Why am I so upset by my friend not sharing a difficult time with me?
April 23, 2019 12:41 AM   Subscribe

My best friend's mother-in-law just passed away after a long illness. My SO and I had been supporting my friend over the last few months as she dealt with all that was going on, but she didn't tell us that her mother-in-law had died because she didn't want us to worry. I'm irrationally hurt about this and I don't know how to deal with it. Help!

Friend and I have known each other for about three years now. We've had one of those weirdly intense friendships which has been marked with a whole lot of "really? You too? I thought I was the only one!" moments — we're so alike in so many ways that I think of her like an older sister, and she of me like a younger brother. My SO and she are also very close, which means that she really has become extended family (and since we have very little family of our own, we consider extended family to be extremely important).

Over the last year our friend has been dealing with a compound shitty situation: her mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, and was given about a year to live. Shortly before this diagnosis, our friend had started to have some doubts about her relationship with her husband, and had come to the conclusion that she needed to separate from him for her own mental health. He's a very manipulative man and has caused her a lot of suffering in the time we've known her — we've supported her multiple times and have always said that should she decide to leave she could always come and stay until she found her feet again.

This weekend just gone my SO and I took a trip together. We'd both been working hard and needed some quality time. We managed to snag tickets to an event that we'd be really looking forward to on Saturday, and so we went, and friend was excited for us.

We texted our friend from the event and she was texting us back -- happy, smiley texts, laughing and joking, encouraging us to have a good time, "you need to tell me everything when you're back," that sort of thing. We sent her a message saying thank you and asking how she was doing, and she said "my weekend can wait til you're back; have a good time!" So we signed off and went and had a good weekend.

Yesterday, I texted her to say that we were home, and to ask how she was doing. She asked me for details of the weekend, which I gave, at length, and it was only then that she told me that her MIL had passed away on the Saturday evening, with her family — and our friend — at her bedside. She explained that she hadn't wanted to tell us because we would just worry.

And that's what I feel irrationally hurt about. Actually both of us do, though my SO being more cynical than I just said "well, I guess we just weren't useful to her" and has started to reevaluate the friendship on the basis that clearly it's only one of convenience to our friend, which I think is unfair.

I hate to be protected from things, and I take a great deal of pride in being a good friend and helping the people I care about. I don't know why I'm so hurt. The only think that I can think of is that there was a degree of disingenuousness to her being happy and smiley with us whilst sat by her dying MIL's bedside that I just can't understand. I know she was trying to be kind and protect us, and I also appreciate that there's little we could actually have done besides be on the end of the phone.

Our friend does have a habit of shutting down when stress occurs, and I'm aware that it may well be that that's happening here — batten down the hatches and prepare for stormy weather, and we'll see her on the other side. But (to mix metaphors) we've been in the trenches with her so many times in the last year that this actually feels out of character, at least for our relationship with her.

I realise that I'm being grossly unfair at a very difficult time, and of course I'm not going to make a thing of this with my friend because that would just be a shitty thing to do.

So, mefites, what's the best way for me to process this so that I can continue to be a good and supportive friend whilst also dealing with whatever-the-fuck it is that's upset me? Right now I'm feeling — again, unfairly — a little bit like I don't really know my friend as well as I thought I did. I'm also angry at myself for being so selfish. Finally, this whole thing is bringing back memories of the death of my own mother many years ago and that's not easy to deal with.

posted by six sided sock to Human Relations (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there some background that's missing here? I can understand your hurt reactions, but your SO's approach seems extreme. I could see myself doing what your friend did, and my thinking would be that here was something I could do for you in return for how wonderful you'd been: let you have the weekend you'd been looking forward to without casting a pall on it. It would feel to me like I was doing an act of kindness and possibly even give me something that felt good to think about amid the sadness.

You could see her action as a sign that she doesn't care enough about you, or on the contrary as a sign that she's secure enough in your relationship that the thought that you'd feel distanced wouldn't even occur to her, because your closeness is unquestionable to her. Or maybe she knew both courses of action weren't great, had to choose between them, and decided to take the route that felt less selfish. Or maybe she just wasn't functioning that well in the aftermath, because sometimes a dramatic event like a death can do that to you.

