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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

Grief complicated by the loss of a best friend

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My best friend and I had a major falling out 4½ years ago shortly after the death of my two-year-old son. At the time I was so deep in grief and my judgment so impaired that I did not apologize for behavior on my part that led to our breakup.

It took me a year to see what I did to contribute to the demise of our friendship. When I did, I wrote a letter apologizing for what I had done, leaving the door open for her response and possibly rebuilding our friendship. She responded but was still very hurt by what had happened. She couldn't forgive me and didn't want to be friends again at that time but said at some point in the future her feelings might change.

I re-read my letter recently and didn't give her the 100% apology I should have. It was sort of an "I'm sorry but...." letter. There were reasons way I acted the way I did, but I shouldn't have put any of that in the letter. I should have said I was sorry without reservation.

As I approach the five-year anniversary of my son's death I feel like I need to reconnect with this friend. The loss of my son and the loss of my best friend are linked. (That is a LONG story not fit for this format.) I'm having a hard time separating the two. I desperately want my son back and know that is never going to happen. My friend, on the other hand, is still living and so the possibility still exists that I can fix what went wrong. In fact, she lives next door to me, which is awkward since we haven't spoken one word to each other for so long.

I would love to try to start over with her or at least have her accept my apology and forgive me. My husband believes I am better off without her friendship. What is your advice? Write another letter or let it go?

Signed,
Nancie


ANSWER

Dear Nancie,

First, I'm so sorry for the loss of your son. The timing of the breakup with your best friend, when you most needed support, was unfortunate. You say that you apologized to her for your part in the disagreement and were rebuffed. Later, you realized that your apology was less than inadequate.

If you are sure you still want to rekindle this friendship, there's no harm in writing to her once again and apologizing in a way that feels right to you. But after that, any initiative for resuscitating the relationship has to come from her; you will have done your part. You can apologize but your neighbor has to forgive.

While you haven't told me the specifics of how the two losses are related, it's probably helpful for you to disentangle the two. As a first step, I would suggest getting through this milestone anniversary before attempting any contact again with your neighbor. Then, if she doesn't respond after your overture, you just need to let go. As your husband suggests, in some ways, it might be easier for you to move on from your grief if you leave the friendship behind.

I hope you've had the energy to nurture other supportive relationships with other friends since both these losses. It is extraordinarily difficult for a parent to get over the loss of a young child a child so I'm not surprised that this upcoming anniversary is a difficult and confusing one. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Warm regards,
Irene


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