Coping Effectively When Friends Walk Away in Your Time of Need. 

By Lynn Acquafondata

Life can feel unpredictable and out of one’s control when suffering from a serious illness or grieving the death of a family member or close friend

The loss becomes even harder when friends or family members avoid you as though you might infect them with cancer or congestive heart failure. Or when friends act as though the death of your loved one might cause one of their loved ones to die soon. 

Last week I wrote about the secondary painful loss that happens when friends and family members avoid visiting or talking about your loss or suffering. Unfortunately this is common. I gave strategies for friends

The good news is that there are aspects of this secondary loss that you do have some control over. Here’s what you can do to lessen the feelings of loneliness and abandonment that sometimes come when friends don’t visit or when they change the subject when you talk about your fears and losses. 

1) Don’t take it personally. You are facing something others who haven’t been there can’t fully understand. Your world have been shaken in a way that theirs has not. Don’t take their absence personally. 

2) Bring out the best in your friends. Be specific about your emotional needs. Your friends and family may not know that you need to talk about your loss and fears. They may avoid these subjects to protect you. Tell them that this does not help, and give them permission to speak about or listen to the difficult subjects on your heart. 

3) Accept your friend’s limits with appreciation. If all a friend can do is call you by phone or stop by the hospital for a minute, or drop off a gift while you sleep or send a card, celebrate what they have offered. Tell yourself that your friend is doing all her or she can. You may never know why this person has a particularly hard time sharing anymore. 

4) Help your friends to feel safe. Reassure your friends when they do show up. Explain any medical devices you wear if you are ill. Tell them how grief affects your moods or responses if you have lost a loved one. Let friends know that the things people say sometimes trigger tears, but that tears are helpful for you. 

5) Don’t rely on one friend or family member. Reach out to more than one person for support. You may also benefit from having a counselor, therapist or clergy person or chaplain to talk to as well.  

6) Don’t wait, reach out first. If no one is calling and you are feeling well enough, call, email or text to let people know that a visit would be helpful. Often people don’t want to intrude. Let others know good times to call or stop by. It can help to say you would like visits, but call first to make sure it is a good time. 

7) Know when to let go. Your perspective on life may have changed as a result of facing death. Some things may seem much less important that used to take a central place in your life before. Your friends have not changed in the same ways. Sometimes friendships that meant a lot before no longer work for you because you now have radically different needs. Let friends go if they are no longer supportive to you, but don’t take it personally.

8) Seek people who do understand. Look for people who have been through similar life experiences. Sometimes support groups can be helpful because these people are going through something similar and know what it is like. 


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