Anyway, I'd deal with this by (later) talking with her about it and letting her know that you'd rather know such things even if they get in the way of something like a long-awaited vacation. (Not in a blaming way, just 'next time let us be there for you'.) Don't jump to uncharitable conclusions about her, and think of whatever work you have to do to get over yourselves as an act of friendship towards her. And maybe take this as a chance to come to terms with the difficult memories this brings back.
posted by trig at 1:04 AM on April 23, 2019 [18 favorites]

You may find this article on ring theory (comfort in, dump out) helpful.

Grieving is exhausting. We aren't always thinking clearly when we are in the middle of it. When grieving, people don't always act in ways that seem logical to us on the outside.

Yes, you wanted your friend to share her MIL's death with you, but that is about you and your desires, not what she wanted or needed at the time. She is the one in the inner ring right now, so you can feel how you want about that, but you shouldn't dump inward to her. And fwiw, I think your husband's perspective is actually quite cruel, not just cynical. Your friend didn't tell you because she was at her MIL's deathbed, she was probably overwhelmed with emotions, and she didn't want to ruin your nice weekend, not because she's being disingenuous or that you're "not useful to her anymore." WTF?

I once did something similar when I was in the middle of a pregnancy loss. I kept the news from a friend for a couple of days and acted like everything was normal, because she was about to do a performance that meant a lot to her and I didn't want to throw her off her game on the big day. I told her the day after her performance, and I think she was sad I didn't tell her before, because she wanted to support me, but she didn't make me feel bad about it. If I were to go back and do it over again, I would not keep it from her, but my point is I was not thinking clearly at the time since I was going through a very mentally painful experience.

I urge you to reframe this and try to get your husband to do the same. Give your friend the benefit of the doubt. I know you said you're not going to bring it up to her (which is good!) but if you can, try to think about it as her doing what she needed to get through a hard time. And try to steer your husband away from saying mean things about her, because it sounds like that's winding you up too.

It also sounds like her MIL's death has brought up your own grief again over the loss of your mom. This is really common and you might benefit from talking to a counsellor about it and getting some support for your own grief. I'm sorry this is bringing up painful feelings for you!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:06 AM on April 23, 2019 [91 favorites]

In terms of understanding what you’re feeling, I can imagine in your shoes I’d have a dose of toe-curling embarrassment that I’d been blithely raving about my great weekend without knowing that she was in the middle of something so awful. I’d feel a bit of an idiot. Maybe I’d also feel a little irked that she hadn’t been honest, even though I’d probably feel a bit ashamed of feeling that way. In line with the ‘comfort in, dump out’ theory above, I’d figure she was the one under most stress, and she gets to do whatever she needs to do in the moment while I support her.

(And yeah, your husband’s reaction seems waaaay out of order unless there’s some background to this you’ve left out.)
posted by penguin pie at 1:22 AM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

To be honest I'm not entirely sure why you are even hurt? Your friend was clearly trying to think of your feelings at a very difficult time for her. The idea that it has anything to do with you not being useful sounds really strange to this outsider. Despite all your detail I'm still kind of mystified as to why this is a Thing. If I were you I would completely let it go and I certainly would not re-evaluate the friendship on this basis.
posted by thereader at 1:32 AM on April 23, 2019 [25 favorites]

@hurdy gurdy girl that link is super helpful, thank you. I hadn't heard of ring theory before and that really does clarify what my role is here.
She is the one in the inner ring right now, so you can feel how you want about that, but you shouldn't dump inward to her.
You're right — I wouldn't dream of doing that. And as I've said, I'm not going to make a thing out of this with my friend; I want to reconcile it in my own head because this is my problem to solve.

As I write my friend has reached out for help with sorting out accounts, effects and so on — I have a legal background so I'm able to help with that a bit. So I'm supporting her in the best way that I can. She's dumping out, too — there's a lot of family dynamics going on, which she's finding difficult to navigate.
Your friend didn't tell you because she was at her MIL's deathbed, she was probably overwhelmed with emotions, and she didn't want to ruin your nice weekend, not because she's being disingenuous or that you're "not useful to her anymore." WTF?
My SO has deep trust issues which show up at times like this. They have a constant expectation that they're going to be let down, or that they're being used. I'm used to it, so I realise that it's actually a pressure-release thing more than anything else. I didn't say anything about it other than "I don't think that's very fair" because I didn't have the capacity to deal with anything else.
posted by six sided sock at 1:37 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also consider whether your friend may not have felt okay giving that news over text and wanted to wait until she could talk in person. When my mom died I only texted a couple people because I couldn't bear to think it was real and every message/phone call I made just pushed that reality in my face. Seeing people a few days later at the funeral, while hard, was comforting because we could cry together and hug or hold hands or sit and share stories.

