A few years ago I spent the weekend with a small group of bereaved moms.
For our last session together, I solicited anonymous questions from the group that I promised to try to answer and discuss further.
There were lots of good ones but one of the most poignant was this:
Is it OK to put some friendships on hold because the interaction is no longer encouraging to me? I leave lunches together sad because their lives are going fine and I’m in such pain.
A Grieving Mom
My heart went out to this mama for so many reasons!
First, even in her grief she was concerned about doing the right thing, about being a good friend and about rightly interpreting the situation. She knew her friend wasn’t actively harming her. In fact, the friend was most likely trying hard to come alongside and encourage her heart.
But it still hurt.
And so she wanted to know if she was obligated to “grin and bear it” or if she could graciously and authentically set a boundary that meant a little (or a lot!) of distance between this friend and herself-hopefully for only a season.
This is one of the hard truths and difficult conundrums that inform the lives of many grievers. It certainly was part of mine for a long time.
I craved compassionate companionship from concerned friends and family while, at the exact same moment, longed for solitude and seclusion from “ordinary” life.
How in the world could the world just go on? How in Heaven’s name did the entire universe not take note of my great and irreplaceable loss?
For months (probably, honestly, for a couple of years!) there was always a subscript to every conversation and face-to-face interaction that read like Subtitles for a foreign film. And some folks lives were just too beautiful, too happy, too much like the one I wished I still had to endure the emotional burden that gap produced for my wounded heart.
So I had to limit my interaction with them (for their sake AND mine).
I unfollowed (NOT unfriended!) people on social media. They were none the wiser that the hap-hap-happy posts they splashed everywhere weren’t appearing in my newsfeed and I wasn’t constantly confronted by my own envy and sorrow.
I sent cards for occasions instead of showing up at certain celebrations. I chose them thoughtfully and wrote meaningful and sincere messages. I didn’t have a single person react badly that their wish was on paper instead of in person.
I withdrew from some of the groups where this kind of “humble bragging” was encouraged and promoted. It was a long, long time before I went to a women’s event that wasn’t focused on child loss.
No one really noticed.
And for those few relationships that were so close I couldn’t graciously or subtly move away, I told my friend that while I valued them, wanted very much to stay in touch and support them and didn’t want everything to be about ME, I needed to let them know certain topics might make me uncomfortable or sad.
So we tried to get together around activities that lent themselves to “in the moment” conversation. We didn’t linger long over lunch or on the phone. We walked in a park or went to a movie.
In time, as I did the work grief requires and as I grew stronger and better able to carry this burden called “child loss”, I was able to ease some of the boundaries I had put in place to protect my heart.
I never, ever want child loss (or any other hard life event or trauma) to become an excuse for my bad or unkind behavior.
But grief is work and requires so much time, energy and effort!
If I hadn’t made space and given myself the necessary grace to do that work I would not have found the measure of healing I now enjoy.
So, yes, dear heart-it’s OK to set boundaries.
It’s OK to pull back from some relationships to foster healing.
And it’s OK to reach out and let people back in, too, when your heart feels more whole again.