Why Friends Abandon Grievers

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDSjust can’t hang in and hold on?

I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it. 

It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time.  I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.

It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.

butterfly away from hand

Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:

  • I represent their greatest fear.  I am a billboard for loss.  My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary.  Most folks run away from scary if they can.
  • I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing.  We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world.  But it’s just not that simple.  The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season.  I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out.  Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
  • My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved.  I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead?  Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park?  These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
  • Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm.  They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse.  These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
  • Some people were going to disappear anyway.  We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away.  Well, circumstances certainly changed!  They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.

Understanding why people run away has helped my heart. 

It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources.  It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.

Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots. 

It changes nothing.

I have limits as well. 

Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.  

forgiveness_is_the_fragrance_that_the_violet_sheds_on_the_heel_that_has_crushed_it-385646

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

37 thoughts on “Why Friends Abandon Grievers”

  1. I too, lost friends after the sudden unexpected passing of our oldest daughter. I even blamed myself, did I say or do something to hurt their feelings. There is never ending pain and struggle. I attended a support group for the first year which helped me through some very dark days. Thinking I was fine after 3 years, it was time for me to get over it. Then I realized I would never get over it. My life was changed forever on that Friday morning when I got the worst phone call of my life. I can still hear her voice, shut my eyes and see her smile. I will never get over it.

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  2. After my son died I had close friends say that if I ever needed this or that or wanted to do this or that to call them. Then there were others who just did things for me. The friends who told me to call them were offended that I didn’t and took it personally. And even more offended when they saw or heard that I was out and about with someone else. It almost seemed like a competition. I hold my grief tightly to myself. I rarely reach out and when I do I lean on the pole closest to me at the moment. This is how ive always been. Maybe I’ve done this all wrong. Now I don’t know how to relate anymore with these friends. I can barely be with them and listen to their chatter. I cannot relate anymore to their lives – my old life. I feel like ive changed and don’t want to rejoin the old ways. I feel like this is wrong of me. That I should force myself to make these old friends feel better and feel like I’m back to my old self. BUT I CANT!! It will be a year soon…..

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  3. One thing that really shook me on this grief journey is the people that I thought would be there weren’t and aren’t and some people I would never have expected to come along side me that did. Two years since losing my son Noah, I find I’m not as angry as I initially was at people who didnt do or say what I thought they should. I’ve come to realize a lot of people don’t know what to say to us and they just say something stupid. Ugh!

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    1. That’s really a shock, isn’t it? If someone had asked me to make a list the week before my son died of who would stand by me, it would have looked very different than the ones that actually did. But tragedy has a way of shaking things out in every corner of our lives. ❤

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  4. Your post echoes my own heart regarding losing former support people. With less support one only falls further down. After my being the only survivor after an auto accident that instantly killed my husband, toddler son and baby daughter, I know firsthand about representing to others “their worst fear” and their discomfit-caused abandoning of me. Jesus is the only one who has been steadfast; a constant supporter and helper through my darkest hours.
    After 33 years, my forgiveness has been complete but physical scarring cannot be loved away. Thank you for this wonderful, insight-“full” post and comments!

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    1. Your story hurts my heart!! I am so, so sorry for your pain and your loss. Thank you for also including your ongoing testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace in your life. May the Lord continue to give you strength to endure. Much love, dear heart. ❤

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  5. But sometimes the grieved person wants new friends who aren’t a constant reminder of the loss. I had the very sad experience of sitting vigil with a mourning family and helping to coordinate specific funeral arrangements but thereafter was kept at arms length and supplanted by a new friend who could do no wrong. The new friend was quite literally a gatekeeper and kept long time friends away, myself just one. This grieving family marvels that they have a new group of friends, but they’ve pushed the true family friends away altogether. It’s too painful I guess to have friends who knew you “before.”

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    1. I am sorry that this was your experience. Every situation is unique and every heart is worthy of consideration and compassion-whether the bereaved or true friends who want nothing more than to be there for them. You are probably right that in some instances a bereaved person may want to “start over”. Since I cling with both hands to the people and places connected to my son it’s honestly not a position I’ve even considered. Thank you for bringing another perspective to the table. ❤

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  6. I just wrote about this in my comments on a post about my son. I’m not there yet, and I admit I have a lot of work to do. I explained it as though death is contagious. The loss of a child is too much to deal with and easy to just go on with your own family’s lives and leave that best friend that lost a child hurting. Last night amidst sobbing and tears that just wouldn’t stop I realized I had no one to call to help redirect my thoughts. I’ve become a recluse, I just can’t lose anyone else so I’m alone. The pain is real and overwhelming. What I wouldn’t do to just feel joy. Pure joy, no hesitation, no guilt, just the kind of naive joy I took for granted unbenounced to me for the 26 years he was loaned to me to mother. I’m not sure I’ll ever get there but I think I’m the exception and not the rule. I’ve had many things said to me from those that are normally the ones that are your soft place to fall, i.e. Mothers. I’ve been told I wouldn’t want him back the way he was anyway, I was told he came to her in a dream and was angry with how I was still grieving (being told by her friends she made it up because she felt I wasn’t making progress 3 weeks after his passing and she was tired of my being pitiful). So yes, I’m jaded I’m afraid but I will take what you shared to heart and pray and start another day when the sun comes up armed with your advice. I thank you for that.

