Friday, April 13, 2012

Ms. B's Advice on a Disappointing Friendship

Dear Ms. B,

I had a friend not talk to me for almost an entire year. Not only did she not attend parties and events, but she didn’t even RSVP “no” – just didn’t show up and no response. Randomly she started asking me to hang out recently, so I told her we needed to talk about our friendship. So last night she admitted to me that she wasn’t coming to our parties because her husband was uncomfortable. And, well, he was about to leave for basic training, and she didn’t want to spend their time together arguing. So she just went along with what he wanted. I asked her why her husband was uncomfortable, and she said that he feels our surviving daughter is living in her twin brother’s shadow. He feels I focus too much on my child who died, that I am too involved in the loss community, and that I’m not dealing appropriately. He feels awkward, apparently. 

Well I have no clue how he even makes this judgment of me (she claims he isn’t judging but is just ignorant). First off, he has never lost a child. Secondly, he doesn’t even have any children. Third, we don’t hang out at all (remember, almost an entire year without communication). Our loss happened 16 months ago, so how does he feel he can make an assessment of my coping skills or my way through grief when he hasn’t even been around?! I guess he is making his judgments based on Facebook posts, as I make remembrance images sometimes for my friends on their child’s remembrance date. Well, I refuse to feel ashamed of something that I feel honors my son’s memory (and the memory of other babies lost who deserve acknowledgment!). I feel my son would be proud to know that I try and help others through their grief. In a way it helps me to feel that he didn’t die in vain if I can do something to support others through this loss. For people to make me feel like I’m denied those very things that HELP me through my grief is just infuriating to me. 

When my friend told me this last night, I did not show her how angry I was. I just tried to explain where I was coming from with needing to do these things, and I wanted to see if she could help me understand her husband’s perspective. Now I am left feeling like a hypocrite, because I went along with suggestions to continue the friendship and keep in touch better. I didn’t know what to say or how to react without blowing up, so I played nice. Now I’m just angry. If you were in my situation, what would you do? Should I write her off for her husband’s actions? I don’t feel that is fair, but on the other hand, I don’t see how we can possibly continue a friendship. I will always feel judged. I will always feel hurt that she didn’t find our friendship important enough to stand up to her husband’s critical eye of me.

Angry and Hurt

Dear Angry and Hurt,

First of all, Ms. B is very sorry to hear about the loss of your son.  Secondly, she sincerely hopes that other readers will chime in with their perspectives on this issue--particularly if anyone has had a similar friendship experience.  Ms. B does not claim to be an expert, just an opinionated busy-body.  Multiple insights welcomed here!

Here is Ms. B's opinion on the issue:  Your friend's husband is wrong.  It is simply wrong to judge the way someone else copes with their grief, or to assume that they are doing it inappropriately simply because you don't think it's the way you would handle a similar situation.  Of course, as human beings we make these kind of judgments all the time, but we should not be surprised to learn that they sour relationships very quickly.

It appears that he is basing his assessment of the situation on very limited contact with you, and Ms. B is certain that he actually feels uncomfortable about the situation for a myriad of different reasons (baby death doesn't fit with the way he wants to believe the world works,he wants to differentiate himself from you--"I would handle it differently"--so as to protect himself from personal fears about loss, he has anxiety about his own mortality and upcoming military service).  Regardless, his opinion is misguided and incorrect, and your friend is also in the wrong for not defending you, and for burdening you with his judgments (Ms. B wonders to what extent your friend may agree with your husband but not want to come out directly and say so).

As for whether or not to try to salvage this friendship, that's a call that only you can make, although Ms. B certainly would not question your decision to cut ties except for superficially polite social encounters.  In order to move forward, though, and truly repair the relationship, it's clear that you are going to have to be completely honest with this friend. Ms. B thinks that you do need to separate your friend's opinion from her husband's (assuming those were his judgments, not hers), but that you should also express that you were hurt that she either didn't recognize or didn't try to correct her husband's misconceptions about the way you are grieving your son and parenting your daughter.

A conversation with your friend would probably be the best way to confront this issue, and even though you seem to regret having "played nice," Ms. B thinks it's a good thing that you didn't explode on your friend when she first explained what was going on.  You've demonstrated that you're calm and rational, and that you value her friendship.  But you must make it very clear that if she values your friendship, then she needs to TRY to understand your perspective.  You stated it beautifully in your e-mail:  I feel my son would be proud to know that I try and help others through their grief. In a way it helps me to feel that he didn’t die in vain if I can do something to support others through this loss. For people to make me feel like I’m denied those very things that HELP me through my grief is just infuriating to me.

