Sorry for your loss and by the way you're a terrible person
November 23, 2009 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I've been told that it's not uncommon for friends to either ignore or drop you after you've been through the process of death/dying of a loved one. Good or bad, sometimes people just can't deal with that type of situation. However I've had 2 friends in recent months go off on me, tell me that I'm a terrible person, and that I'd said/done something that offended me so much that they don't want to be my friend anymore. Both accusations took me by surprise and I'm now wondering, did they wait to say anything to me until after my loved one passed?

I just spent a really long and really draining/sad period of my life taking care of a dying family member. The grief process is hard and I'm learning that besides missing this person and the frustration of taking care of them, I have a lot of anger/depression just from watching them die painfully and before their time. I'm not the easiest person in the world to be around, but I've had a lot of wonderful people reach out to me to let me know that they've been through this experience and I will too. It's also been hard because like most people, I'm worried about what the economy could do to my job and I also just went through a cancer scare (false positive thank God). So I can be sarcastic, depressed and moody, but most people have told me that under the circumstances, it's a completely normal reaction.

However in the recent months since this death, I've had two different friends go off on me about things I've said/done and how I'm just a terrible/insensitive person. Now, one of the lessons I've taken away from this death is being aware of my shortcomings and striving to be a kinder, more patient and more forgiving person. So while I certainly did take the valid criticisms of these friends to heart and apologized for any pain I've caused them, in both cases I've been told "Well, you just don't get it."

I can understand not wanting to add to the stress of somebody who was in my situation and how sometimes people allow resentments to add up until it comes spilling out. And I can definitely pinpoint the shortcomings I have in my relationships and try to work on being a kinder, more patient person. What I can't understand though, is getting told off in this manner. If the situation were reversed, even if I were incredibly angry/offended by somebody, I just can't see myself confronting them in that manner if they'd just gone through the type of experience I just had. Or at least I would have said something in maybe more of a gentler manner, knowing that this person is already going through a pretty hard time in their life.

Also I would guess it makes a difference, but these are both very buttoned down personalities. It's pretty hard to get either one of them to be open about themselves and their feelings. So in general I feel like the friendship has sort of run its course because I'm the polar opposite. I like to be up front with people about what's going on inside my head, which may be the trait that each person is finally reacting against.
posted by green_flash to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry for your loss both of your loved one and your friends.

My experience has shown that sometimes when someone has a "buttoned down personality" that it's all or nothing. That is, they hold it in until they can't hold it in any longer and then it comes spewing out.

My personal philosophy is that everyone is entitled to his or her anger, no matter how unjustified it may seem to me. BUT it's not okay to spew that anger all over the place.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:05 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not entirely sure what the question is here.

Did they wait until after your loved one passed? Possibly, you'd have to ask them. They might have decided to wait before piling on, even if they think you're a jerk.

Why did they tell you off in this manner? It really depends on what you supposedly did.
posted by spaltavian at 12:08 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

Well....what did they say?

If the situation were reversed, even if I were incredibly angry/offended by somebody, I just can't see myself confronting them in that manner if they'd just gone through the type of experience I just had.

it could be that these folks just aren't very sensitive to how difficult deaths are for caregivers. Perhaps they haven't been through it themselves and developed the degree of empathy that would have them go easier on you.

The timing is certainly a sad issue, but what is your question here? Is the question whether the death precipitated this? I don't think so. It's true that friends sometimes drop away during and after deaths. But when that happens, usually, they say nothing. They just fade away, or maybe offer excuses or become hard to reach. It's the idea of death they're uncomfortable with, not the person grieving. They don't usually react by finding fault with the grieving person and actively telling them off about it. In that situation, their primary motivation is simply to avoid you and the sadness and maybe fears that your situation brings up for them. Acting out angrily is not the usual method for that.

That makes me think that where these two people are concerned, this isn't about the death, and it's not the usual effect of friends dropping away or disappearing when death comes around. There's something else going on. You don't say what the behaviors are that upset them so, but since it's two separate people whose complaints seem to be similar, you might have some idea what they are, and it sounds like you're becoming aware of how to maintain relationships better. I'm sure that's been very hard given the time and energy you've devoted to caregiving. But you have lots of time now and in the future to work on it. Maybe these friendships have come to an end, which I'm sure adds to your grief, but they don't indicate your future.
posted by Miko at 12:10 PM on November 23, 2009

I'm very sorry for your loss. I know that getting through the process of watching a loved one die is incredibly draining on every level imaginable and can bring out the worst in us. And I also know that we often come through such an experience a better person.

