Grief complicated by the loss of a best friend

March 16, 2011 | By | 11 Replies Continue Reading

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My best friend and I had a major falling out 4½ years ago shortly after the death of my two-year-old son. At the time I was so deep in grief and my judgment so impaired that I did not apologize for behavior on my part that led to our breakup.

 

It took me a year to see what I did to contribute to the demise of our friendship. When I did, I wrote a letter apologizing for what I had done, leaving the door open for her response and possibly rebuilding our friendship. She responded but was still very hurt by what had happened. She couldn’t forgive me and didn’t want to be friends again at that time but said at some point in the future her feelings might change.

 

I re-read my letter recently and didn’t give her the 100% apology I should have. It was sort of an "I’m sorry but…." letter. There were reasons way I acted the way I did, but I shouldn’t have put any of that in the letter. I should have said I was sorry without reservation.

 

As I approach the five-year anniversary of my son’s death I feel like I need to reconnect with this friend. The loss of my son and the loss of my best friend are linked. (That is a LONG story not fit for this format.) I’m having a hard time separating the two. I desperately want my son back and know that is never going to happen. My friend, on the other hand, is still living and so the possibility still exists that I can fix what went wrong. In fact, she lives next door to me, which is awkward since we haven’t spoken one word to each other for so long.

 

I would love to try to start over with her or at least have her accept my apology and forgive me. My husband believes I am better off without her friendship. What is your advice? Write another letter or let it go?

Signed,
Nancie

 

ANSWER

Dear Nancie,

First, I’m so sorry for the loss of your son. The timing of the breakup with your best friend, when you most needed support, was unfortunate. You say that you apologized to her for your part in the disagreement and were rebuffed. Later, you realized that your apology was less than inadequate.

 

If you are sure you still want to rekindle this friendship, there’s no harm in writing to her once again and apologizing in a way that feels right to you. But after that, any initiative for resuscitating the relationship has to come from her; you will have done your part. You can apologize but your neighbor has to forgive.

 

While you haven’t told me the specifics of how the two losses are related, it’s probably helpful for you to disentangle the two. As a first step, I would suggest getting through this milestone anniversary before attempting any contact again with your neighbor. Then, if she doesn’t respond after your overture, you just need to let go. As your husband suggests, in some ways, it might be easier for you to move on from your grief if you leave the friendship behind.

 

I hope you’ve had the energy to nurture other supportive relationships with other friends since both these losses. It is extraordinarily difficult for a parent to get over the loss of a young child a child so I’m not surprised that this upcoming anniversary is a difficult and confusing one. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Warm regards,
Irene

 

 

Have a friendship problem or dilemma? Ask The Friendship Doctor.

 

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Comments (11)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I say go talk in person so you can really see each other’s faces.

  2. Sympathy Flowers says:

    What an awful thing to happen to you! Losing a child must be the hardest thing in the world and then to have a friendship break down alongside it really must have pushed you to the limit. If it were me and I truly wanted her to know how sorry I was I would just go round to her house. These things are often difficult to put down on paper but words coming straight from the heart have a huge impact.

  3. Irene says:

    Hi,

    I’m so glad that this blog was helpful to you. I appreciate your posting again—certainly, no need for an apology. It’s always good to hear that someone has felt better because they’ve been here. I’m so appreciative of the supportive community of readers who say things much better than I can—and so generously share their own experiences with others.

    Warm regards,

    Irene

     

     

     

  4. Anonymous says:

    I just wanted to post again to say thank you for this blog. This particular entry has helped me sooo much.

    I realised that what happened was not due to me, but a number of factors to do with other people.
    Firstly the lack of emotional wherewithal that others show in dealing with death. They simply cannot cope. It makes them uncomfortable, on an unconscious level.
    So they back of using an excuse to make them seem like a nice person still.

    Secondly, because ultimately people are often fundamentally not that nice, sad but true. They just don’t have the time/patience/emotional energy to be there for someone else, in the long-term who is going through a difficult time. It’s just simpler to back off!!

    This has plagued me for so long. But after reading your blog, I realised the above and started to feel better.

    And then there was an odd coincidence. I bumped into one of the uni friends. I felt a numbness and a feeling of wanting to get away as fast as possible but we stopped and talked. She was with her fiance and I was with my husband and after a few minutes we parted.
    She hadn’t changed, but seemed somehow hollow and I felt rather sad for her.

    And as I type (and I am shaking as I write, so vast is my strength of feeling) I realise that what happened to me gave me a grasp of what really matters in life. Compassion and kindness and the fact that superficialities mean nothing.
    I am extremely lucky to have my son after the loss of our daughter and I will hug him tightly.

    Our sad experience weeded out the wheat from the chaff of friends (sadly most people were chaff) and has opened the door to new opportunities I hope.