Your friend needs to read and/or hear those words, and to try to understand where you're coming from.  You deserve to have friends who are not judging you, and friends who are not sitting idly by and allowing other people to do so.  So... a conversation with your friend might start with you explaining that you've been thinking about what she said and you realized that you're really disappointed and upset by the situation.  Then you can tell her that you want her to be a part of your life, and therefore you're going to try to work through your disappointment that her husband is a total douchebag judged you unfairly and that she didn't defend you.  BUT you can also express that in order to do so, you'll need her support as you continue to grieve your son and parent your daughter (in ways that you might emphasize are considered perfectly healthy and "normal" by psychologists, grief counselors, your minister/priest, and many other bereaved parents).  Anyone would bristle at having their parenting style criticized, and it seems perfectly fair to say, "I understand that we all cope with tragedy and loss in our own way, and you and your husband may handle things differently than my husband and I do.  However, I will never apologize for the things I do in memory of son, and I don't appreciate being told how you think I should be parenting my daughter."  You can tell her that you understand many people don't know what to do, but the one thing they SHOULDN'T do is make judgments about you without really trying to  understand where you're coming from.  And you can (kindly) let her know that you always welcome questions and conversations about how things are really going.

Above all, don't let the misconceptions of other people put any doubt in your mind.  You are aware that pretending that your son never existed would be unhealthy for you and your family.  What you're doing instead is demonstrating that you love both your daughter and your son, that your son's life is meaningful, and that it has gifted you with compassion and the desire to help other people.  That's a healthy and beautiful thing.  It's clear [from your blog, which Ms. B is keeping anonymous] that you are not neglecting your daughter as you cope with your grief, and there is no reason to fear that your daughter is growing up in her brother's shadow (although this is a common fear shared by many bereaved parents).  Yes, you will parent your daughter differently because her brother died.  To do otherwise would be impossible.  But as a result of your tragic loss, your daughter may grow up with parental role models of strength and fortitude, a sensitivity to the struggles of other people, and a greater appreciation for the all good things in life.  In that way, her brother's life will be not a shadow, but a light.

Ms. B


  1. Well Ms B, you are much more open and direct than I am. I'm a big wimpy chicken when it comes to confrontation, especially when it's about my baby loss. I love your direct approach and think it's good advice. But since you are asking for other points of view, here's mine.

    First of all, Angry and Hurt needs to decide if she still wants to be friends with this person now that she knows the truth. I do give this person credit for being so honest, as many people wouldn't be that brave. I suspect that she does not agree with her husband, just doesn't want to constantly argue with him about it. Otherwise she probably wouldn't have shared his feelings so openly.

    If it was me, and I decided I did want to remain friends with this woman then I would go ahead and do things with her, but only when her husband wasn't included. I would meet her for coffee, lunch, even dinners/drinks, but as "girl's events" or "girls and kids" events. But I would not include her in "couples" things.

    Obviously her husband has opinions that have been very hurtful, which he is entitled to have. But she does not have to spend time with anyone who she knows is judging her. So if it was me, I would limit contact with him whenever possible.

    You don't have to see the husband just because you want to see your friend. If she ever mentions it I would simply state that while I really want to spend time with her, I feel uncomfortable around her husband knowing what I know. But I would only tell her that if she asked (I told you I'm a chicken).

    If she has an issue with that then the question about being friends with her going forward answers itself.

    Hope this helps.

  2. It's good to remember her son. I lost my brother when I was 17. My dad wanted to stop living with him. I felt and still feel (12 years later) hurt by his actions and words in dealing with his grief. After all he had two living children to live for and he didn't see that. We weren't neglected, as she is not neglecting her daughter, but we certainly felt unequal. Perhaps that is what her friend is trying to tell her. The grief needs to be dealt with, but as time passes, if she is still putting more attention on her son than on her living daughter, her daughter may feel like she is living in his shadow and that her parents do not love and care for her as much as they do her brother.

  3. I think you have given good advice. Honestly, I think her friend probably does share her husband's feelings, otherwise I couldn't imagine why she would voice such hurtful things to Hurt and Angry. It just seems unnecessary for her to share that, in my opinion. I would be very seriously reevaluating if this is a friend you want in your life. Might be time for a "weeding your garden" post...

