It came to my attention the other day, that while I have spoken at length about broken friendships, and how normal it is to feel upset by them, I have never spoken directly about my experience of the pain itself. I am not necessarily going to speak about one particular ending, but overall my pain and grieving process, which was pretty universally experienced with each loss, although at times in various orders to varying degrees. They say there are 5 stages of grief; Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, in that order. For me, the order tends to be just a little different.
The first stage for me is usually shock. It may be fair to call this denial. Not wanting to deal with it. This is true regardless of the manner of the ending. If it ended abruptly or if it ended more as a slow fizzle, when I realise it is over, I kind of go into a state of shock. I have no words, and almost a sense of numbness. I try to tell myself that I don’t care and get on with my life….
That’s when I usually realise I am actually too distracted to get on with my life, because despite my declarations, I guess you could say I have entered the bargaining stages of grief. Typically this is the 3rd stage, but for me, I tend to experience it second! I always did like to do things a little differently! In this stage, I am rerunning conversations in my mind, looking for clues as to when the ending really started and what exactly happened. This is usually followed by justifying my position, to myself, and endlessly going over it with my partner, for moral support. I talk to impartial friends who didn’t know the other person about it to the point they usually wonder if I was obsessed with my friend or secretly in love with her. They know by now not to say “It was just a friend. Get over it!” My heart is broken. I need reassurance that I behaved reasonably and that I am not the worlds worst friend or human! This is the phase with the most ugly crying, sleepless nights, and googling articles exactly like this one. I talk to my psychologist and refuse to accept she wants me to accept accountability for my part in things, and insist on playing the victim!
Once my husband, or other friends have suitably soothed me and assured me I am not the worlds worst human, unlikable and doomed to social isolation for the rest of my years, I reach anger. Anger is typically before bargaining in the stages of grief, but for me it comes after for some reason. I am so angry at my ex friend. I blame her for not being everything I expected her to be, or, ironically, for expecting too much of me! Lol I am angry at her because she walked away, or because of the mean things she said, or because she didn’t fight for us. Even if I didn’t fight either, or if we both said mean things. Everything is her fault! Maybe I am trying to hate her, because that would make it a lot easier somehow, wouldn’t it?
Hate is just the flipside of love though isn’t it? I think so. No matter how hard I try, I can’t hate my friend, because I love her. This is when the depression stage hits. Cue grief stage 4!!! I’m back on track! Songs remind me of her. Street signs, places, people, phrases, clothes, foods and even scents remind me of her. Bloody Facebook reminds me of her, as all my “memories” pop up to remind me that we used to have fun together and now it is all over. Thanks for that Facebook. Cheers. Lol I actually don’t think this happens if you block the person, or if they block you on social media actually, but I usually don’t block people. I guess that is because deep down I always hold even the tiniest hope that reconciliation is possible if you keep a window open.
If reconciliation is possible, and desired, this is the most likely phase of me reaching out. I’ll be honest though and say it’s highly unlikely. This is the phase where I accept that I still love my friend, and I miss her. I miss what we shared. Things happen and I want to reach out and tell her or talk about it with her and she isn’t there. I wonder what is happening in her world, and sometimes shed a few tears that I no longer know anything about her or her life. I look at old photos, read old messages, cards or letters. I write many many unsent letters to her. I express sorrow for my part in things, and for hurting her and for not fighting harder for her. I wonder why she didn’t fight for me too, or if she also feels sorrow, sadness and regret. I express that I am not angry anymore. I let that anger go, finally. There is still guilt for my part though, that takes longer to dissipate.
I wonder if I will run into her at our local spots (I have stopped avoiding them in fear of seeing her there) and quietly hope she will reach out to say happy birthday. (I hate it when her birthday comes first!) If it does I will compose a message or 12, and decided to send none of them, justifying that she may hate hearing from me and I don’t want to spoil her day. (Really, I guess I am just frightened of more rejection and of more potential ugliness and drama. By now I have gotten comfortable with the silence.)
I look her up on social media and try to make guesses about her situation based on the few scraps of info available now that we are no longer friends!
I’m the first to admit, these letters I write, are usually left unsent. I justify that I do not chase people anymore and if they wanted to talk to me, they would. (I wonder if they do the same thing…. It’s not lost on me that someone has to be the first to make her move.) I tell myself that if it is meant to be, somehow, some way, in time, it will be again. That it didn’t work for a reason and if there is no way to really resolve the issue in question, we were just incompatible. In these letters, as I end them, I tell them I love them and I wish them well. That I hope they find the happiness that they deserve, and resolve to go about finding my own happiness.
This is where I start engaging in my life again, making new friends, strengthening existing healthy connections, and freeing both myself and my ex friend of any blame or guilt. It didn’t work between us. It doesn’t mean we were bad people, and it doesn’t devalue what we did share. When I am reminded of this person I can smile, and I can accept that for now at least, our time in each other’s lives has come to an end. Our chapters have ended but our stories go on. I am open to hearing from them, but not waiting with baited breath, hopeful. I guess this is me reaching the final stages of grief. Acceptance. This is where I let it go. Let it be what it was, what it is and what it will be. By now I have reached indifference, and we all know what I think about that.
Some of these phases last longer than others. Or for some friendships I may spend longer in one phase than another depending on the circumstances. But believe me when I tell you that the pain was real and in all of the cases it took a long time to heal and reach indifference. With some maybe I never will, which is when the chances increase that one of those letters may even get sent! Lol I can tell you on average it takes me a good year to go through this process…. Sometimes longer. I have experienced one ending at least where I thought about that friend, our friendship, what happened and what I wanted to happen every single day for at least a year.
Grief has a general direction in terms of stages and timeline, but it is such a unique experience and there is no right or wrong way to grieve the ending of a friendship. If you feel stuck (because grief can be addictive) please speak to a trained mental health professional. There is no shame for seeking help for grief of any kind. There is nothing wrong with you for feeling broken hearted over a friend. It means you cared. Nothing more, and nothing less. You’re not strange, gay, or obsessed. Or maybe you are but this alone is not enough to define you as such!!!
Can any of you relate to this? Please do share your own experiences of grief with me!
Your Best Friend ForNever