When A Friend Ghosts When You Need Them Most

Today, we’re continuing our conversation about friendship.  

In my last post, we celebrated all the friendships that have supported us through the years. 

We found out friendship is actually good for us (probably not surprising but always nice when science confirms what we already know), that the pandemic may have wreaked havoc with this area of our lives too, what it means to “show up” and that it’s important to take the time to grieve the loss of a friendship – something we need to start talking about more.

But what if you’re ALREADY grieving the death of someone close to you?

And one or more of your friends gets really quiet and distant and maybe even disappears from your life?

What’s up with that?

It’s actually pretty common to lose a friend after the death of a loved one.  

It becomes a secondary loss for the griever and leaves them bewildered. Why would your friend disappear when you needed them most? Or you judge your friend (who is supposed to KNOW you) harshly if they don’t know what to do or say.

It could be that friend…

  • Doesn’t do well in a crisis – not everyone does
  • Struggles to accept it if you don’t return to “normal” soon creating a wall between you
  • Feels ashamed for not reaching out sooner so they stay silent and that silence   s  t  r  e  t  c  h  e  s.
  • Has never learned how to deal with grief (like most of us) so their “support” kinda misses the mark.  “Just be strong.”  “Keep busy.”  “Give it time.”

Mostly though, I think your loss makes them feel vulnerable and we all know how vulnerability can make us want to run and hide. Your loss might be a reminder of what they have lost or what they could lose in the future. They can feel helpless because they can’t fix it (we all have “fixer” friends right?)  So they choose to protect themselves by creating distance between you. Because your grief brings up messy, uncomfortable feelings they’d much rather avoid.

It’s important to acknowledge the hurt and disappointment when a friend doesn’t show up for us. And consider that some friends are here for the good times while others are ‘ride or die’. When you’re grieving a loss you don’t want to surround yourself with fairweather friends. Instead, choose fiercely compassionate healing warriors to walk with you through the flames and remind you that you will survive this.

What we need to remember (and it’s hard in the haze of grief) is that all our friends have different strengths and different ways they can help us.

Some friends are great at holding space, listening empathetically, and passing the Kleenex. Others will walk your dog or bring a casserole or make sure everything goes according to plan at the funeral. One type of support isn’t better than another.

Are you the friend that brings the Kleenex or the casserole?

Are you great at listening or great at organizing and getting things done?

What’s your favourite way to show up for a friend that’s grieving?

If you’ve ever distanced yourself from someone who is grieving…

I want you to know it’s okay if you don’t know what to say or what to do. It’s even okay to say to your friend, “I don’t know what to say or how I can help right now. I care deeply about you and I’m here if you need [something you’d be happy to help with…i.e. pick the kids up from school this week].”

If you’ve ever been the one to withdraw it might be worth exploring why. With your journal or with someone who has earned the right to hear your story (not the griever).  What’s at the heart of your fear?

For example:

  • Saying/doing the wrong thing might be perfectionism getting in the way?
  • If you were “giving them space” ask yourself where that belief came from? Do you prefer to grieve alone? Why or why not? Might your friend have a different preference?
  • If it’s scary because you can’t fix it, what does not being able to “fix” the situation say about you? About life? Does it feel scary when it’s out of your control?
  • If it reminds you someone you love could die, is your distance self-protection? What are you afraid will happen to you when someone you love dies? What are you afraid will happen to others when someone you love dies?

Working through our fears is challenging stuff. Keep asking why. Be compassionately curious about what sits at the bottom of this. And when you find it – invite that fear into your heart space. Fill it up with love and reassurance and ask what it needs to feel safe.

Don’t beat yourself up.

This doesn’t make you a bad person. Or a bad friend. It makes you human. Humans make mistakes. Humans struggle with vulnerability. And sometimes our fears get the best of us.

Offer an apology to your friend. Acknowledge what happened, how they must have felt, say how you’ll do better next time, and do the work you need to so you can keep your promise.

If you’ve been ghosted…

Take care of yourself. It’s not your job to make someone else feel better about/comfortable with your loss. Their response is their responsibility. Loss is hard and you’ve got enough to deal with.

Grief and loss shake our foundations. When you’re feeling a little more stable you’ll have to decide if you want to reach out to your friend.

It’s okay to express the hurt you felt. Keep it focused on “I” statements (“you” statements veer into blame and shame territory), express how you felt, and give them enough grace to respond without judgment.

Whether you move forward as friends with acceptance and a new understanding or decide that it’s best to keep moving in different directions is up to you…and your friend.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers. Human relationships are messy and complex. Keeping our hearts open after we’ve been hurt might just be some of the hardest work we do.

If you’re ready to heal your loss contact me here.

And if you’re aching for a community of healing warriors where you can talk about all the messy bits (and joyful bits!) of life, love, and loss – keep your eyes and ears open to this channel.

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