Friday, November 16, 2012

Ms. B Reeved on Fairweather Friends

Ms. B. Reeved is an alter-ego of mine who is presumptive enough to offer advice on subjects related to bereavement and grief.  She is well-meaning but never claims to have all the answers, and she hopes you will respond with your own advice.  If you'd like Ms. B. to blather on and then ask her readers for real advice about sticky circumstances or obnoxious people in your own life, please send inquiries to attn: Ms. B. at bythebrooke (at) gmail (dot) com.

Dear Ms. B,

What do you do when a friend from the past pops back into your life out of the blue?

I roomed with a girl for a few semesters in college who I was friends with while in college, but never super close, and then after we graduated we sort of went our separate ways with the occasional email to check back in.

Then we lost our baby. And I never heard from her. I can't be certain that she know, but because of our mutual friends, I'm fairly confident that she knew. But I do know that she knew I was pregnant. She had emailed me only a few days/weeks before he was born - talking about how crazy it was that I was about to be a mom. That was the last I ever heard from her.

Then my brother-in-law was killed in Afghanistan. And again, I never heard from her. But again, not certain that she knew what happened, but given that the West Point network is small and when graduates are killed, especially those with siblings who are also grads, it's hard not to hear about those things.

And then today, years later, I get an email. Just saying hi. Seeing how I am. Telling me she's pregnant (of course), and that she's moving here.

Ummm, Ms B - what do I do!?! 

Write her back and say "thanks for not saying anything - don't bother trying to get back in my life" - but then what if she didn't know? But then if she didn't know, it's clear that it's not a friendship I've needed, during the highs and lows, during the last few years. Is it rude to cut her out without giving her a chance? Seeing as though she knew I was pregnant, and never checked back in - I'm assuming she knew what happened. I didn't even get the "how's the baby" email that I got from other people who assumed I did have a happy ending.

And what if I just don't really care to re kindle a friendship that was never super strong to begin with? How do I politely respond and say thanks but no thanks.

Basically - how do you update people on your life when you think they already know, but never said anything when you needed kind words the most?

Errrr. . . .advice please? 

In No Need of Fairweather Friends

Dear In No Need,

A tricky quandry, indeed.  Really, though, I suppose you have two options:

1) ignore the e-mail.

2) respond.

Ms. B thinks you are welcome to ignore the e-mail if you'd like.  A random roommate assignment from years ago does not obligate you to play welcome wagon for this person when she moves to town.

But, let's say you are a compassionate, generous, open-hearted, and generally nice person, as Ms. B suspects you are.  Let's say you would feel kind of weird about ignoring her e-mail, even though she appears to have ignored you in your time of crisis.

I think that the most generous thing you can do is give her the benefit of the doubt.  I understand this is difficult, but it's also clear from your letter that she wasn't a close friend who let you down in a shocking and unforgivable way.  She sounds more like a friendly acquaintance who just had no idea what to do when (if?) she heard the news.  That doesn't mean you have to like her or want to be her friend now, but it also means you'll probably feel better if you reach out to her with some measure of friendliness, rather than stewing over what she should have done.  (Ms. B makes a mental note here that she should try harder to follow her own advice...).

Keep it on the friendly-acquaintance level, which is easier if you have no expectations for how she'll respond. You don't owe her anything--if you ever did, she made that null and void when she failed to give you the love and sympathy you needed.  Still, most of us feel better when we treat people with a measure of politeness, so it seems to me the right decision is to give her the benefit of the doubt and send a short but polite response.