It sounds to me like these friends of yours aren't friends at all, no matter what you thought. Try to focus less on the "How could they do this to me?" part and more on the "Good riddance!" aspect of it. Because believe me, even if you deserved everything they said, what they did was very wrong. Their timing was designed to hurt you. They kicked you when you were down, which means you're much better off without them.

In the meantime, be gentle with yourself and when you're ready, work on meeting people who aren't raging assholes.
posted by balls at 12:12 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

First, I want to say that it sucks when people who are supposed to be friends suddenly flip out. People have a responsibility not to be hurtful, especially to people they care about.

So, I went through a similar situation recently, though I was on the other side. I had a friend simultaneously go through awful work and personal life experiences and used me frequently as someone to listen to her venting. Her primary method of coping is talking. It's like she fills up a jug with her problems each day and needs help emptying it because it's too heavy to lift by herself.

At first I had no problem listening and supporting her, but after a while the multiple calls a day started to wear on me and I started to feel exhausted just listening to the same things over and over again. I started noticing that she would talk non-stop for the first 20 minutes and would only sometimes ask how I was doing, and never without getting out what she needed to get out first. I had problems of my own that were starting at the time, but our relationship was growing so one-sided that I scarcely discussed them with her.

She was going though such a bad time that I couldn't bring myself to say anything. Yet, I really starting to struggle with the burden of being one of the people she relied on. Luckily, the situation resolved itself and we were able to resume a normal friendship before I snapped or stopped taking her calls.

That is not to say that you did the same thing, or that you grossly overburdened your friends. However, the people in your life do often end up sharing the load more than we sometimes think. That's okay and a part of friendship.

It sounds like you've been going through this for a while; there have been months of hard times and grief. If you're an open person and talk about it regularly, then your friends have been taking pieces of your ordeal with them, too. Maybe it's proved to be too much for some of them. If that is the case, you should consider other outlets for your emotions: other friends, new activities, or counseling.
posted by oysters oysters oysters eat eat eat at 12:31 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

People often have two different personalities: the personality they have normally and the personality they have under stress. Sounds like these ex-friends were somehow pushed to the breaking point and you got a taste of what they were like under stress.
posted by inturnaround at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: However in the recent months since this death, I've had two different friends go off on me about things I've said/done and how I'm just a terrible/insensitive person. Now, one of the lessons I've taken away from this death is being aware of my shortcomings and striving to be a kinder, more patient and more forgiving person. So while I certainly did take the valid criticisms of these friends to heart and apologized for any pain I've caused them, in both cases I've been told "Well, you just don't get it."

In my experience, the 100% effective test of whether a person is a real friend is how they react to a problem in the friendship. Real friends may sometimes have problems with each other, but they will try to work through them in good faith.

When people aren't really friends you get "Well you just don't get it" and words like that. They're not interested in solving the problem because they invented the problem in order to manufacture a break with you. Whatever you may or may not have done, a real friend would try to work through it with you, or at least give a coherent explanation.

Sorry you've had to go through this, but you are better off without these people.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:16 PM on November 23, 2009

I'm the polar opposite. I like to be up front with people about what's going on inside my head

I'd like to emphasize how big a difference this is between people.

Part of my extended family is this way (very up front) and part is more reserved. The up-front ones sometimes say stuff that shocks and horrifies the reserved ones, to the point where the reserved ones are really not comfortable staying over at their house for the holidays. No ill-will on either side but just very very different personal styles, and it's just really hard to reconcile.

So consider if the up-front person says something like "Sally was really a pain in the ass today."

The up-front person is annoyed at a medium everyday level of annoyance, and wants to express that. So she comes right out with it.

But for the reserved person, this is something they would NEVER say -- or they could only say it if they were at full-steam maximum freakout levels of anger, and were ready to cut off all contact with Sally forever and involve everyone else in their feud. For the reserved person, hearing this kind of medium-annoyed remark from the up-front person is like being involved in a very emotionally heated argument, where you must choose sides and be ready to man the battlements. It's scary and taxing. And it's hard for the reserved person to understand why the up-front person is so angry and such a jerk to poor Sally, when all Sally did was something annoying.

