Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ms. B's Advice on Friends Who Don't Write Back

OK, Ms. B. I've had something eating at my brain for a long time, and if you're really taking questions, I've got one for you: In spring 2010, my friend lost her baby. She had one girl, who was about 3, and she was expecting another little girl that April. I was also due with my second girl, in March. Oh, and to add insult to injury, her best friend was due with her second girl in April. 

Let me explain our friendship a bit. We were really good friends all throughout middle and high school. Once college started, we naturally drifted apart, but we tried to see each other about once a year. So unless we see each other on the very odd occasion, we’re like twice-a-year email buddies. But – we’re old friends. And we’re bonded. I feel like, even though we rarely talk, we’re still friends for life. If that makes sense. Anyway, we had met each other’s first children in 2008, when she came to town to visit her parents. Her daughter was 2, and mine was a newborn. It was great catching up. We emailed pictures of our kids over the next year or so. And when I sent her an email to tell her I was pregnant with my second, I just KNEW she was pregnant too. And with a girl. Sure enough, she sent me a response telling me so. OK, so both of us – and her best friend, who I’m also friends with – are all pregnant at the same time with our second girls. Isn’t life grand? 

Fast forward to March 2010. I email her to say I had my baby. I send a picture. I explain how my daughter got sick at 2 days old and we were in the hospital for 3 days in a row. It was the worst days of my life. Blah blah blah. Poor me. No response. Whatever – no big deal. In mid-April or so I email her, sure she’s had her baby by now. No response. And just as I just KNEW she was pregnant…I knew something was wrong. 

She finally responded and told me they had lost the baby a couple months back. I’m guessing the pregnancy was about 7 months along. I of course extended all my condolences and apologize for going on and on about my baby and how rough it was for me, when clearly she was going through the worst pain ever. We exchanged a few more emails, and she was actually (oddly) upbeat. She tells me the other friend had her baby and is really excited. So that’s how it goes. Emails drop off. But I’ve sent her probably three emails over the months. Just wanting to know how she’s doing. Letting her know that I remember her baby. Saying if she ever wants to talk, I’m here. And I have never heard back. 

I talked to our mutual friend, who said that apparently she just really doesn’t want to talk about it. So now I feel bad, that I’ve pushed her and bugged her. That’s fine if she doesn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted her to know she COULD. I figured that mentioning it isn’t going to make her pain worse – it’s already as bad as it can be! Did I send one too many emails and push her away? I don’t want to be that friend who abandons their grieving friend. I’m not a BLM, but I’ve read many BLM blogs and have taken everything to heart. Your pain is palpable. Hers must be to. I know from reading these blogs that BLMs need their friends to stick by them and talk about their baby and acknowledge what happened – not just ignore it. But I guess I’m not sure what to do next. Thoughts?


Dear Lainie,

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend's loss, and I'm sad to hear about the way it has complicated (and seems to be thwarting) your friendship.

Ms. B's assessment of the situation is that the action that you've taken is appropriate and kind, and she would assume that it has been appreciated by your friend.  For whatever reason, your friend is not currently responding to your e-mails and it seems like she doesn't want to discuss her loss.  There are lots of possible explanations for this, although none of them may feel especially satisfying.  Maybe she's hit a point in time that's triggering a strong grief reaction.  Maybe she is trying to get pregnant again and has not yet been successful.  Or maybe she is pregnant and doesn't want to make an announcement, so she's avoiding people.  Maybe it's taking her so much energy to go back to work or deal with a new (non-baby-related) issue in her life that she simply doesn't feel that she has the time or energy to respond to you.

It's unfortunate, but it isn't your fault.  I don't think you should feel that you've pushed her or bugged her by expressing your sympathy and getting in touch with her.  It may be that she's simply not comfortable discussing her loss with you, which sucks, but is her personal issue and, again, not your fault.  Maybe she only feels comfortable talking to other bereaved parents, maybe she only discusses it with her husband, or her therapist--hopefully she's talking to someone.  Maybe she's tired of hashing out how sad she feels, maybe she feels like there's nothing new to say, or maybe you're simply not her closest friend and you had a baby girl who lived and for those reasons (which you obviously can't control) she doesn't feel as comfortable discussing it with you.  It's not your fault that you had a baby, it's not your fault that you shared that news before you knew what happened to her, and it sounds like everything you've done so far has been out of a genuine sense of concern for you friend.  It sounds like you wish you could do more to ease her pain, but as the terrible old adage goes, only time will help with that.

Ms. B would advise that it's fine for you to continue to send occasional "thinking of you" e-mails if you'd like to do so.  If you want to wait to contact your friend until she makes the first move, at this point I think that would be understandable as well.  You have let her know you care and sympathize with her, you've let her know that you remember her daughter and are open to talking about her.  It would be very kind and generous of you to make a small charitable donation or do some other kind of memorial in honor of her daughter on her birthday, and that would offer you another opportunity to reach out to your friend.  There's honestly not much else that you can do.

As the last few blog posts here have acknowledged, the collateral damage that comes in the loss of friendships after the loss of a child is one of the saddest and most complicated aspects of this grief circus.  Bereaved parents (in general) can be pretty unforgiving if we think people are ignoring or diminishing our loss.  But sometimes our friends do everything right and we still can get so consumed in our grief that we neglect those relationships we need the most, and we don't realize until much later how much we'll regret that.  

