Vanishing Friends

November 10, 2016

For more than a decade I have gestated a post and I think I’m going to go ahead and put it out there. It may seem at first like a retread, but it is not. I lost a lot of friends after I lost my son died. (The secondary damage of loss). While I am told that this is common, I have never understood the degree. Like – how common? I can count on a hand the friendships that survived his loss.

That means that very few people remember me as I once was. This feels like still another loss.

Me included – I don’t remember me. Actually I don’t. Because traumatic memory plays tricks.

There are things about myself I don’t remember anymore.

This vanishing kind of pisses me off if I’m being honest.

I’m kind of mad at the end of the day.

I have waited a decade – more – to cop to being mad. To suspending understanding. (I want to return to it – I will).

Know too that I do have such love in my heart for the people I miss. When I am in trauma, I vanish. I don’t think I’m special this way. There are people I want to tell things to. Like this: While I was gone, it seems like so many of you left too. Wherever did so many of you go? I kind of needed some of you guys to hold my memories.

I remember one person in particular who said something along the lines of, “I don’t know where to find you anymore.” I thought, well – neither do I. (Put that badly, it kind of scared me – if I’m being honest because it was true then – I was lost from myself). Anyway, she kind of left after that – that friend. I still see her from time to time and it always hurts my feelings a bit. We had fun together, she and I. I even tried to make up with her.
(I tried to make up with her).
I find that statement a bit galling, but I don’t want to get stuck. There is a larger message here.

I think the thing that kills friendships after loss is that people find it difficult to be powerless. Those in grief find it difficult to be vulnerable. To this day, nothing makes me want to crawl out of my skin more than crying in front of people. I feel about it the way back in the day when I sometimes had too much to drink and hoped the next day I had not said anything inappropriate.

And so I guess the purpose of this post is to try to help thread a needle between powerlessness and vulnerability. Do not be me and my friend sitting awkwardly on a couch. She was sad and unhappy that she could not find me. (I was too). I could not be vulnerable because I could not feel anything. I could not really talk. I wanted her to come back. For years I waited – but it never happened.

I have rebuilt a happy life. I still hope to see some of those old friends at the door once more. It’s always open.

For those who are trying to help others through – just keep showing up. It’s all you’ve got. But it means so much more than you think.
I promise you this.
The friend who you are trying to help  – she’ll be back. She’ll be different.
But like a witness or a time traveler, you will hold her.

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    Tara Shafer

    Tara Shafer is the co-founder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for people coping with the loss of a pregnancy or an infant. Her blog about baby bereavement, To Begin Again, appears on Psychology Today. She has worked as a human rights and refugee advocate for numerous organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights First. She has taught in the Department of Political Science at Marist College. Her work on loss has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Yahoo Shine, the Huffington Post, and on National Public Radio. For further information please visit Reconceiving Loss


    • Jean Campbell

      November 10, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      I could relate so well to your article about vanishing friends. Did they leave me because the broken me was too difficult to be around? Did I leave them because I was not finding the comfort I badly needed? All of these thoughts were on my mind last night so the timing of your article could not have been better. These are experiences I am having at 11 months out.

    • Kelly Jackson

      December 29, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Tara Shafer, it was a pleasure meeting you!

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