Dear Miss SmartyPants,
I lost my mom in March to cancer. Currently, I'm a grad student. My friends have all duly called to say that they are sorry, but have not called beyond that once. I guess I wanted them to call and check on me, ask me to go out, etc. Is this immature of me? A couple of (what I thought were) life-long friends seemed to just disappear. They claimed that "They didn't seem to know what to do to help, or to support me, so they let other people who were in my life, continue doing that."
My husband has been a terrific support for me during all this. But, still, it makes me wonder. Do my friends and I have a disconnect as to what I need during this time?
Now they're coming back into the fold and claiming to want things to go back to normal, but I'm just starting to come out of the worst time of my life, and they weren't there for me. How can I tell if they're just going to ditch me for months on end at the low points again if I let them back in?
Well, you can tell right now that they're going to leave the difficult things to someone else, because they did. Doesn't mean you necessarily have to drop them as friends (though that's certainly your prerogative), but it does mean you should align your expectations with their limitations. No doubt they are awkward at handling death (almost everyone is), or could be they're so caught up in being themselves day-to-day that they don't even realize they need to work a little harder right now at being friends. Or you're the kind of friend who's never really needed something from them and they're not used to thinking in terms of helping you. Or they're jerks, always a possibility.
A handful of possible explanations, none of which puts your friends on the phone asking how you are, much less brings your mom back (such a tough loss, I'm sorry; she was probably one of the people you'd lean on at a time like this). But maybe it can help you forgive them for their absence, enough to get on the phone yourself to say, "Hey, I need you." Sometimes people require that their clues be addressed to them in clear block lettering. Hang in there.
For those of you who wish you knew what to say to people in mourning, here are a few quotes on the subject:
"What do you say? There really are no words for that. There really aren't. Somebody tries to say, 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.' People say that to me. There's no language for it. Sorry doesn't do it. I think you should just hug people and mop their floor or something." - Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author, was brutally honest in an interview about her son's death in 2012, 18 months after it had happened. In the face of such grief, words are comfortable but useless; actions, "hugging and mopping the floor," often offer more substantial help in the moment.
"I'm here. I love you. I don't care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you." - Elizabeth Gilbert
"Death ends a life, not a relationship." -Robert Benchley