I think you are being incredibly hard on someone who's going through really deep grief right now, and expecting her to comfort you when she's the one dealing with an especially tough event.
posted by augustimagination at 1:37 AM on April 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

I just realized you said your SO and not your husband...I saw the word husband in your post (referring to your friend's husband) and conflated that with your SO being your husband--I should not have made any assumptions when you did not mention a gender for your SO, and I apologize for that.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:39 AM on April 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

Your friend has got a lot going on here - seems like it's relevant that it's her mother-in-law's deathbed that she just came back from, given what you say is happening in her marriage. It's pretty much her husband who's in the innermost circle here, and no doubt is dumping out on her while she has to hold her nose & comfort in.

I guess she needed some light distractions over the weekend, and thinking of you & your SO having a lovely time - and to join in remotely - was a way to take her mentally out of the horrible situation she was in, for a short while. I'm thinking she'll benefit even more from having supportive & understanding friends right now.

Also, from your update - that's tough for your SO with the trust & abandonment stuff, I hope they have the support that they need too. No need to give them a hard time over their initial reaction, they have their own challenges like everyone does, & it's another dump-out/support-in situation that's overlapping with the first. Kinda puts you into a situation where you're supporting everyone right now, and I hope you have an outer ring that you can dump that onto as well.
posted by rd45 at 1:48 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

She couldn't do anything for her MIL but she could let you have a nice weekend. You have been there for her and I imagine she just couldn't ruin your weekend. This is one little thing she could control.
When my dad died, on Christmas Eve, there were people I didn't tell because I didn't want to intrude on their Christmas. It seems odd now but it made sense to me at the time. Like, I didn't call the people that I worked with. I'd only worked there a few months but they were all very nice and were very confused that I hadn't let them know (we had the week off).
Everything seems so surreal and you just aren't thinking straight.
I think she'd be appalled that she hurt your feelings. I wish I could explain better but at some level maybe this was her way of thanking you, giving you a break from being supportive. Sometimes we give other people what we ourselves need.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:50 AM on April 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

To answer question in the title of your post, it may well be that you feel hurt/upset because your friend didn't let you have a choice in being there for her. She unilaterally made a decision regarding your relationship, without you, and that might feel patronising and leave you feeling powerless. In turn, that may be what triggers memories of your own mother's passing, another time in which you felt helpless. Except perhaps that back then, you would have loved to have others to lean on, yet she refused to let you even make things right by being there for her when she was in your shoes. It upset the balance of your relationship, like you were both on the same footing and then suddenly you're... not.

Whatever it was, I definitely agree with everyone else, and I'm glad to read the followup that she's now reaching out and that you've found a concrete way to support her. I just wanted to validate your feelings, that it's not all that weird to feel hurt, but also I'd like to stress that none of this should get back to her, at least not at this time. Maybe, sometime in the far future, when all of this is behind you, you can gently say "look, I really appreciated the sentiment, but at the same time I'd really have liked to have been there for you, but you didn't even give me a chance. Please give me a chance next time."
posted by satoshi at 2:06 AM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

what's the best way for me to process this so that I can continue to be a good and supportive friend whilst also dealing with whatever-the-fuck it is that's upset me?

Remind yourself repeatedly that grieving is overwhelming and that there is no correct way to grieve, from which it follows that any perceived slight you might be feeling from your grieving friend is (a) par for the course (b) probably imagined and (c) fully acceptable.

There is no correct way for you to process the overspill from your friend's grieving either. You will undoubtedly get some on you. Just keep reminding yourself that you will get through it, that you will remain fast friends regardless, and that those two things are really all that matters right now.
posted by flabdablet at 2:10 AM on April 23, 2019

You're upset because you -- both of you, clearly -- feel like this is some kind of referendum on your value to her as a friend or how much she loves you. You're both wrong. You were at a festival. If she'd told you her MIL had died, what would that have accomplished? Absolutely nothing. You'd have been distracted, enjoyed your weekend far less, and spent a good part of it texting platitudes. Ruining your weekend would have improved hers not at all.

