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Friendship and Loss: When Grief Changes A Friendship

Published: November 28, 2013 | Last Updated: February 15, 2024 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading
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She lost a friend to cancer; now the grief of the friend’s widower feels like another loss, compounding the pain.



One of my best girlfriends died of cancer about seven months ago. Her husband and I were very close as well. She had been sick off and on for six years, so I know that he went through a lot of mourning before she died.

I was very connected to them both; I felt as if she and I were siblings. Two weeks after her death, her husband moved on with a mutual friend who was not as close to his wife as I was. I actually work with that woman. I love them both.

But for some reason, he has now pulled away from me. I kind of feel like he is hitting me over the head with a two-by-four, saying “Go away!’

I have not pushed him with annoying calls or texts. I have supported him in moving on with the other woman. I have tried every way possible to be his friend. He keeps me on a rollercoaster: When my husband is around he couldn’t be nicer. But when it’s just me, he practically ignores me.

It really is beginning to hurt my feelings. I wish I could ask him what is wrong but I am afraid. Although I guess I have nothing to lose at this point. Help me move on. I’m desperate. I feel like when his wife died – he did too.

Signed, Rebecca


Hi Rebecca,

First of all, I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. Nursing her through so many years of illness must have been heartbreaking. I can see why it’s so upsetting to lose her husband as a friend–you must want to grieve alongside someone who cared for your friend as much as you did.

I can’t guess why your friend’s husband is freezing you out. People seem to have all sorts of complicated reactions to grief.

It could be that he’s uncomfortable with the fact that he’s moved on so quickly, and your presence amplifies that discomfort (even if you’ve given your blessing to the new romance.) I think your only choice is to tell him, in person, exactly what you’ve told me. Once he sees how much you value him–not just as your late friend’s husband but as a friend, period–he will likely open up to you.

If for some reason being close to you is just too painful for him, you might have no choice but to accept the loss. I hope you can take comfort in the fact that you were a great friend to both of them when it counted most. You’ll bring that dedication to your future relationships. In the meantime, look to your husband and other friends to get you through this difficult period.

Good luck and I hope this helps.

Carlin Flora

Author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are


*Carlin Flora is a friend and colleague of the Friendship Doctor.

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Category: Death

Comments (3)

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  1. Carol says:

    I too am very sorry for your loss. I am 75 years old and just now beginning to understand more and more about connections in my life and my history with friendships. Because I am a person who was born in 1939, I unknowingly was deeply exposed to so much grief whirling around me as a child. Working class (struggling) family, three brothers off to WWII (all came back), but they were changed forever. Many school friends died from incurable disease at the time. I know now the adults did not express their feelings in those times. I felt alone and felt something was wrong with me because I had this hurt in center of my chest I told no one about. As my life went on, loss came in many ways, friends dying of diseases of the time and my favorite sister-in-law who I adored dying of an incurable cancer which is curable today. As time passed, eventually parents died and the love of my life, Grandma Minnie died as well. So now my family is gone. I eventually became a teacher and a counselor for those with AIDS. I worked with over 500 hundred people who died of AIDS in the late 80’s. I am a cancer survivor as well. I am still here and it is rare to find those treasures who are open to my sharing about these experiences and listen. I accept that this is the world I live in. It’s only been in very recent history that people are encouraged to show their feelings in public. Only now at my age am I interested in understanding the world I grew up in as a child. What WWI and WWII experiences did to my family members. I know all human beings carry many wounds. When I watch a historical movie my tears flow and doing so is helping to sooth these wounds in my soul. Each person grieves whether they express their sorrows or not. How someone else chooses to grieve a loss is up to them. Just know that deep in their hearts they are hurting just like you are. Be patient with yourself,and with others. Seek a grief counselor or a group if doing it alone isn’t working for you. Know others are attempting to find a way too. I have heard your hurting heart. Queen Elizabeth said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

  2. Sienna says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. My sister died of complications from a brain tumour. I watched her deteriorate for 17 years before her final demise. I’m still deeply scarred by this experience and I miss her every day, all day long. Her husband and I were very close too, but now I never see him. Their only child, a son, hanged himself in their garage on the first anniversary of her death. His father found him. They had shared a pepperoni pizza the night before.

    No one seemed to care about any of this, not our brothers, anyone at work, or any of my so called friends or hers. The grief and anger I feel is unbearable at times. I lost a lot of faith in humanity through this experience. People only really care about their own ass, and to hell with anyone else’s. Yes, that sounds bitter. Because it is.

    I think your best option is to tell him straight out how you feel about him. What do you have to lose? It’s my guess that he feels embarrassed about moving on and that maybe you question his love for your friend.

    I wish you good luck my dear 🙂

  3. Amy says:

    So sorry for your loss. I’m a breast cancer survivor and I’ve lost several friends to the disease and remained close to a few of their husbands. As Irene says, people grieve differently, and the best thing we can do as their friend is respect their individual process. In my experience, men often move on romantically much quicker than women (no judgment) and sometimes they want a clean break from things that remind them of their wives, including her friends. This isn’t personal and it isn’t about you. When one friend’s husband was engaged within a year of her death, he was afraid to tell us, thinking we might judge him. We couldn’t have been happier for him, but his adult children had a less than enthusiastic response so he was expecting the same. You’re quite insightful to realize the with a terminal illness, the grieving often begins before the actual death and you’re a great friend not to judge him for his choices. The best thing you is do is give him the space he is asking for, especially since you feel like he’s telling you to stay back. Disrespecting one’s boundaries rarely has positive results for the relationship.
    Take comfort in knowing you were a good friend to your friend before she died, and you’re a good friend to her husband, whether or not than includes having him in your life.
    Happy Thanksgiving and happy holidays.

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