My friends ditched me right when I needed them the most
Five years ago, when I lost my husband to cancer, I never could have imagined my new life. I now live in a different state and write full-time instead of counseling clients. I knew his death would bring change, just not how or in what way.
It took me by surprise, though, when my social standing went through an upheaval. Some friendships endured, others didn’t
Of course, moving internationally and now across states played a role. It didn’t have to, though, since I’m still in touch with several friends back home — all easy to do these days with the availability of video conferencing. No, the changes weren’t due to distance; I lost friendships for other reasons.
Crisis Reveals the Truth
Periods of hardship or extended illness have a way of revealing the condition of our closest relationships. These, unfortunately, become the times when we learn who our real friends are.
At least I did. When my husband died, I lost two key relationships. To this day, I don’t understand the cause, despite asking. One ghosted me, the other won’t say why.
I met these women years ago at my local church. We shared a lot in common, being similar in age, busy raising kids, working part-time, and living nearby as neighbors. Both of their strong personalities drew me in. I liked their no-nonsense approach to life, their outspokenness, and, most of all, their loyalty to others.
A Special Kind of Friends
With both women, I could drop in unannounced for a cup of tea, nearly unheard of these days. We would stand in the kitchen and talk. Last night’s dirty dishes would be stacked in the sink, and our children would run around our legs as we caught up on the latest gossip.
We took turns babysitting each other’s kids. I was their children’s 4-H leader, and we all attended the same small group for years. Our husbands hung out, and we did things as a couple. We were compadres, neighbors, confidants, and close friends.
Hardship Changes Everything
That all changed when my husband, Brad, got sick. I drove him from one doctor appointment to the next, until he entered hospice. My life became consumed with prepping his meds and helping him manage hours of terrible pain while running our business and household. Plenty of people stepped up to help. Groceries were left at my back door, cards flooded my mailbox, and a few people slipped me cash to help with the mounting medical bills.
The outpouring of support surprised me. Most of these families and individuals I knew from the community. People I would see across the church foyer, or bump into at a school function, played an instrumental role in helping me make it from day to day.
Outside of one visit right after Brad’s initial diagnosis, these friends did not call, text, or stop by. Overwhelmed by grief and fear, I at first didn’t notice their absence. Then I became aware of a loss or a gap the relationships used to occupy.
Surely they will want to say goodbye as Brad nears death, I thought. I posted blunt Facebook updates about his grave condition. Many of our closest friends made arrangements to see him. I never heard from either one of these women or their husbands.
Both friends had walked away.
Then Brad was gone. And as I came up for air, I realized these two friends were gone, too. One snuck in near the end of Brad’s funeral service for a few moments. I still don’t understand the purpose of that visit. The other ghosted me.
Just like that, I lost my husband and two dear friends, and to this day, I don’t know why.
How could two close attachments end abruptly and seemingly over nothing? There must be a reason. One significant enough to justify such a rejection. I reached out to each woman and asked. Neither responded. So I’m left with only questions and no answers.
I know my situation isn’t unique; others have shared similar experiences.
Trouble Reveals the Truth
Hardship sifts relationships. It weeds out real friends from the fair-weathered ones. New connections often develop and take the place of the ones lost.
One of the women at my weekly Bible study, a survivor of breast cancer, would greet me with a sealed envelope. Each week she gave me a lovely card with a hundred dollar bill tucked inside. She later confessed she and her husband had decided to forgo an annual vacation to help me. She still is a source of fantastic support, one of my biggest fans.
This experience has taught me several lessons.
We may think we know who our friends are, but we don’t. Not until we’ve gone through something difficult. It takes weathering disagreements, fights, stressful times, and a few crises. Once we have survived such things, we will know who truly has our back.
We all have our own perspective on life.
One of the best pieces of advice I heard was this: if you want to know the truth about someone, watch what he or she does, and ignore what he or she says. Behavior never lies. Acquaintances, family members, and friends will reveal their real intentions. Those who love us will show up when life takes a nasty turn.
I have also come to the conclusion that none of us can know the mind of another. I can’t count the number of times I thought I understood someone only to be surprised. Sometimes they take action so unexpectedly that I’ve questioned all my previous assumptions about this person.
We commonly conclude that most people see the world the way we do, and therefore would make the same decisions. They don’t and won’t. I’ve stopped expecting people to come through for me. They may not see my circumstances or my need the same way I do. And just because I would go out of my way to help someone in a similar situation, doesn’t guarantee they will.
Letting Go of Expectations
I now live with a motto of no expectations. I’ve let go of presuming anyone will act in my best interest. Such conscious or unconscious assumptions have left me feeling betrayed, hurt, or worse — bitter.
Training myself to let go of what I wish would happen has created the opportunity for me to be amazed. Approaching life with no expectations means I can’t be disappointed. Any action taken on my behalf leaves me touched and, most importantly, grateful.
It’s been nearly five years since those two women walked away from me. I contacted both by private message recently. The first one read my letter but didn’t respond. The second one reacted with an emoji of surprise, and then a few days later wrote a short text that she was still thinking through what to say.
I unfriended both of them, something that I should have been done years ago, but I had held out hope that time might soften things between us.
Letting Go of Resentment
Over the years of counseling clients, I’ve seen the way unmet expectations lead to unforgiveness. How the wound festers and becomes a source of bitterness as this person nurses real and imagined slights and injuries. The pain begins to take on a life of its own. Its ugliness consumes them, changing them into an angry person. I refuse to let that happen to me.
I once heard that hanging on to a resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill someone else. Holding onto a grudge does me no good. It won’t bring those friendships back or result in an apology.
Accept People Will Come and Go
People will come and go. Each relationship matters, but clutching at them doesn’t protect me from the pain of loss. Only through personal resiliency and dependence on God can I survive and even thrive with whatever comes my way. Instead, I’ve decided to keep my hands and heart open to every person who crosses my path. To embrace the gift each person brings, however long we have together.