Now that you're home, you can actually be there for the important parts of death and mourning. That's what matters.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:06 AM on April 23, 2019 [23 favorites]

The order of priority in spreading news of this death isn’t “who’s most important to Friend,” it’s “who’s most important to Friend’s MIL,” so please try hard not to see it as any judgment on you or your friendship. You know from experience how many exhausting conversations there are right after a death—you have to notify those close to the deceased, get your schedule cleared, and plan the services—and a lot of those duties fall to the people in the inner circle who aren’t the primary relationships, like you see her dealing with now. Sometimes you’re so exhausted and sad that you just don’t have the words to have conversations about the loss with anyone you don’t truly need to.

It sounds like you’re dealing with a lot right now but I’d strongly suggest you talk this out with your SO before they come into contact with Friend again. There should be nothing but sincere condolences from SO to her for what she’s going through, and even though it’s not your job to police that, it will certainly impact the relationship between you all if SO lashes out at Friend.
posted by sallybrown at 3:59 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Remember that it's generally much harder to break the news of your bereavement to people very close to you; floodgates are that much more likely to open on both sides, and sometimes there isn't, or suddenly just is, a moment at which you feel up to the task.

As anecdata, a couple of years back I waited over a week to tell my parents sudden, extremely worrying news about the medical situation with my unborn 2nd child, whilst they were on holiday in Turkey. Throughout this time I exchanged several emails with my mum in a completely normal, excited to hear about the lovely weather and what you're up to, sort of tone.

Looking back, it was actually a great source of strength to me during that initial shock to know that these people I cared so much for were happy and relaxed somewhere they love, and that they would be like this for a few days longer before I had to dump a huge load of worries and start leaning on them.
posted by protorp at 4:01 AM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's not hard for me to imagine that she wanted you to be able to actually enjoy your weekend away because you really needed that time to recharge. I've withheld information from people because there was no benefit to them knowing at that point in time and I didn't want to cast a shadow on their fun, or add more stress to their situation. And sometimes I've really gotten in my head about it "They sound really happy, if I tell them about this difficult thing they'll be sad; I don't want them to be sad, so I won't tell them yet."

Plus for those friends that are really there for the crappy times - sometimes I just want to give our interactions a chance to be about something that's not sad. I try not to pile all my support needs onto one friend.

And yeah, grief is just weird and unpredictable. Give your friend space* to grieve in her own way. If you're still struggling with it, maybe talk it out with a therapist (if you have one) or someone who's unrelated to the situation.

* Not space in the sense of spending less time with her, just - if her grieving is different from what you expect, try to make space for that.
posted by bunderful at 4:35 AM on April 23, 2019

Actually both of us do, though my SO being more cynical than I just said "well, I guess we just weren't useful to her" and has started to reevaluate the friendship on the basis that clearly it's only one of convenience to our friend, which I think is unfair.

This is bizarre and seems totally misplaced.

I could understand *her* having this reaction if she told you and you did nothing other than say 'oh, well, I guess we'll check in after our fun weekend away!' but I can see no way in which it even vaguely makes sense as a reaction in the context of her choosing not to share her burden with you at a time when it would be inconvenient to you. That's the opposite of using you. I am honestly baffled at how your SO rationalizes this reaction.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:05 AM on April 23, 2019 [22 favorites]

Telling people about a death in my family (that happened on my birthday) was just too. much. work. To be honest I didn’t mention it to friends until a few days later, like “he passed away this weekend”, because I was too exhausted by the emotions and the grief and the logistics of it all.

The kindest thing to do is to assume that is what’s going on here.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:14 AM on April 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

I think you need to trust that your friend was/is doing the best she could think of to do in a stressful situation. People can need different kinds of grief and support in different situations, and at that particular moment, it was more important to her that you have a good time than that you be her support system. That isn't about you; she's not grieving at you. She's doing what she needs to get through any given minute, hour, or day. That may or may not be in line with what she's done in previous stressful situations, and that's fine.

I know you know that (though I'm not sure your SO does), but it might help to just sit with that, say it out loud to each other if you need to. Your friend is going through a thing, it is not about you, it is not a reflection of your friendship, and the way you can be a friend is to let her determine what she needs from you in this moment.

