A couple months ago, a dear friendship in my life came to an end. The constraints of physical distance had come between us over the years, but we always kept in touch and she remained an important fixture in my life. Then, something happened.
It took a long time for me to be certain that the friendship was over and when the dust finally settled, I was devastated.
I felt like my world was crumbling around me, and yet no one suspected anything was wrong. It seemed a very faux paus thing to talk about and the few times I mentioned it were met with awkward silences that brought the conversation to an abrupt and embarrassing halt.
I quickly learned not to broach the subject, even though silence compounded the hurt. In the absence of support (even my husband and other friends didn’t know how to help) I did what I always do when I’m going through something that I don’t understand: I found a book about it.
It was a crazy coincidence actually, this book (My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends) came out just as I accepted that the friendship was really over. I’d heard about the book at BlogHer, before I knew how much I would need it, and when I recognized its relevance to my situation, I looked it up to see if it was available.
It had been released, earlier that week in fact. I immediately ordered it and paid for it to arrive the next day.
The moment it landed on my doorstep, I set to work devouring it. Pages and pages of other women describing their own painful friendship loses. Their words were a healing salve spread gingerly over my wounded heart.
About half way through the selection of essays I came across this paragraph in Cheryl Suchors‘ “Going Without Sugar.”
“Through it all, I longed for people to acknowledge the depth of my loss. To send a card, perhaps. To check in on me or invite me out to ease the loneliness. To honor the importance of a 27-year friendship and assume that I’d mourn when it appeared to be ending.”
How had I never before recognized the similarities between friendship and pregnancy loss? Both are shrouded in denial and taboo, how both are completely devastating and yet almost entirely unacknowledged.
I started seeing the parallels everywhere.
Friendship loss, like pregnancy loss, changed my vision of the future. My previous assumptions are no longer relevant and I’ve had to reshape my expectations every day.
No one talks about it but sometimes, if I bring it up, women will share their own stories of friendships lost. It helps to know I’m not alone, and I wonder why these experiences aren’t a part of the cultural conversation.
In fact, just like with pregnancy loss, one thing that makes friendship loss so hard is its glaring absence from any dialogue. I have been dealing with a painful loss that is entirely unrecognized by society or those around me. There is no accepted ritual, no acknowledgment, no validation.
I know I should try again–to make other friends–but I’m not sure whether I can have faith in the process. Besides it won’t be my friend, the one I lost, so making a new one won’t really take away the pain. I must cling to hope for the future even though I’ve learned there are no guarantees. Hope must exist in the vacuum of uncertainty.
In the weeks after the loss of my friendship, I became obsessed with why it happened. Like with my ectopic, I had to answer Why? so I could prevent it from happening again. But as was the case with my pregnancy loss, there is no satisfying explanation. I eventually had to accept that I would never know exactly why it happened and that I could never really prevent it from happening again. I had to make new friends knowing I might eventually lose them, just like I had to get pregnant again knowing it might end in heartache instead of joy.
When I read Cheryl Suchors’ piece, I acknowledged how impossibly devastating the loss of a 27 year friendship would be. I compared the loss of my friendship–which hadn’t lasted nearly that long–and I wondered if I had a right to grieve so intensely. I was judging my own loss unworthy, as I did after my ectopic when I read of second and third trimester losses and I wondered if mine–at a measly 6.5 weeks–merited the pain and devastation I felt.
That is when I appreciated all the work I did grieving my lost pregnancy. I have learned how important it is to legitimize my own experience, even in the absence of validation from others. I know I have to take care of myself, to be gentle, to accept that the grief will not be a linear experience I can move through from beginning to end, but will circle back on itself, taking my breath away at unexpected moments. I have learned that my loss is worthy of the anguish I’ve felt, even if no one else confirms it. I can’t change the way I feel, only my expectations and actions surrounding those feelings.
Already I wonder if this post is too much, if people will judge me for grieving the loss of a mere friendship. I’m scared to put this out there, but that is ultimately why I believe I should–if I don’t make it a part of the conversation, who will? When I lost my pregnancy I refused to let others belittle my grief. It was hard and sometimes I felt trampled on, but I like to think a few people learned from me along the way, and that even more felt validated when I shared my experience. I hope that is the case now, as well.