For a while now, I've 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 I 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 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's hard when we lose touch with people who mean something to us. It also wasn't the vague notion that it's 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 though 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's 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 this 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 someone who has rekindled old relationships with some really important people. These tips aren't rocket science. They aren't things you don't already know. But I hope they are the reminder or the 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:
Identify the meaningful people you've lost touch with. This might mean thinking waaaay back to an old friend from high school or college, or it may mean thinking of someone you just haven't talked to in two or three months and really miss.
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're telling yourself the story that it's been too long or that they're too busy, that's nothing more than a thought. It doesn't mean it's true, and it certainly doesn't mean you can't reach out anyway!
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. DO IT RIGHT NOW. I don't want to sound cliché but, life is short!
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.
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for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: