There is no right way to mourn.
. . .
Dear Swipe This!
I have a good friend who lives in a different state. I don’t see her often, but we can talk about all sorts of things, from personal problems to anxieties to relationships. I really value her friendship and our differences. I think we complement each other well.
But lately, she hasn’t been texting or calling or responding to my attempts to reach out. She replies via Instagram, but in a superficial way. This started about a month ago when I adopted two teenage puppies (siblings)—a saga that has been challenging and rewarding and amazing. She had two dogs, one of which died recently, and was really sad. Purely by coincidence, her dead dog’s name is both my name and a variation of what my new dogs were called by their former owner.
After a long period of radio silence, I asked her what was wrong and she said it hasn’t been easy hearing about dogs with the same name (which, again, happens to be my name) for a month. I told her I was sorry that I was insensitive; I genuinely thought she’d be happy, maybe even see it as a bit serendipitous, like her dog living on in some way. When her dog died, I asked her how she was doing and talked to her about it. I also posted a photo of her dog and a RIP note on Instagram—I thought I was doing enough to show her I cared. But I guess she hasn’t moved on.
Also, I’ve experienced a lot of loss myself—my father died when I was a teenager, a roommate passed away, and then my husband and I had a dog that died over a year ago—so it’s not like I don’t understand pain and grief.
I’m kind of mad at her for not explaining to me what’s going on. I’m also sad that she couldn’t be happy for me. And I’m kind of scared that she’s going to say I did something wrong and I’m going to disagree and this is going to make us grow apart.
I want to stand up for myself, but I feel bad that she is hurt, if that’s even what is going on. Can she really blame me for not thinking of her dog when the dogs that I fell in love with happened to have my name? Or is she just mourning differently than I do?
What do I do? I’ve sent her five texts, spaced out over the last month and she only responded shortly to one with “Fine, thanks.” Do I reach out again, or do I wait for her to reach out to me?
Not a Dead Dog
. . .
Dear Not a Dead Dog,
I am so sorry for your loss. Your friend may be grieving her dog, but you too have experienced a terrible loss. You’ve lost a dear friend, and that is one of the worst kinds of heartache I’ve ever known. I hope before you rush to mend this friendship, you will slow down a bit, put down your phone, and make room for your own feelings of sorrow and grief.
That’s not to say this friendship is over.
I cannot predict the future. It’s possible that you and your friend will reconnect down the road, but for now, what was once a space of warmth and intimacy has been replaced by an icy silence. That must be terribly painful and frightening, especially considering that the reasons for your separation feel so beyond your control. How could you have anticipated her dog’s death? And how were you to know that adopting your own dogs would trigger her so deeply? Not to mention that, as you point out, you are not responsible for sharing your own name with your friend’s dead dog.
But before you analyze all the best modes for “fixing” this mangled connection, I think it’s important that you make room for your own sadness and dismay. You can’t show up for your friend if you aren’t showing up for yourself. And you can’t offer much in the way of support if you are simultaneously pressuring her to comfort and reassure you in her own time of need. Social media encourages this kind of rushed validation. We share, we comment, we like, like, like, and we fall victim to the false idea that an immediate response is the best response. Sometimes it’s much better, and much more healing, to go slow.
So let’s focus on what you do know about what you can and did control. You made a choice to show up for your friend by sharing a post about her deceased pet. I can see why this may have felt like a loving gesture on your end, but I can also imagine that your friend might have felt like you were co-opting her grief. This was, after all, her loss. And no matter how intimately you have had to face your own grief you cannot know her grief the way she can. You can only offer love and support. And some of the best support requires that we ask our loved ones what they need. This can be difficult, vulnerable work. It might be more comfortable to rush to soothe someone than it is to sit in the discomfort of admitting that you aren’t sure what they need. But letting your friend know that you wanted to show up for her in the precise way that she needed to be cared for might have avoided some of her discomfort.
That said, I don’t believe that you failed your friend or misstepped so seriously that she will never forgive you. I believe it’s obvious that you were operating from a place of care, even if you may have failed to anticipate her actual needs. Perhaps you can ask yourself why you assumed you knew what she would need. Is it possible you wanted to push past the discomfort of her grief into this space of celebrating a new chapter because of your relationship to your own grief? How were you allowed to grieve your own losses in the past? Who made space for you? Did anyone crowd you or urge you to share when you weren’t quite ready to open up? How have you coped and how is that filtering into how you expect your friend to be?
I also wonder if you can consider your friend’s distance not as a punishment but as evidence that she is trying to discern how best she can take care of herself. She may need to retreat into her own world for a while, and that is her right. Being that you too are familiar with grief, I am sure you are already well aware that no one else has the right to tell you how to grieve. Your grief is yours to manage and you are entitled to all the support or space you need to get through it. If your friend requires space, one of the most loving things you can do might be to actually give her that space.
I also wonder if part of what your friend needs right now isn’t texts and Instagram posts but the comfort of IRL connection. If you saw her in person and she felt the presence of your care, unfiltered by words, comments and curated photos, might she find more comfort in that?
Well, there’s only one way to know. You’ve got to ask. Tell your friend you want to be there for her and ask her what she needs. Perhaps she will be unsure. Maybe she won’t know what to tell you. Maybe there will be more dreaded silence on her end. But if you promise to leave the door open for when she’s ready, if you can make room for your own sadness while you wait, I have a feeling she will find her way back.