So, if you feel capable, I think the best gift you can give your friend right now is patience.  If you feel that you are the life-long sort of old buddies, despite your relatively infrequent encounters in more recent years, then I think the kindest thing you can do is to realize that you can't quite understand where your friend is in her grief, and remember that it's not about you.  Most people really have a hard time with this, because friendship is generally a mutual endeavor.  But if you are really interesting in maintaining your friendship, then it may be that the only thing you can do is not feel offended if it's a long time coming before she's ready to contact you.  Ms. B knows that it's asking a lot to be patient with someone who is unresponsive to your efforts, and the fact is that a lot of people are unwilling to put up with a friend dropping out of their life after a certain point in time.  If you can be relaxed about this, and not put a timeline on your friend's grief, then hopefully the two of you will be back in touch eventually.  Ms. B believes that life-long, old-school friends can absolutely make up for lost time, and she wishes you and your friend brighter days in the future.

Ms. B

Readers?  As always, Ms. B welcomes your contributions.  Would you offer Lainie alternative advice?


  1. The perfect response. Sometimes, due to no ones fault by my own, I just can't bring myself to respond. Because what more is there to say? But I think the occasional "thinking of you" email on the monthly anniversary of her babe's passing is a great way to extend the olive branch.

  2. I totally agree. I can't always find the strength or energy to respond - Hell, I don't always even answer incoming phone calls - but it means the world to know that someone is still thinking of me/us and our babies. That they perservere despite my lack of response means even more.

  3. Shoot. I feel like that friend who ignores her. I ignore some incredible, well-meaning people who text/email they are thinking of me and thinking of Andrew. That offer to make those charitable donations in his name despite the financial burden it might cost them. I still ignore. Grief is all-consuming and although it's not the best response a BLM can give, sometimes it's all they can manage.

    Hang in there, Lainie. It may take days. Months. Years. But if you feel as though your friendship is worth the test of time, waiting this time out while your friend deals with grief is exactly what must happen. Send the occasional email. Call her and leave messages on occasion (not incessant, though). Send her cards on her daughter's birthday (or the time of year if you aren't sure the date). None of these are seen as bothersome if done in small quantities and while they are painful to accept like all things related to grief, they are absolutely welcome and lovely in their own right. Keep it up. You've done everything right.

    From a BLM... you are doing EXACTLY what she needs right now.

  4. i have no additional advice to give. as always ms. b you are spot on.

    i have a friend who was in pretty much the same situation as lainie with me. she had a baby the month Julius passed away. she tried to reach out to me after he passed away. unfortunately i was not able to bring myself to engage in the friendship at the time. her having a new baby boy was too painful of a reminder of what i had lost.

    she had always been a great friend to me. but she lives in another state and i only occasionally talk to her. so, though i am ashamed to admit it, i was ready to check out of that friendship. i was just going to chalk it up to the collateral damage of grief. months went by and i hadn't heard from her (i wasn't expecting to or anything). but then one day, she sent me a text, asking if she had done something wrong. i ended up calling her, and was so surprised to hear that she truly deeply cared about my friendship and was not willing to let it go (as i had been). her reaching out to me again to let me know that my friendship was worth it meant so much.

    she's not a blm, but she has shown me that true friends will wait for you. so i would just second what you said. patience is the best gift you could give to a grieving friend.

  5. I agree. I'm reminded of my college roommate. When I married & moved here, we often socialized with our husbands. She's a high-powered corporate lawyer & we wound up working across the street from each other. Used to meet up for lunch at least once a month, then slightly less frequently. There have been several periods in our relationship when I've gone for long periods without hearing from her. I knew that she & husband #2 (whom I had introduced her to) had been having problems, so when I finally heard from her after several months of silence, I wasn't surprised to learn they had split. She met husband #3 & had a baby, got busier, & I heard from her less frequently. She was there for me, though, when I lost Katie, when I struggled with infertility.

    A few years ago, though, my calls started going unreturned again. Then my Christmas card got returned. Part of me wondered if it was something I had said or done, or not done, but in my gut, I had a feeling all was not well with her marriage again, & that this was probably a case of history repeating itself. I continued to leave the occasional voice & e-mail message. Two years passed without contact (!), & I had pretty much decided, reluctantly, that the ball was in her court & I wouldn't be contacting her again.

    Then I saw her dad's obituary in the newspaper & of course I had to try to contact her. I e-mailed her with my condolences, & she e-mailed me back. We finally had lunch & she told me all that had been going on in her life. As I had suspected, she & husband #3 had split. It was an acrimonious divorce, & dealing with that, her teenaged son, her ailing father & her demanding career, left her with little time or energy for maintaining friendships. She told me that many of her friends had stopped speaking to her, but added, "I knew you wouldn't be judgmental."

    What could I say?? That was a year ago. I left her a message on her birthday & there was no response again. I've decided I will try again before Christmas. I miss her. I'm sad that we aren't as close as we once were, but I don't have many friendships that go back more than 30 years; I'd like to hang onto this one, even if it's not on the terms I would like. I want her to know that I'm there for her if she needs me.

  6. Agree with everyone else, this was spot on. Nothing else to add, Mrs B. You've nailed it once again.

  7. Great advice, and the question writer sounds like a wonderful friend. The only thing I would add is that it would be nice if you reach out to her sometimes without any mention of her daughter or her loss. We all manage our grief in different ways, and it's been important to me that I didn't suddenly become defined by my loss. Yes, it's had a huge impact on my life and who I am. But I like to talk about other things, too, and to feel like an active member of the world - especially after some time has passed.

  8. Thank you, Ms. B and everyone else! I'm more than happy to be patient. I wouldn't want to ever cause her any more pain than she's already in.

    Thank you for the advice, and it's good to know that non-baby related emails are appreciated.

    With Thanksgiving coming up, maybe I can send her a message just asking if she's coming to town.