Losing Friends After Child Loss

You lose a lot of friends after child loss.

As if you aren’t facing enough from the death of a child, dealing with relationships along the course of grief can be something unexpected and add to your sorrows.

There are various reasons, some of which are due to the bereaved parents, but many are not.  For some, I think friends fade away because they just don’t know what to do/what to say/how to act.  Perhaps they feel guilty if they have children still living?  Perhaps they don’t realize what a help they could be?  Perhaps they can’t handle the change in you?

One thing is for certain… We aren’t the same.  We never will be.  
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In the chaos of grief, the additional loss of friends stung my already wounded heart.  People I expected to “be there” for me weren’t.  It disappointed, saddened, and sometimes even angered me.  I remembered and evaluated times I’d helped them and wondered why they didn’t come through.  At one point in my deepest grief, I recall going through the ledger of attendees at our son’s funeral.  I kept a mental list of those who didn’t show.  At first, it hurt.  Then, I avoided them altogether.

{Before I go any further down this path, I should say that we were blessed with many friendships along this journey.  Some from old and dear friends, many from unexpected sources.  There were numerous times we were speechless of the outpouring of love shown to us.  Austin passed nearly six years ago so the rawness is gone and I no longer hold resentment to anyone for anything they did – or didn’t do.  This was just a place I’ve never shared from before.}

There are numerous stories I could share of things friends said, who meant well but made a mess of things.  Or of those who used my son’s death almost against me, or to somehow benefit them.  Or of those who were just simply insensitive and uncaring.  Or of all the hurtful moments of missed opportunities, missed comfort, missed healing, because friends just didn’t show, call, or come around.  I’m sure we’d all have stories like this to share.

Instead, I thought I’d share from the other side.  The “Why I said No” from a bereaved mom’s standpoint.  The reasons behind my declines, avoidance, or forgetfulness.  Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end.  Maybe you have reached out to a grieving parent and not understood why it didn’t seem warmly received.

This is the story from one momma’s point of view…

One of the first things I recall about those who reached out to me were the phone calls.

I remember making two calls that horrible night.  One was to 9-1-1 –a call no mother should ever have to make.  The second was to my Mom, asking her to come stay with my youngest son, as I was enroute to the hospital for what my soul knew would be the worst news of my life.

In the ER, someone pulled my cell phone out of my numb hand – I think it was my sister – and began making calls to family.  Honestly, I don’t remember the next time I used a phone.  Instead, I avoided the phone at all costs.  It rang nonstop those first couple of days.  Our home was busy and full of people and I just it handed over to others.  When I was alone, I often turned my cell off to avoid facing this nightmare-now-reality.

I can’t explain why, but talking on the phone was the hardest form of communication for me after loss.  I felt vulnerable and instantly my voice would crack, failing my attempts to remain strong.  So, I gave up.  Looking at the caller ID, tears would fall.  Though thankful to see someone’s name scroll across, I was unable to speak to them.  And I never returned those calls.  It was too hard.  Just because I didn’t answer, did not mean it wasn’t appreciated.  I still remember every single call, voicemail, and text.  The thought truly mattered.

Another difficult phase, for me, was the moving on of time. One of my first Facebook posts after our loss was, “wishing time would just stop.”  This short sentence was what I wanted to scream out loud.  I hated that life continued for everyone else.  Every second, every ticking of the clock was a reminder of how much longer I was without my son.  It seemed others didn’t care that my world had ended.  For those that went back to normal quickly, basically choosing to ignore the depth of my grief, it damaged our friendship.

For the invitations to birthdays and milestone moments I declined, it was because happiness seemed impossible some days.  Often, it was because Austin was the same age group.  I couldn’t imagine celebrating at a sweet 16 party when I couldn’t plan one for my son.  It wasn’t jealousy, just reality and the pain was too much.  Sometimes I said no because I knew there was no way to hold my emotions together.  Sometimes it was because I didn’t want the looks of pity or awkward silence.  Sometimes it was because the invite came during a symbolic time, and you didn’t know or remember.  Sometimes I said no because one of us in the family was going through a rough patch, harder than an ordinarily painful day.

Sometimes I declined or ignored you because it was insensitive – like an invitation to a movie about a dying child.  Or the timing was terrible, like the day we got the call from the medical examiner and I had to escape home in a hurry.  Or it was always too heavy when we were together because the unsaid spoke too loudly and hovered in the room.  Or it involved a trigger you could never imagine or expect – like a bicycle, the time of day, his favorite drink, or any number of things that normally sent me into tears.

Or, maybe you came into my life post-child loss and know none of my history, or baggage.  I can’t begin to open myself up to you because I’m too busy trying to avoid the “how many kids do you have” question that always comes with getting to know someone.

