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Should I give my friend a pass because she is grieving?

Published: August 10, 2013 | Last Updated: August 10, 2013 By | 5 Replies Continue Reading
It can be tricky to know when to give a friend “a pass”—and how much to overlook after a trauma or loss.


Hi Irene,

My closest friend had a trauma two years due to her mother’s battle with cancer and recent passing. I have been extremely supportive, from emotional support to coordinating dinners with friends. Understandably, she is still grieving and having a difficult time so I reach out when I can and she calls me when she is having a bad day.

My issue is she has done several things that have hurt and disappointed me. These incidents have caused me to mistrust her and even feel betrayed. However, I have let them go because I reason it through and justify her behavior. I try to remember she is not in the best state of mind to be cognizant of how she is treating those closest to her. She is lost, depressed and missing her mom very much. She is also having family issues.

In the past before her mother’s diagnosis, we had a strong friendship where we could be honest when we were hurt or disappointed by each other. We would talk it through, move forward, and it resulted in our friendship being stronger afterwards.

My question is: How long do I give her a pass and allow her to behave in ways that hurt and disappoint me because she is grieving? I think addressing them at this point, would be selfish on my part and not fair to her because she is not in the right state of mind to be rational about her behaviors. However, I’ve gotten to the point where she’s losing worth as a friend. My spouse and other friends think she takes me for granted and I give her too much of a pass.

Some days, I’m completely done but re-group and realize it is worth weathering the storm because I have always considered her my “soul sister.” Your book has been a powerful resource for me.

Best, Ellen


Hi Ellen,

The length and intensity of grieving doesn’t follow a set path or time and varies for every individual. Since your friend had to grapple with her mother’s diagnosis, illness, and treatment for some time and you describe the death as “recent,” her changes in mood and behavior are likely to be associated with her loss.

Clearly, this is a friendship you value and your letter shows that you have great empathy for your friend’s situation. It’s not easy to find close friendships like the one you share, where two people connect on an emotional level, have a shared history, and are able to work through problems together.

You stood by your friend during a challenging time in her life and it’s likely that this will ultimately strengthen the bond between you. However, I can understand your uncertainty about whether to say something or give her a pass if she is treating you unfairly.

You sound like a patient and sensitive friend who displays good judgment and compassion. Since your friend is still grieving, of course, give her a pass in terms of any relatively minor transgressions you can overlook. However, if she makes egregious errors, that you feel stand to compromise or threaten your relationship, you need to let her know your feelings gently, soon after an incident occurs, and at a moment when she is in a frame of mind to listen. If you don’t, you will harbor resentment. Surprisingly, you may find that she welcomes the feedback and may be somewhat oblivious to what she has said or done.

Also, if she is difficult to be with, or you or she seems to need more alone time, you may want to lighten the intensity of your relationship a bit, without backing off from it entirely or making her feel you are withdrawing support. Perhaps, you can see her less often, for lesser periods of time, or in the company of other friends.

If she seems very “off” and is unable to resolve her feelings of grief over time, particularly given that is also having family issues, you may want to suggest that she speak to mental health professional to help her over the rough spots.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


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  1. Sparky says:

    Hi Ellen,

    Your friend is grieving and there is no set time for grief. Remember the trauma of watching someone go through chemo, cancer rx, is really tough on them and the family. Give her some space and comfort. One of the stages is anger, and she may just have felt safe enough to take her anger out on your when it really is that she is angry her mother is gone. Maybe even angry with God…God can handle that part…
    Irene gave some really good advice…maybe suggest some grief counseling , but ask if they helped her through this at the hospital or hospice if her mother was there.
    Most hospices offer counseling and they are caring people who usually check back to see how someone is doing.
    Working in medicine for 30 yrs…I had two sudden deaths in my family, and I will tell you while loosing someone slowly or suddenly is hard..but I would take fast anyday vs watching someone I love suffer and in pain…that is hard on anyone. Just be a friend, be patient with her and let her know she is loved.
    Loosing your mom no matter what age, no matter how close you are or were, is always traumatic, you wonder what could have been, you miss her being there etc…if she was a great mom, then it is even harder. Who do you call for recipes, I call my mom 🙂
    I am not sure what I will do when I loose her, she is 87 and time is running out.


  2. Ellen says:

    Thank you for the feedback as it is very helpful.
    [Remainder of post removed at request of poster]

  3. Amy says:

    You seem like a caring, empathic friend.
    I think you need to start letting her know when you feel slighted, because it sounds like this is piling up and interfering with your friendship. You can say, “Look, I know how stressed you are with all that’s gone on with your mom. I’ve tried to be there as much as I can. When you cancel plans at the last minute (or whatever), it messed up my schedule and I’m starting to feel frustrated. I don’t want this to get in the way of our friendship, and I do understand you’ve got a lot on your mind. If you could give me a few hours notice, that’s be helpful.” Because you do matter. You can empathize and set boundaries at the same time. In fact, you might even be helping her, because sometimes during periods of hardships, being treated “normally” without kid gloves, makes people feel better…more like their old selves.

    Whatever you do, make sure you’re not keeping a tally of grievances and that are going to either cause you permanent resentment or to come out with a laundry list if misdeeds when you feel she is ready. That approach rarely ends well.

  4. Susan says:

    Your friend is very lucky to have a friend like you. I don’t know what she did that hurt you and made you mistrust her, but you should talk to her if it is recent. Hopefully she is seeking mental health help.
    I had no close friends or family to help me deal with my father’s suicide and deaths of two close uncles within my father’s death. All I had was a counselor and psychiatrist.
    How I longed for a friend just to go out for lunch or shopping instead of just staying in bed all day.
    Talk to her and stand by her side because it might take a long time for her to grieve her mother’s death.
    Also, follow Irene’s advice. Best of luck.

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