Having grown up in a small town, where my parents still live, even without being on The F-Book, I often find myself knowing details about the lives of people that I used to know back in high school, but whom I've barely spoken to in years.  I'm sure this works both ways, given how the small-town gossip mill runs.  It can be awkward when I assume people know our story, particularly when they express congratulations for Zuzu though they never expressed condolences for Eliza.  I can easily let myself feel sad and resentful about this, but I try to keep in mind that in general it's much easier to express congratulations than condolences.  Especially true, I think, when you hear news second- or third-hand.  Many people are more likely to reach out to someone who has just gotten engaged or had a new baby, for example, than they would be if they heard through the grapevine that someone got divorced or lost a parent.  In the same way, everyone and their dog will write "Happy Birthday" on your F-Book wall, but won't acknowledge a post you make about missing your baby.  It's not ideal, but that's just the way things are.  We can hate it, but we can't change other people, unless we lead by example.  I think you're probably right in guessing that she knows about your losses.  I'd venture to say that she simply has no idea how to address them.  Probably because she's clueless rather than malicious.

What I mean by giving her the benefit of the doubt is that when you reply to the e-mail, you simply say that it's a surprise (or a nice surprise, if you're feeling generous) to hear from her after such a long time.  Then you are open and honest about what you've been through since you heard from her last--the good, the bad, and the heartbreaking.  After all, you don't know for SURE that she is aware of all you've been through, and even if she does know, she may have found out at a later time, when she felt that contacting you would be awkward or invasive, or any number of other misguided and crazy things that people think when they find themselves at a loss to deal with someone else's grief.

I would say something like, "It's such a [nice] surprise to hear from you after all this time!  We are doing really well these days, but we've certainly had more than our share of heartache in recent years.  I'm not sure if you heard that we lost our first baby.  After a perfect pregnancy, he died when he was born.  Losing him was absolutely devastating, and it was just a few months later that my brother-in-law was killed in Afghanistan.  We are still dealing with our grief and missing them very much.  Our new baby is a bright spot in our lives.  He's growing so fast and making us laugh (and/or pull our hair out) every day.  Congratulations on your pregnancy--I hope everything goes smoothly for you.  I wish you the best of luck with your move!"

You've put your truth out there (but no more information than she could get if she spoke to a mutual acquaintance and asked about you), you've kept it friendly but not too personal, you haven't made any unfounded accusations about why she wasn't there for you, and this way you'll know for SURE that she knows.  Then you can decide whether or not it's worth your time and energy to reconnect with her based on how she responds to you.  You're not asking for anything in return, but you are giving her the opportunity to do what she should have done long ago--tell you how sorry she is and offer some kind of support, even if it's simply belated condolences.

What you do not have to do:  Rekindle a friendship that was never super strong.  In a way, the stakes are lower simply because this person isn't very important to you.  She may turn out to be a super nice friendly-casual-acquaintance if/when you do see her again.  Or she may just remain someone you used to know.  You do not have to meet up with her when she gets to town if you don't want to, but you also don't have to decide that right now.

Once you've e-mailed her, she might send some magic response that would make you want to be friends again.  Or (perhaps more likely?) she may try to ignore your grief and blab on about her pregnancy (ugh).  Or she may say all the right things, and you still may feel that you guys don't click enough to make it worth the time and effort to really "be friends."  There may be nothing she could say at this point that would make you wish to meet up with her and her pregnant belly or her new baby.  Ever.  Fair enough.  At that point, you can either be blunt and direct:  "I'm hurt that you never got in touch with me after I lost my baby and I'm just not interested in reconnecting right now."  Or you can be indirect, "I'm sorry I'm not available for coffee next week.  Let me get back to you when things aren't so crazy."  Or you may decide to let things take their natural course and you may see her once or twice and then not hear from her for another few years.  The important thing is that you'll be fine no matter what.

It's easy and (I think) normal to want to punish people who weren't there for us then by not letting them get close to us now.  Sometimes, especially with people who are truly toxic, this is the right choice.  But sometimes offering someone a second chance can be more of a gift for yourself than it is for them.  Because you have no (or very low) expectations, you won't be irreparably hurt by her response (or lack thereof).  In this case, it seems opening up the opportunity for her to demonstrate she's not a jerk would be the most potentially rewarding choice.  The three potential outcomes:  (1) she'll rise to the occasion and pleasantly surprise you and you'll be friends on some level again; (2) she'll respond appropriately but you still won't be interested in meeting up with her, but at least you won't feel (as) bitter or angry toward her; (3) she'll prove without a doubt that she's definitely the not kind of person you need in your life and then you can cut her out of there with no qualms about it.

