REWIND:I wrote a similar article many years ago, but since the recent death of my husband, I have a new perspective now. I thought I learned so much about grief that I could recite what’s normal about it in my dreams (and sometimes I did.) However, grief has a way of teaching us, molding us, and preparing us for something greater in life than what we have already experienced. So, this is a “rewind and relearn, on my journey through new grief. It includes an enlightening new outlook on friendship during grief.
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend.”
(Charles Caleb Colton)
Friendships often change after loss. I can vividly recall a friendship that failed and was very concerning to me at the time. After the death of our son Chad, in 1993, this happened with one of my co-workers who was also a friend whom we did social things with as couples. They came to the funeral, but I didn’t hear from them for almost a year after that. One day, she called me and apologized for ignoring us. She said they would really like to go out for dinner again. Halfway through the meal, they started to talk about their son’s activities in sports. I said, “I remember when Chad played sports. It seemed we were always….” Suddenly, I felt an uncomfortable silence as though their ears were deaf to me, and the evening abruptly ended. In the days following, I was shattered trying to determine what I did or said that pushed them away.
In my journey through grief, I learned that not everyone who was your friend before your loved one’s death, will be your friend during and after your grief and mourning. I presumed that some friends avoided me because they didn’t know how to deal with the deep emotions I was expressing. I felt confident that was all that was to it…until many months later.
It’s not unusual for some of the friends that are there for you early in your grief will not be there for your duration however long that takes. A few very special people will. I accept that friends and family are not meant to be your cheering squad. That’s not their role. They are present to support you in your darkest hours, but life goes on. And so must theirs! It’s perfectly acceptable and normal for them to quit calling, stop visiting, cease sending cards, and silently recede into their own lives with their own events, problems, responsibilities and joy! I do not judge them for their absence.
But the enigma of this experience haunted me for some time, until I discovered an even greater reason for the collapse of our relationship. I changed. I grew. My life fast-forwarded to a new normal and that direction was different than theirs. We didn’t have the same things in common anymore. This isn’t a bad thing. But I was struck by the significance of my initial reaction. At the time I felt betrayed. I later understood that it was necessary to walk this journey alone and “grow” from my experience. No one could do that for me.
Unmistakably the recent death of my husband changed my perspective on friends in grief. I was prepared for the inevitable. I reminded my better self that all this attention and love isn’t going to last. I prepared my mind toaccept that this time I had no one to talk to about all the friends who “ walk away”. I committed to not skipping any opportunity to share time with someone who asked if they could visit with me. I was going to use this period-of-time to gather up all the love and hugs they handed out. But what I’ve been experiencing is a totally different spin on the same sequence of events. I’m overwhelmed and amazed about the friends who have stepped up to support me in countless ways.
What made the difference? Is it the decades in between significant losses that have allowed our society to learn to accept and embrace those who grieve? Are we as a society becoming more empathetic? Is the subject of death less taboo and more eagerly supported than before? Or is it just a part of the aging process that friends of a certain age have had enough of their own heartache that they are anxious to pay tribute to someone of a similar age with grace? Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for the pleasant surprise.
I’m overwhelmed and comforted by the incredible friendship and support I’ve received.These are the friends who listen to your story, cry with you, pray for you, and literally show up on your doorstep in a moment of need. These are people who don’t change their direction in a store to avoid you, but rather greet you with sincere sympathy and friendly conversation. I’ve witnessed near strangers who heard my story reach out and ask to share theirs. I’ve felt the embrace of countless people that Gary and I companioned in our grief education events come to stand next to me now. I’ve found new friends just by saying “I’m sorry you hurt, too.”
I’m grateful for everyone and those whom I have yet to meet. I want to share a story from back than that that bears repeating. I once told my sister about two eagles flying over our country home on the anniversary day of Chad and Jenny’s (his fiancé) death. I was sure it was a symbolic message that gave me incredible peace. Some time later she said to me, “Today I saw two eagles soaring together. I thought of Chad and Jenny.”And recently, a gift from my brother and his wife of a beautiful crafted Memory Box. They wrote in a card. The picture on the front of this box was so beautiful of where the two of you met. I hope this makes you feel blessed.”
For all the people who came forward, you are critical to my personal and spiritual transition during this time. Though grief requires that walk alone to grow, it takes the grace and courage from good friends to nudge you forward as you move.I had a poster that hung on my office wall and it still applies today:
“Who knows the joys that lie ahead
The secret smiles I’ll find,
The friends I’ll meet
The memories sweet,
The cares I’ll leave behind.
Who knows the beauty of the days,
I’ve never seen before.
My only wish for life is this
The courage to explore.
I’m grateful for all my friends—those that walked with me and those that walked away. In each circumstance, they gave me the freedom to explore!
About the Author----------------
In 2018, Wings-a Grief Education Ministry will celebrate its 25th anniversary as a non-profit organization. Wings was created as a ministry of hope by Nan and Gary Zastrow after the death of their son, Chad Zastrow. On April 16, 1993, Chad died as a result of suicide. Nan is the author of five books, a quarterly online grief eLetter and dozens of articles published in various resources. Since 2003, Nan regularly publishes articles in Grief Digest Magazine. Visit the website at: www.wingsgrief.org or the Wings Facebook page.