    All the best to anyone who has been wounded by friends. Often it says more about them than it does about you, and thank you for this blog.
    Appologies for such a long rant, I needed to get this off my chest!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am sorry for the loss of your child and for what you have had to go through with friendships. I cannot relate to losing a child, but I can relate to the disappointment you feel from people you thought were close friends when you are dealing with hardships in life. I went through a very difficult time a few years ago when one of my children got very sick and was ultimately diagnosed with a chronic illness. During the months after his diagnosis I had reconnected with a couple of “old” friends who each lived in another state. Since I thought both these people were good friends, I sent them each an email detailing the difficulty I was going through with my son’s illness. To my disappointment, neither one of them even responded. A couple of years later my father got cancer and died just 7 weeks after diagnosis. Again I was disappointed in the lack of acknowledgement from some people I had considered friends. I wasn’t looking for any grand gestures, just a simple “I heard about your father and I’m sorry” would have been nice. It really hurt, but I’ve also come to the realization that not everyone is comfortable with death or illness and people just don’t know what to say or do so they think it is better to do nothing. What they don’t realize is that is the worst thing they can do. I’ve had to learn to forgive some friends because I realize they just don’t know any better, but I’ve also learned to appreciate those friends I have who have been through hard times themselves. They are the only people who seem to actually “get it”. I hope things get better for you.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi
    I couldn’t read this and not post as I have faced a similar problem, albeit with the loss of a much younger child, and several, not just one of my old friendships.
    The way my friends behaved hurt almost as much as the actual bereavement.
    When we went on to have another child, my husband included one of their partners on a round robin email; she sent a gift and told me she had moved country and had another child – so I sent her a pressie back and we exchanged emails.
    I mentioned our lost child and suddenly she backed off, said she was really busy.
    It hurt, it was like her getting in touch opened up a massive memory as the two losses happened around the same time.
    I lost 2 other friends; the 4 of us were flatmates at uni once, and I have not been invited to one of the group’s hen weekend or wedding. It hurts being excluded like this, but I guess time has shown that they weren’t really very good friends.
    I have been hurting about this for a very long time now.

    It has shaken my confidence in making new friends; although I have, I get very upset inside if people exclude me. I had a good bunch of postnatal friends for my latest baby but when one of them excluded me from her birthday, it really hurt (though I did not let it show).
    Another girl from this group just went off and abandoned not only me after I talked about our previous loss (and only after she asked), but also the entire group. She then tried to join back in just as we were all starting to head back to work after several months off together. We bump into eachtother as we live very close and have talked about meeting but actually I don’t want to. The experience with my so-called friends has left me rather scared of knowing how to handle this situation.
    I need closure, to chalk the experience up to something external – them being Mean Girls, or scared of death and a fear they might have problems having kids, or just due to the fact friendships break down over the years. In order not to blame myself and take it personally. Though this is hard.

  7. Laury says:

    Your child dies and maybe you behaved badly and your friend can’t cut you some major slack? You already wrote a letter apologizing? I don’t think you didn’t apologize enough….I think this is a bad friend. Try to let her go….there are others out there who God can bring into your life. I know…easier said than done. But, that said, this doesn’t sound like a good friend to me.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Nancie. Your letter touched my heart, you are in my prayers that you will find peace and comfort. But I feel the part of the letter that speaks to me the most, involving the lost friendship, is that your husband believes you are better off with this women in your life. My assumption is he is intimately concerned for your well being and the details surrounded the falling out, so he would want your best comfort. Apparently he thinks that is not this particular friendship.
    Please ask yourself if, maybe you have made the connection that if the friendship is reconnected you will feel like….going back in time, when your precious boy was still with you.
    The above commenter Laura said it best, this women doesn’t sound kind, caring or loving.. you deserve more.
    God bless you.

  9. Laura says:

    I am so deeply sorry for your loss. The loss of a child is a very difficult and unique loss, unlike any other. Given the uniqueness of that loss, I think you should have some realistic expectations of rekindling this friendship. Your friend didn’t cut you slack for your behavior after the loss of your son. Barring verbal abuse and mental cruelty, I don’t think someone holding onto something for so long is an emotionally healthy person to be friends with if they couldn’t think “Maybe she’s so caught up in her loss that she’s not thinking and talking like her usual self.” Don’t set yourself for more hurt for having your heart set up on this friendship rekindling. On the other hand, learning how to apologize is an art that we’re not taught to express effectively. If your letter excused inexcusable behavior, then that should be the gist of your new interaction with her; that you read your prior letter and now with a clearer vision realized that it was not a full apology but rationalizing incorrect behavior or what have you. But I repeat: if someone can’t cut you some slack shortly after the loss of your son, then really reconsider having this person in your life. If she takes this as an excuse to dump on you emotional poison, then it’s evidence that she’s not a forgiving person and you don’t want that kind of person in your life. It’s such a vulnerable position that you find yourself in. I really feel for you since the wounds of the loss of your son are still fresh. I wish that you achieve the mental tranquility and peace to live a full life despite this tragedy, filled with friends closer than family who are forgiving and gentle and kind.

  10. Liz says:

    Nancie I am so sorry to hear about your son. And about your friendship loss.
    While I don’t know all of the story, you really might want to ask yourself what kind of friend would desert you in the worst time of your life? Really, it is she that owes the apology. Good luck to you, and my prayers for your comfort.

  11. Ranjith says:

    You said that you have conversed with your friend through a letter. One thing you need to understand is that how much ever you can try your true feelings may not be expressed by letters alone. Try to contact your friend in person. A direct interaction yields good results. If possible set the meeting in one of the places where you used to hang out frequently. Take along with you a gift which your friend likes and that can help her recollect some of the days when you had been good friends. Assume to yourself that you both are good friends again and talk to her about anything which she has told about what she likes in you and why she wanted to be your friend. It was your mistake to have neglected her. Contacting her after four years, she is sure to be doubtful on your actions. Congratulations if you become friends again, or else you can surely recollect your past experiences and live with them cherishing those happy moments.
    http://alightheartedtalk.blogspot.com/2011/02/live-in-dreams-and-confine-it.html

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