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Carol's Columns

How to Deal With Friends You Lose After the Death of a Child

True friends don't leave us. Circumstances and miles may separate good friends for years with the only contact being the annual holiday card. However, when finally together, close friends soon find that cozy place of their friendship. We often have different friends for different reasons. Some friends might be skiing or hiking friends, while others are for sharing plays, books, events or juicy intellectual conversations. Only a few fall into the category of a close deep friend where we can share profoundly of ourselves. These good friends don't abandon us after a crisis, especially after the death of our child.

Friendships are sometimes tricky, especially after a crisis. This can often be a sorting process of who your true friends really are. It is easy to have friends when times are good but what happens when the chips are down? We might instead discover that people we thought were close to were not the good friends we believed they were.

There can be many reasons for losing friends after we lose a child. Some are that they may think we are not moving fast enough through the grief process and therefore are no longer fun to be around. Dinner invitations may cease for concern of the gloom the bereaved may bring to event. Other friends may not know what to say and therefore avoid us. This unfortunately can be true in tragic death situations such as murder or suicide. At a time when the bereaved need people most, they may instead find themselves isolated.

Another reason, especially in the death of a child, is the inherent fear that surfaces in other parents. Their vulnerability in realizing they can't always protect their children from death, is too much to handle. I'm not justifying their behavior but pointing out reasons I've encountered in my 25 years as a therapist.

In my personal experience after Kristen's death, I had friends who let me know that I could call them no matter if it was in the middle of the night. I never had to because the comfort of knowing they were there for me was all I needed. These were my good friends. At the same time, I was conscious of others avoiding me. This once happened when I was at the grocery store and saw a person I thought was a friend notice me and turn her cart around to retreat down another isle. I'm certain she didn't know I saw her do this. On the other hand, certain people, whom I had not counted among my closer friends, emerged and were there for me when I needed them most. In a crisis we learn so much about ourselves, and so much about others. A few good friends are worth more than a thousand others. You probably have discovered who they are.