She said, “sometimes, relationships, even friendships come to an end. “
Of course, I didn’t believe her. How could a friendship come to an end? What could be so bad that would make someone abandon a friendship? As with the laws of the Universe or Murphy’s Law…. I had to ask that, so I got an answer.
Shit happens. No shit.
I lost my baby at 22 weeks into my pregnancy. As a result of my ultra misfortune, I’ve lost several friends over this. You know how you hear that people handle grief differently? Well, people also handle tragedies differently. I was already in a state of shock to lose my baby boy, and experienced a double whammy over the lost of some friends — who because they didn’t know what to say or do, decided to just walk away. Of course, I understand that everyone handles tragedy and grief differently. However, later on, years later…., let’s say 5 years later, from my perspective it’s as if my bad luck would rub off on them, so they decided to walk away from me, to keep me at a far-far distance so that my bad luck could never touch them, or come near them. Ever. Let me begin with…..
I have this friend, whom I loved and admired dearly. Every time I was in town, I made a point to see him and his wife, visit his children. When I lost my baby, I told him and I got an email, “sorry”, and that was that. Never to be heard from again, or communicated with again. One year, I got a Christmas letter from the wife, retelling how she turned 40 over this past year, and how much the children have grown, and what summer holidays they were planning. I got exited and was so happy to hear from them. I wrote back, saying how wonderful they all looked, and giving a mini-update from us. Silence. Sadly, it seems that I had received that Christmas letter by accident. That’s just one example. There are other friends who also didn’t even bother to acknowledge our loss, because of various beliefs and superstitions. Yet, it was the same underlying factor that was my tragedy, that made their decisions easy to walk away from our friendship, it was if somehow my tragic loss would be smeared like shit on them, or contagious like leprosy or polio and they would “catch it” too. Yes, this is how I see it. Give me a break okay?
Of course, there’s the surprising and unexpected kindness that have resulted over this too. There are friends who have gone out of their way to send notes of comfort, encouragement, and making time to insist on coming over and checking in, and those who just want to share the space with you so that you’re not alone, even though they admit they cannot begin to understand unimaginable loss (nor do I want them to, because the depth of such a loss is deeper than anyone can imagine).
Why am I telling you, and sharing this? Because.
Because no matter how shocked you are over someone else’s tragic loss – acknowledge it, you have NO IDEA how much it’s appreciated even years later. I still remember a colleague at work, seeing me alone in a conference room and he made a point to come in and tell me just how sorry he was to hear of my loss, and shared with me that his sister went through the same exact thing. It made me feel less alone at that moment. His gift of kindness and of time (even if it was only 20 minutes), understanding, and sharing, helped to fill up the vast dark void in me, even it was just a little bit. It mattered.
Also, you don’t have to have an understanding of loss to reach out. What matters is that you’re there for your friend. You don’t have to bring it up unless they do, and you don’t have to feel awkward about it. It’s your fear that makes you feel awkward, and you have to be strong and brave for your friend and put your fear aside. It’s not about you or your fear. It’s about you being there for your friend at this moment in time. Then, just listen. Yes, it sounds totally cliché, but it’s so true. One friend told me, “If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here.” And that itself made me feel calm. She was telling me that If I ever needed it or want to bring it up, even in passing, that she was holding a special space for me. Anytime. That helps to fill the gigantic pitcher of darkness with a little bit of sweetness.
One more thing, think of what loss they’ve already been through, don’t make them go through the shock of losing a friendship too. Even if you have kids and you think they can’t be around kids, just ask. I feel like the friends I’ve lost decided for me, and didn’t give me a chance to tell them that, “I still love to be around your children! They are a happy distraction for me.”
See? I guess I don’t believe in ending friendships, after all.