Pamela Cytrynbaum, author, blogger, lecturer at Northwestern University, and companion in grief, found my blog and found what I had to say interesting. She has asked me to answer a few questions and plans to share them with her readers at http://family.lifegoesstrong.com.
Question: What happens when people pull away from a grieving person. How do you have those conversations? Do you break up with friends who can’t handle the changes grief has brought?
Those who grieve are profoundly different from those who have yet to experience the life-altering event of loss.
The non-grieving do not understand. They have no frame of reference. They try to extend comfort and oh-so-often say exactly the wrong thing. And, perhaps most difficult of all, they expect the grieving person to “get over it” within a certain time frame. They fail to comprehend that deep grief is permanent and leaves a very permanent mark upon the grieving person.
These people are really the lucky ones, having not (yet) experienced deep loss. In their fortune, they are also the insensitive ones. As time passes and the grieving don’t “cheer up” and “get back to normal,” the lucky ones get impatient. How do we who grieve deal with them? Often we can’t.
For me, I have written about grief extensively, even sending my writings to some of my “friends” who failed to understand, in hopes it might enlighten them. It has been my experience that these “lucky ones” generally do not wish to be enlightened. They really don’t want to know how bad it gets. Not only do they not understand, they do not want to understand.
Since my daughter died, many of my friendships changed. My “significant other” could not follow where I was going through my grief, and so our relationship ended. Several friends simply vanished.
“This digs us deeper,” a loving cousin told me, shortly after I lost my daughter. She too has suffered many deep losses and understood what I was dealing with. It does indeed “dig us deeper,” whether we accept it or not. We are not the same as before our loss; we are profoundly changed. And the truth is most people don’t like change – especially in their friends and loved ones. The changes that grief brings are not happy changes. We don’t become “more fun” or “better company.” When we talk, it is about our pain, or the changes our pain is causing, or how we see life differently now. Possibly we talk about our missing loved one(s), our memories, our emotions, our guilt, and how badly we miss the dead. These are not comfortable topics of discussion. Is it any wonder our friends distance themselves from us?
Change is painful, and most folks resist it. Yes, we who grieve often lose a great many friends. It can’t be helped.
Through my journey with grief, I have come to appreciate many of the changes in me. Yes, I am sadder. Yes, I am less “fun.” But I am indeed deeper. I have a deeper understanding of life, love, and what is really important in this world. I actually like myself better for the marks grief has left. Great personal growth is often possible through great pain, and I feel I am experiencing great personal growth. Can all my friends keep up with me? No, of course not, and I would not wish the pain I have suffered on any of them.
So yes, I have lost friends. I have attempted “those conversations” with some, but rarely to any success. The good news is I have gained friends as well. People whom I didn’t know before have connected with me – often through our mutual experience of grief.
I have a deeper – if smaller – set of friends these days…. And I am OK with that.