There is a very real, very painful form of grief that I don’t think we talk about nearly often enough. We talk about the grief and loss we feel when someone close to us dies. I’ve written extensively about that grief myself. But a kind of grief that often gets forgotten is the grief when a once close friendship dissolves.
Friendships can end in many ways. Sometimes they gradually drift apart. Sometimes the ending is abrupt and painful. Sometimes you can look back and see all those warning signs you missed. Sometimes you can look back and realize you knew it was coming all along but you just didn’t want to accept it.
Losing friendships is hard. It isn’t always one big dramatic falling out – although sometimes it is. Sometimes it is a bunch of little ones leading up to the catalyst that tears the friendship apart. But coming to terms with the loss of someone who was once very close to you? It’s very real. It’s still very much a grieving process.
I haven’t blocked everyone on Facebook that was once a close friend but now isn’t. So sometimes I still see the memories on Facebook. And just the same as those who have passed away, they still take my breath away. I still find myself wistfully thinking of the memories and the fun times we once had together. I find myself remembering the late night talks, the inside jokes, what spurred that post… and it’s overwhelming.
There are certain things that will always remind me of friends who have died. There are also certain triggers for friendships that have fallen apart. The pain is still very real. The memories are still quite strong. And there’s still the occasional thing that takes my breath away – a certain song, certain ways people act, etc. I still “see” my former close friends in these things the way I see my friends who have passed away.
The grief is different, yet similar. I have to allow myself time to heal and move on. Sometimes it’s from stepping away from things that reminded me them for awhile – and that’s fine. Somethings I haven’t watched since certain friends died, some things I haven’t been nearly as invested in since certain friendships fell apart. The stages of grief apply in a broken friendship the same way they do when someone dies. Please note: any names used in this post have been changed for privacy and are actually multiple friends rolled into one persona.
Shock and Denial: How did this happen? Why isn’t this friendship happening anymore? It was a mistake, right? No. They’re still my friend. This isn’t real. What’s happening? What happened to our friendship? It can be fixed, right? So many questions, so many feelings, so many thoughts run through your head.
Pain and Guilt: For me, especially, I find myself blaming myself for every little thing. Why did I call my friend out on that one thing, and not just let it slide? Why didn’t I reach out more? Why wasn’t I a better person? It’s all my fault, right? Why wasn’t I a good enough friend? I find myself putting all the blame on myself when this happens, and refusing to acknowledge that it’s a two way street and we both played a role in the friendship dissolving.
Depression, Rejection, Loneliness: I find myself falling into a funk, for lack of a better turn. I’m scared to make new friends because I’m scared of another painful ending. I realize what I’ve lost and the magnitude of it. I still find myself thinking “Oh my god, Caitlin would love this!” when seeing certain things on the Internet or reaching for my phone to send Hailey a text. I find the overwhelming sadness and mourning for the relationship we had when times were good settling over me. I mourn what we had, not what our friendship became. I find myself thinking of the times Caitlin and I laughed together, and that’s fine. I find myself obsessing over the fights Hailey and I had, and that’s fine, too. It isn’t as always simple as being talked out of it, and only time will heal these wounds.
The Upward Turn: Things start getting easier. The depression lifts. Certain things are no longer painful and I am able to enjoy things we once enjoyed together by myself (sometimes with old friends, and sometimes with new friends). It’s still hard, but I’m slowly finding my way toward recovery and becoming the person I am without that once important friendship.
Reconstruction: I’m building my life without them. I still love them, I still care for them. I wish them no ill will, even if I did at one point. I still miss them, but I’m able to start moving on with my life. I find myself free of grudges and I find myself starting to find happiness again.
Acceptance and Hope: Seeing their name around (if I haven’t blocked them) no longer makes me angry. I’m able to move on with my life, and hope they can move on with theirs. I find old and new friends to surround myself with and I accept the path that let us down this road. I’m able to think of them without overwhelming sadness – although I do still get sad at times. I’m able to realize that what’s done is done, and can’t be undone.
Note that the stages are fluid and don’t have to happen in any order, and you can loop back to them.
Losing friends is hard. A friendship falling apart can be traumatic and you can grieve it. The mourning is painful and that is normal. Realizing that what you had was beautiful and what it became was not is fine. I really wish more people felt comfortable talking about how hard it is to lose a friend. I really wish there was more acknowledgment on the soul-crushing grief when your best friend isn’t your best friend anymore. Because it hurts and it’s painful. And it’s very real.