  4. ahh, judgey people. gotta love them.

    my advice is actually a bit harsh. i say cut them both out, plain and simple. there is no need to explain how you handle your loss and parenting the memory of your child. we do, as grieving parents, what we need to do in order to bring us a bit of comfort. if people don't understand then they need to get out of our lives or shut their mouths. this is a big issue for me. every day i deal with my broken heart for my son. i don't have time for the drama that other people want to bring. i only surround myself with understanding, loving positive people.

    sending ((hugs)) to "hurt and angry"

  5. I'm with Tiffany... Goodbye to both of them. And I wouldn't waste time giving them another thought. Clearly, you lived without her friendship, and she lived without yours (by her choice) for a year, so she doesn't sound like someone worth putting up with the crap for. What an idiot her husband is. And i agree... I think that she agrees with him on some level. And they are judging. Period. Assholes. Let their baby die and see how well they handle it. I hate that superior attitude as if they would do a better job.

  6. See this is why Mrs B has an advice"column" and I do not. My advice would be to flip out and tell them to fuck off- stupid assholes! Cussing always seems to be a good way to end friendships... But see angry and hurt wouldn't be ending anything, they did-when they stopped caring, asking, Coming around and started- judging neglecting,and being absent. It is easier to live without people like this in your life! You, your husband, your daughter and your son all deserve better.

  7. Tiffany is spot on. With friends like those, who needs enemies? Cut these losers out of your life, the sooner the better. Since I lost my son I have realised just how short and fragile life is and I do not wish to spend it surrounded by ignorant, self-absorbed, soul-less people. Period. If I can live the rest of my life without my son, I can quite easily live it without such awful people. And there are loads of people left out there who do have a soul. Try to stick those.

  8. I would have a hard time keeping these people in my life. And I'm curious if the friend came around after the husband left for basic training? Also, if it was just the husband that was uncomfortable then why didn't the friend make a point to make those lunch and coffee dates without him to keep the friendship/avoid the awkwardness before a year went by. If it was a good friend, there is no way you leave them at a time like this. I think what Angry and Hurt is doing for in memory of her son is commendable and completely normal in the grieving process of losing an infant. Good response Ms. B!

  9. Boot em. Grieving mamas don't have enough energy to try spending it on ridiculous people like this. I'd be tempted to go the Renel route too.

    As a former military member who has deployed, I can tell you that the fear of my own death, which I experienced constantly while in Afghanistan, was NOTHING compared to the life shattering tragedy of losing my daughter. I would have chosen my own death any day of the week. And no amount of training, military or otherwise, would have prepared me to deal with burying my child.

    When you're showing all-knowing military man the door, tell him he can put that in his pipe and smoke it.

  10. Totally agree with everyone who says ditch both of them. I can't stand judgy people- BAH! And real friends should stick up for you no matter what. Like Molly said, you lose a child and then let me see if you can handle things better than me. Whatever. I really feel like when you lose a child you get a pass. A pass to grieve however you need to. And if people don't get it oh well. Aren't they lucky because they don't have to try to get it. Their child isn't gone.

  11. I had a very similar situation after the loss of my son and the premature birth of my daughter. My "best friend" was no where to be found, she came to see me one time in the 95 days my daughter was in the hospital. She came to see me zero times in my 6 weeks at home with her. I was hurt by it, but I had so many other things to worry about with doctors appointments and heart monitors that I didn't have time to deal with her. Later that year, I set up a team for the March for Babies that spring and I got nothing from her. I had bouts of anxiety attacks that summer and never heard a word. Then all of a sudden I start getting texts and emails like nothing had happened. I was so pissed off by the casual "hey what's going on stranger", messages that I wanted to reach through my computer and punch her in the face! I chose to just ignore the messages and calls at first hoping she would go away (kinda like she did for 6 months), but she was persistent this time. So I finally responded to her (on FB I think) and told her that I was really hurt by her actions and don't think I will ever be able to get over how she treated me. I added a few specifics but just told her I didn't have time to worry about her with everything else I have going on. She responded with a half assed apology, I just ignored it and haven't heard from her since. I have to be honest, I don't really miss her. When I think of her now it's not in a postive way and I know if I was having to deal with her it would just cause added stress that I don't need. So long story short, I say tell her thanks but no thanks on the whole friendship thing.

  12. And one more thing. I don't know what kind of music Angry and Hurt listens to, but I highly recommend "Fade" by Staind. It's definitely a HARD rock song but man, can "singing" that song make you feel better about this kind of situation. Aaron Lewis (Staind's singer) is asking someone where they were when he needed them and how he should probably let his anger about it fade, but fuck it he is pissed! It's great!!!