I wish I had a solution for your particular case, but anyway it might be useful to frame this in terms of the difference in communication styles.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:21 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Man, am I sorry to hear about you going through this. As it turns out, I experienced something similar before my dad died from a friend I had for 20 years and who was aware of my dad's declining condition. He met me for a beer at my favorite bar about 6mos previous, just after I was let go from my job, and proceeded to spend two hours lambasting me for pretty much being who I am (as I see it). The whole nine yards, calling me an asshole and telling me he'd like to punch me in the face. "You just don't get it," could have been taken verbatim to me, too. We are no longer friends, though he did come to my dad's memorial service. I was civil.

I don't know what his motivations were (he said he was drunk...whatever, I suspect he was just aggressively trying to get some reaction from me) and he still attempts to friend me on Facebook, which I ignore. I mean really, this guy has two kids, he should have known better. His actions constituted an Event in my life (in a philosophical sense, "something after which nothing is the same"), and I can't say I'm doing great in my grief and unemployment, but I did decide for myself that as bad as it might get, I did not need people in my life who would do such things to me.

So, even though you don't have much of a question here, I just wanted to commiserate. Frankly, I'm surprised to see this question since my experience seemed so singular in circumstance. Perhaps truly there is always someone out there who has experienced the same fucked up thing you have, whatever it may be.
posted by rhizome at 1:28 PM on November 23, 2009 [8 favorites]

Not sure if it's what you're dealing with... but I've heard a lot of those same comments over the years, and seen a consistent pattern involving myself and others in some social circles I've been part of:

- new "up" and "fun" people are openly welcomed into friendship circle, everyone just wants to have fun and everyone pretend nothing bad ever happens to anyone ever.

- inevitable drama between any two people results in soft rejection of whichever of the two is loved less by everyone with no attempt made to judge right/wrong. The victim basically just stops getting called/visited/invited to anything until they meekly submit and endure letting the better-loved person get away with whatever they pulled as the price for being allowed to keep their friends (thus preventing group drama).

- serious drama and/or traumatic problems makes a person a "downer" and results in hard rejection. 1-2 of the circle members who are unassailably loved will forcibly expel the damaged person by hitting them while their down with as hurtful of a story as they can come up with. The goal is to make them go away hurt (thus preventing group drama).

- inevitably the group disintegrates to the point where it is revealed that only a core 2-3 people were ever true friends in the first place; everyone else was just extras, and that's why they were so interchangeable.

My guess is that these friends now see you as damaged goods, and you're getting expelled. They were probably never your friends to begin with (not that it's any comfort). Someday, once they've been through something horrible themselves, don't be shocked if you hear from them again... once they "understand you" (which can be roughly translated as "when they need you"). I'm sorry for your pain regardless, it's rather horrid how people tend to pile on when things are at their worst.
posted by Pufferish at 1:46 PM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: First off, I want to say that I am so sorry for your loss and for what you have gone through, and I hope what I'm about to say doesn't come off as insensitive, for that's not what I'm intending.

You've mentioned in your post that you're not the easiest person to be around and that you have been sarcastic, moody, and depressed. You also mention that you are working towards being a better person, which you describe as being kinder and more patient. From this I'm gathering then that maybe there have been some instances where you haven't been too kind or too patient with people.

And I agree with your friends - all of this is understandable considering the things that you have been going through. Moreover, it is very admirable that you are acknowledging this and thinking of ways you might improve yourself. I'm in no way criticizing you for behaving in that way! Everyone has their own version of bad moods, less-than-pleasant traits, and again I commend you for acknowledging yours and trying to better yourself.

But let's look at it this way. You've behaved in a certain way (moody, depressed, tough to be around, impatient, etc) and you've excused yourself for behaving this way because of the things that you've been going through.

Your two friends behaved in a certain way (rude, insensitive, confrontational) and now you are wondering why they would behave in that way.

Here's the thing - you probably don't know everything that they are going through in their lives. They are probably not going through what you have just gone through - but they might be going through something that is similarly difficult for them. And it might be something that they don't want to talk to you about, maybe they don't want to talk to anyone about it. Perhaps a significant other has a mental illness and they're going through a difficult time with it. Perhaps they have an addiction that they are struggling with and hiding from their friends and loved ones. Perhaps they have been diagnosed with a disease or an illness that they are not ready to share with everyone yet.

So, there might an understandable reason why they behaved so rudely to you. And instead of acting moody/sarcastic/depressed the way you mention that you do, perhaps instead they act rude/insensitive/confrontational.