For what it's worth, Ms. B hopes you'll end up with option (1) or (2).

What do the rest of you think?  Should In No Need respond to the e-mail or ignore it entirely?  Anyone been in a similar situation?  What did you do?  How did it turn out?  What would you do in this case?

Warmest regards,
Ms. B


  1. this is definitely a tough situation and one i have found myself in these days having gone back to FB and after the birth of my rainbow. some people assume that i am now in a happier place, and have been contacting me again. i've received several friend requests from people who were my friend when Julius passed away, said nothing, but now want to reconnect. i have ignored them. it hurts too much to think that they are ok with me now that they think i am happy, but have never acknowledged my pain or more importantly, my son. my wounds from these people are still too fresh to allow them back into my life. maybe one day i will get over that pain they have caused (and i do acknowlege the fact that i'm sure they did not mean to cause me pain at all, they most likely just didn't know what to say). but i'm not there right now.

  2. This advice is perfect. I will say that when I left an abusive marriage, I was astounded by the lack of family members and friends who reached out to me. I think people truly don't know what to say and are terrified to say the wrong thing. With that being said, I also think that you have to go with your gut in this type of a situation, regarding the type of response to give, if any. I'd probably respond, word-for-word, as you suggested, and then depending on her response, decide how I'd take it from there. It's a tricky situation, though, that's for sure.

  3. That is amazing advice. Better than I would have given, but just 8 months out from my own loss, I'm still carrying a lot of anger and resentment towards the people like your friend who didn't say anything. I'm going through something similar, and am doing the ignore route. But I will say that I am aware that by ignoring her, I'm holding on to my anger and hurt in a way that I think wouldn't happen if I just reached out as described.

  4. That is amazing advice. Better than I would have given, but just 8 months out from my own loss, I'm still carrying a lot of anger and resentment towards the people like your friend who didn't say anything. I'm going through something similar, and am doing the ignore route. But I will say that I am aware that by ignoring her, I'm holding on to my anger and hurt in a way that I think wouldn't happen if I just reached out as described.

  5. I think Brooke (ehhm Ms. B Reeved) had good advice.

    I found resentment stirring up as I read through this (maybe because I'm a good detective and back my BLM friends with my heart). I wanted you to ignore her email and be done with it.

    BUT, just as I was emailing with a Babyloss dad recently, it's our DUTY and RIGHT to represent babyloss. It's a terrible and sad and unfortunate and totally unfair thing that happened to us all. YET, how will others know how to "deal" with us if we don't set the bar?

    I probably wouldn't have had the balls to email someone I knew who had a loss and went through all kinds of turmoil. I'd probably have stuck to my happy, shiny self and life and avoided her because I didn't know how to respond. So in that, she is actually quite brave, even if her first response (maybe she was nervous and unsure this whole time?) didn't mention losing your baby.

    I think I'd do exactly as Ms. B recommended with the response of updating on your life (good, bad, ugly) and don't leave it open ended by asking questions. If she writes back, THEN the expectation to deal with your losses is in her ballpark. If she doesn't respond with compassion and open up to you about losing your baby and BIL, she shouldn't be your friend.

    You deserve better. Friends support one another in good and bad. Even if the bad happened awhile back. When they come back into your life, they need to deal with the dirty laundry.

    You mentioned she's moving to your town. Hopefully not too close if things don't work out.

  6. Honestly I think this advice is spot on!
    I know that lane ass knows about you multiple losses sweetie. So she sucks she doesn't deserve to trapse back in with f-ing prego news. Especially right now. But... Like ms b said... It gives you the opportunity to tell her (what she already knows) and see if she has the balls towoman up... (Wait that doesn't make sense ha). Anyway you owe her nothing so whatever you do will be fine.