I’m not rude, or snobby, I’m just grieving and still trying to find my new place in this world.





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    Heather Blair

    Heather Blair

    In 2008, my world as I knew it changed forever, with the sudden loss of our 14 year old son, Austin. The journey to my blog (and attitude toward life) was bumpy and tearful, beginning at a memorial blog for my son. I later chose to take another path, challenging myself to find the JOY in every day, despite the sadness I still felt. I love and miss him daily but I'm living my life to honor him - and celebrating every moment it brings. My goal...to find and share the joy in every day. You can find me at Joyful Challenge

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    8 Comments

    1. Reply

      Maryanne V

      October 2, 2015

      I lost my 28 years old brother, who lived with my husband and our kids, suddenly. It’s been 6 years. I watch my parents struggle to live and I too have lost friends. My relationship with even my closet friends has changed. I don’t think they understand that I am a different person now. We don’t teach grief support. People think it goes away after a certain amount of time. Your article perfectly expressed what I have a hard time putting into words. Thank you.

    2. Reply

      Lacy Johnson

      December 23, 2015

      You saved a friendship today. I am in a business partnership as well as best friends. I don’t think my friendship would have been saved if I didn’t read your article to them. You nailed it. I am forever grateful. Thank you
      Thank you Thank you
      Lacy

    3. Reply

      Isabel

      August 26, 2016

      My husband died suddenly when I was46 snd my son had just started university.People crossed the road rather than speak to me.Those I thought were close friends were no longer there.It was very hurtful and still is.I had 2good friends who were there for my son and I.Even my parents were unable to help us.I felt very alone and stilk do.

    4. Reply

      Ian Lees

      November 19, 2016

      I am a father who five years ago lost his son aged 26. Since then, I have become increasingly disappointed with my so called friends – some life-long – who rarely, if ever, get in touch simply to ask how I am or invite me to a social occasion. It is as though I have a contagious disease, others seem to just take advantage. It’s true that life changes for ever if/when you lose a child but in a way it can be quite transcending when hearing about the trivialities of how these people seemingly care more about the bargains they had in the sales, or their new car, or how much money they are making, or how they are otherwise preoccupied – forgive them god for they known not what they do comes to mind… while I do not expect life to stop for me, some people can be so insensitive and self-centred. It certainly puts life into perspective and I no longer consider these people as friends, perhaps they never were…

      I hope I can contribute in a small way after reading other people’s experiences here. It has helped me a lot to remember that we all will experience grief during our lifetime, Maybe not through losing a child but nevertheless it will eventually come to all… it just happened to be our turn.

    5. Reply

      Gabbie

      November 25, 2016

      My son died this past summer and every single second of every single day is nothing but pain and agony. I live in grief. Right after my sons funeral my so called best friend started talking to me just like nothing happened – all about her problems. How her stomach hurt – her nose was stuffed up – she couldn’t sleep good – her head hurt – she was mad at her husband – on and on. She actually wanted/expected me to give her emotional support – I have no room in my head to listen to her problems anymore and when she found that out she stopped speaking to me completely. Her level of selfishness shocked and deeply hurt me – I never would have expected this type of behavior from her. People just don’t understand what losing a child is like – the pain there are no words to describe the sadness.

    6. Reply

      Brenda E Boyle

      February 15, 2017

      I lost my youngest of 3 children 8 days before Christmas, 2014. 7 days before Christmas he donated his organs & gave 4 families true Christmas miracles. What hurts more than anything I could have imagined is that my closest friends are so uncomfortable when I talk about Lucas. Parents love to talk about all their children, so do I. I have 3 children, that will never change! I love to remember when all three where little & all the things we did as a family. People actually ask me not to talk about Lucas because it makes them sad. Really?! You talk about your kids in front of me, but don’t want me to have the same joy. It’s been 2 years. When we don’t know something we Google it. Why didn’t anyone Google how to help a friend who’s son died? I hurt so bad because.nobody understands what I’m going through, because they didn’t take the time to look into grieving.

    7. Reply

      Heather Pickens

      July 12, 2017

      My 15 year old son died June 13. On the 16th one of my best friends came to my parents with a nice lunch for us. Sunday morning the 18th I woke up to a cruel and ugly text from her. It hit me like a Mack truck. The devil himself cringed. I quickly realized she was never my friend, but a week after his service it happened again. My bff of over 10 years, my partner in crime, had wrote me off, also via text message. She said she still loved me, but couldn’t be my friend. Really? I didn’t cry or even respond. My worries are for my husband, 4 year old daughter and myself. My tears are for Thomas. The weeds picked themselves out and the flowers stayed.

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