Balls up there mentions that their timing was "designed to hurt you." I don't my experience, it doesn't seem like people typically rub their mental hands together and think " can I hurt this person?" But perhaps I am naive....still, when people hurt me for reasons I don't understand...I tend to think that there's probably something going on that I'm not privy to that's causing them to act like a jerk. Because there are moments when *I* act like a jerk, and in my moments of weakness it's because there's something going on that's upsetting me. I just don't think people generally hurt people for the sake of being hurtful.

If you want to be a more forgiving, kinder, patient person....then I suggest admitting that you'll never really know why they acted that way, and assume they've got something troubling them in their lives instead of assuming they did it just to hurt you.

That doesn't mean you still have to be friends with them though. Sometimes people just rub each other the wrong way, and I agree with the others who say drop them and move on.
posted by Squee at 6:06 PM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

But let's look at it this way. You've behaved in a certain way (moody, depressed, tough to be around, impatient, etc) and you've excused yourself for behaving this way because of the things that you've been going through.

When you are dealing with a very close loved one dying, it's easy to become a jerk. If your friends were reacting to you becoming a jerk, then it may not be them changing so much as you changing.

Death changes you profoundly. You must know that. Even if you haven't changed into a bad person, you may have changed as a person, and your former friends were maybe reacting to that change.

Not to say that lots of people have no idea how to deal with illness or death, and they tend to be the prototypical fair-weather friends, so there could be that going on too.
posted by jabberjaw at 7:32 PM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, it's been really helpful to write out these thoughts and get honest/unbiased comments. I do agree with Squee that

when people hurt me for reasons I don't understand...I tend to think that there's probably something going on that I'm not privy to that's causing them to act like a jerk.

I definitely had my moment of thinking, "how could you do this to me?!" because these are people who know pretty intimately what I was going through taking care of somebody in hospice. In the case of the 1st friend, we did have a long heart to heart conversation afterwards. So I do know that some of the reason why they got angry with me has to do with extenuating circumstances. And they also have family in declining health where the overall dynamic is much more complicated/less harmonious than the relationship I had with the person I was taking care of. So I did come away from that argument understanding what part of it was my fault/responsibility and which part is really out of my control.

However in the more recent case with the 2nd friend, you're right that I won't ever know the full reasons why this happened. In some ways it's a relief because this is somebody who'd made fast friends with me several years ago (as in really sought me out as a friend after we were introduced) but has really withdrawn from our relationship over the past year. And my attempts to ask them if there was a reason why (or if there was something else going on) were rebuffed. It's actually not surprising because when I was this person's confidante, I did notice a pattern of dropping other previous special friends and also avoiding/ignoring family members. So I seem to have finally been on the receiving end of that type of treatment. And on further reflection, I'm actually fine that the friendship may have run its course. We had a lot of fun, but as somebody else pointed out, going through death does change people. And I think at least in terms of the latter, it really pointed out to me some pretty major differences in who we are and what we want out of life.

Also rhizome Jesus! You are to be commended for not clocking this 'friend.' And yeah, well you're not the only person to be put in this situation. Although hopefully you won't end up also getting my additional experience of a cancer scare.
posted by green_flash at 10:40 PM on November 23, 2009

When my daughter was born, got cancer and died from it all within the same 12 months, it had the unanticipated effect of reshuffling my friends.

Individuals that I thought were my BEST friends, became angry with me over irrelevant/minor/nitpicky things, or angry with me over things I could not control (such as my inability to attend a wedding because I was personally scheduled for surgery the day of the wedding). I have close family members - siblings - who have not reached out to me with a single word (kind or otherwise) since the day of my daughter's funeral in February. On the other hand, people I barely knew showed their true colors and stepped up to help us, just because it was the right thing to do. Today, those that I consider my "best" friends, who I could rely on in any pinch and vice versa, are a different group.

People can handle death and dying to different degrees, and one thing I tried to keep in mind is that a person who can't handle it (says really dumb things or pulls their support away), often cannot (rather than will not) respond better. And sadly, one thing I have definitely seen is that some people give you a window for grief - a certain amount of time they will support you and then after, they want to pretend it never happened. Without needing to demonize these folks, my view is that I don't need them in my life. But it is hard to lose a loved one in death, and have it take friendships in the process.

I don't have a lot of advice, just wanted to share some similar experiences.
posted by bunnycup at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2009

Response by poster: bunnycup, my condolences and yes, there does seem to be a window for people allowing you to "be sad." It almost makes sense to me how previous generations wore black or were considered in mourning for a proscribed period of time. Because then there probably isn't the social pressure to snap back into life being "normal" again.
posted by green_flash at 1:31 PM on November 24, 2009

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