“I did mean things or pushed them away, they’ll never forgive me” (we’ve written about that here)

“they’re probably too busy, or don’t have time for me, or we’ve changed too much”

The stories go on and on.

Today’s post doesn’t have any magic solutions to people disappearing from our lives (that’s a post for another day).  Instead, I’ll offer a few pieces of advice from a mental health professional who had a couple of really important people disappear this year and who rekindled some old relationships with some really important people (most recently over breakfast this morning).  These tips aren’t rocket science and they aren’t things you don’t already know. But I hope they are the reminder or push you need to reach out to an old friend and say hey, I’ve really missed you.

If you’re feeling that your support system has dwindled, if you’ve lost touch with people you miss or who you cared about, if you’re feeling isolated and lonely:

  1. Identify the meaningful people you’ve lost touch with.  This might mean thinking waaaay back to an old friend from high school or college.  It may mean thinking of someone you just haven’t talked to in two or three months and really miss.
  2. Ignore those stories you’re telling yourself and write a new story.  Guess what – sometimes our thoughts aren’t accurate.  Sometimes we have to say, just because I am worried about something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give it a try anyway.  If you telling yourself the story that it has been too long, or they’re too busy, that is nothing more than a thought.  It doesn’t mean it’s true, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t reach out anyway!
  3. Just do it.  Have you been thinking about reaching out to an old friend or family member for a while, but keep putting it off?  STOP PUTTING IT OFF.  Pull out your phone, open your email, and do it right now.  I don’t want to sound cliche but, life is short!
  4. Apologize if you need to.  We all screw up, we all hurt other people sometimes.  We can’t control if someone forgives us, but we can say we’re sorry and hope for the best.  It isn’t easy, but sometimes it really pays off and sometimes people really surprise you.  Don’t believe me?  This year I reached out to someone I was really terrible to after eight years.  Eight years!  And I was terrible.  Terrible! Not only did that person forgive me, but we’ve somehow managed to restore a friendship I thought was gone for good.

We want to know your experience.  Is there someone you’re going to reach out to?  Have you lost touch with someone and then gotten back in touch? Leave a comment!

November 14, 2017

3 responses on "Hey Old Friend: reconnecting with people who matter"

  1. Hi girls! 🙂

    I have a question for you:

    A recent ex-boyfriend just lost his mother and I want to be supportive. Our relationship was long-distance and ended a little time ago, so all I could do when he emailed me to give me the news was to offer some words and to be open in case he wanted to talk or vent, which he did a day later. I know we’re not together, but as he reached out to “ask for my support”, I got that he was in a different mood and the “us” topic wouldn’t come along, so I felt it was right to keep texting and checking in on him. But now, after two weeks, he was honest with me and told me that he wants more from me, meaning getting back together, on a “real” face to face relationship. If all I can offer him is a virtual friendship and an attentive ear, he doesn’t need anything from me at all. Not rude, but really to the point. So now I’m so sad I can no longer be there for him, given that I can’t give him what he wants. I left communication open but said I would respect his wishes and wouldn’t get in touch unless he wanted me to.
    I’m so so sorry for his loss but don’t want to add to his suffering right now with more drama in his life.
    Do you have any suggestions? What do I do now, except from nothing? Does he still want me to reach out, as I know people in grief sometimes say what they don’t mean?

    Thanks a lot!

  2. There is an advantage to reaching out, even if the result isn’t exactly as you had hoped.

    I had a very close best friend in college who was my roommate there for a number of years. After college I left the area, began working, and became quite immersed in my job. She kind of drifted. We lost touch because neither of us made a particular effort not to. I would periodically visit my college area to visit friends with whom I did still have contact and I would try to get together with Roommate. There was not a big effort on her part to make it happen. One of my friend told me that Roommate must not be too interested in us getting together, because she never helped make arrangements. I decided Friend was right and stopped attempting contact.

    Move ahead 15 years. I still missed Roommate, even though I had new friends, and some old. I decided that *I* had to be the one to decide when to stop trying to contact, so I wrote her a letter. I did have thoughts about it being “too long,” but I ignored them. She wrote back fairly quickly and we were in touch again. I visited her several times and for some reason it seemed awkward but I did have a good time. It was weird, because other college friends I could not see for years and then we would get together and it would be like we talked every day. Anyway, we started to drift again, but I would send her a Christmas card each year, bringing her up to date on what was going on. It got to the point where I didn’t hear from her. So I decided – I would send her a Christmas card/letter each year, regardless of response, until I felt like stopping. So I did. Each Christmas I would feel like trying the contact, so I did. Never heard back. Eventually I just no longer felt the need and I stopped the card/letter. The thing is, I feel fine about it now. I don’t miss her anymore, even though I’ve never had a relationship that came close to the one we had. I stopped the attempts at contact when I felt ready and I now have no regrets, no coulda, woulda, shoulda . I did what I could, it didn’t work out, so that is that.

  3. Thanks for this article. I really appreciate your blog and red many of your articles! What I miss in the above article is ideas about how to tell those old people about our loss/es. Short background: I wrote an old friend and she responded immediately. I wrote back telling her things about my life and also stated that I am not fine because of something that happened but that this isn’t appropriate to write what excactly happened in an e-mail. I stated that I nevertheless wanted to mention it and that we don’t have to write about it right now and that she doesn’t need to say something about it. And I offered that we maybe can talk about it when we meet oder talk on the phone. After that mail I didn’t receive an answer.
    So, what is your experience concerning old friends and (when and where) telling them about your loss/es?

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