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    1. Mama I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my little Eleanor Grace at 2 years and 4 months old, 6 weeks ago. I’m sorry you feel abandoned and people don’t understand that we will grieve for the rest of our lives. Hugs to you.

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    2. I so hope you can at least find a bit of solace in understanding where our friends may be coming from when they abandon us. It certainly does NOT erase the pain abandonment brings. I also pray that the Lord will bring someone into your life who will choose to stand with you even if they are afraid. ❤

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  7. Finally people understand. I lost my husband 2?years shin. I found myself hibernating no joy . I still
    Went to church and women’s bible study but inside no feelings. Finally I can go out but not for long I come home to my comfort zone . Will
    This pass?

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    1. yes, it does get better. eventually.
      I left a church where my husband and I had been a members for over 20 years due to the abandonment of the church family after my husband died suddenly. In a way it was worse than losing my husband.
      I eventually joined a different, larger church where I could blend in and serve in small ways.

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  8. Interesting thought that some people were more afraid they would hurt the situation. You are right. I remember being so sad with my neighbor one night and she cried too because she was so sad and missed my husband in her life too. It was one of the first times I realized how this was not only affecting me but I was not alone.

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    1. This was a hard one for me to grasp at first because I thought surely if they were hurting as much as I was they would reach out instead of withdraw. But that’s not always the case. Some people are paralyzed by the thought of adding to my burden. But, like I said, they are also the ones who are willing to jump right in once I assure them they can only help by being present, not hurt.

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  9. I have not lost a child, but lost my husband 2 yrs ago. I found the same thing happens in becoming a widow. Some friends just drift off – some stay by your side and support…. I have 2 siblings who have each lost a child – and I see the devastation in their lives. Yet, both see the same in me and in the loss of my husband. I can fully relate to your blog, by living through my ‘pain’ and seeing them in their ‘pain’. The loss creates such a void, we feel totally numb and grasp at anything we can to try to cope – the arms of friends are so needed!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Even from the very beginning my HEAD understood that it was difficult to be around us, the parents of a child who had died. I understood why people ran away. Oh, but how it hurt my heart. Because we had absolutely no family close by (our closest family was nearly 2000 miles away), when almost all of our friends disappeared, we were so very alone. It was like we were falling down a deep, black hole with no one to catch our fall. These are part of the secondary losses, secondary wounds that can happen following the death of a child. And the wounds leave scars. We can forgive, but I don’t think that means that we are not changed by the experience.

    The thing in the Christian community, I would venture to say, is that we as Christians are encouraged to be the bigger person, to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to go the extra mile, etc. Not only did I feel like we were expected to tell people how to help us after Jason died, I felt like we were expected to understand and be okay with why people didn’t want to be around us. It just seems backwards.

    I’m glad that you stated that it took you months and years to understand and begin to forgive. Sometimes it’s process that takes some time and effort to work through. I’ve worked very hard on forgiving people we knew, even though there has been no acknowledgement or apology given.

    Thank you for your insights.

    Hugs,
    ~Becky

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also believe that forgiving does not undo the wounds that have been inflicted. You’re right-as believers we are often asked to travel the whole distance in the forgiveness process. I’ll be honest, sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Life is hard and child loss makes it harder. I just don’t always have the resources needed to reach out to the person that has hurt me. I know there are those that will say I always have the necessary resources in Christ-they are theologically correct. But I can’t always seem to tap those in my daily life. I’m trying ❤

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  11. Sometimes the people who try to help are pushed away , quite rudely ! “How is she going to help ?” – angrily and ugly screamed at me . . .

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    1. I’m sorry if you were trying to help and were pushed away. Since I don’t know any of the circumstances I can only make a guess and will offer this: In the depths of grief, sometimes our emotions are so strong and we want so badly to rid our hearts of them, we lash out at the nearest target. That might have been what happened. If you are still where you want to help and can help, may I suggest you reach out again? Bless you for wanting to help. ❤

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    2. Because in a mother’s despair and soul crushing pain she doesn’t/can’t see how ANYBODY or anything is going to help her. You may see it as rude or you may see it as sheer despair. A real friend will understand. I had a male friend who was very close to me. When my 32 year old daughter was dying from cancer, he kindly asked what he could do for me. I responded by asking him if he could prevent my daughter from dying. Of course, he could not, so I angrily responded, “Then there is NOTHING you can do for me!” He was shocked for a moment and then he just held me. All a mother wants is for her child to be safe/healthy/alive.

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      1. Try again to help. And keep trying. But in a way she is right. There’s often nothing you can do. I’ve often said don’t ever ask what you can do, just do something. Make dinner, now the lawn, send a card, tag in a Facebook memory. What I want most is for my child to be remembered.

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  12. My very best friend of many years just vanished when my daughter was killed. It broke what was left of the pieces of my heart.

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