Meanwhile, sure you are absolutely allowed to have feelings about what happened and to express them to not-her. And to be gentle with yourself while you are feeling somewhat raw from having some of your own losses stirred up by the situation. But I'm not sure you need to do much of anything except be nice to yourself, maybe journal it out or vent to an uninvolved friend or something, and let your friend know you're available to help in any way she needs you including going out to lunch and NOT talking about any of this. Much, much later on, when emotions die down, it would be totally reasonable to say "It would have been absolutely okay for you to tell us in the moment and I hope that if something like this ever happens again, you'll let us know if we can help you, even if we have other things going on in our lives." But don't do it right now.
posted by Stacey at 6:30 AM on April 23, 2019

Telling the people you love the most about a death makes it real. Not only that, she then has to deal with your emotions plus hers (even if you feel like you’d be a support, not a burden, sometimes all you can deal with is your own feelings). I can understand her wanting to put it off for a couple of days.
posted by Jubey at 6:46 AM on April 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Gosh. I'm sorry you and your SO are feeling hurt by this. It must feel weird given how enmeshed you've been in her situation. But also, let it go? I can imagine on her part a small sense of relief at having the drama of the mother-in-law of your possibly future ex-spouse finally passing to be finally over so that you can start to piece your life back together for the new normal.

So, mefites, what's the best way for me to process this so that I can continue to be a good and supportive friend whilst also dealing with whatever-the-fuck it is that's upset me? Right now I'm feeling — again, unfairly — a little bit like I don't really know my friend as well as I thought I did. I'm also angry at myself for being so selfish. Finally, this whole thing is bringing back memories of the death of my own mother many years ago and that's not easy to deal with.

You heard the news when you heard the news. Like, after being so helpful and so there for her she probably did not want to text back and forth about her feelings or the goings on or anything and may have just been overwhelmed with her tasks of helping in that moment and did not need your additional support just right then. You heard the news when you heard the news and you were shared the news when the sharer felt they could share it. You're still part of her circle. You're still a very good friend. You're not selfish but I can understand the feelings of loss and grief and strangeness in this situation triggering old feelings of loss and grief around your own mother. Maybe take some space to feel that sadness. Losing mothers is so hard. Death is hard. But don't take it personally. Take the space that you need to recover from this life drama and forgive your friend and your self.
posted by amanda at 7:30 AM on April 23, 2019

I cared for my father for about 2 months after a terminal diagnosis through to his death. A lot of people- a LOT- supported me through that timeframe, and I was lucky to have that.

But his death meant a lot of exhausting, difficult, and repetitive conversations with both his and my circles. I had a list of people he wanted me to contact upon his death, and I had to allot probably a half hour to each one, because I felt like I had to manage their grief as well as my own.

Even for those I was close to, making those calls and answering their questions was really hard. It didn't mean I felt any less close to them, it didn't mean their help wasn't invaluable. It was just hard to make one of those calls, give myself ten minutes to regroup and cry, and then make another call. Over and over. And in the midst of packing up his house, dealing with the financials, figuring out my own work situation, and so on.

Please trust that she made a call that worked for her at the time. She may have felt she was sparing you, she may have felt like she wanted to deal with the grief and questions another time, I don't know. But you have to trust and understand that frankly, her needs and communication preferences take precedent at this time. It doesn't mean you're less of a friend or that your help/friendship/support didn't matter.
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:35 AM on April 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

Actually both of us do, though my SO being more cynical than I just said "well, I guess we just weren't useful to her" and has started to reevaluate the friendship on the basis that clearly it's only one of convenience to our friend, which I think is unfair.

Does your SO have a pattern of trying to isolate you from your friends...? It's all well and good if she feels this way temporarily while Having A Moment and then gets over it, but saying it to you is another thing entirely. This is a really not-okay thing to say to someone about their best friend!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:39 AM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

So, mefites, what's the best way for me to process this so that I can continue to be a good and supportive friend whilst also dealing with whatever-the-fuck it is that's upset me? Right now I'm feeling — again, unfairly — a little bit like I don't really know my friend as well as I thought I did. I'm also angry at myself for being so selfish. Finally, this whole thing is bringing back memories of the death of my own mother many years ago and that's not easy to deal with.

Grief hits people in different ways and you and your SO may be dealing with a little bit of adjacent grief and not sure how to process it. You wanted to be there for your friend, in her corner, all the stuff, when she needed you most and she... didn't want that. And that can be hard. But I know from when my mother died

- I did not want to let anyone know over text who I could literally tell in person or over the phone
- she was in hospice for a week or so, sot here were a lot of awkward texts with people before she texted where the subtext was clearly "is she dead yet"
- I SHUT DOWN externally when I have serious emotions to process and do not want to deal with a single other person while I am doing this. Other people want to process, talk to me, ask me things, have me ask them things and the easiest way to do this is to not contact them.

his death meant a lot of exhausting, difficult, and repetitive conversations with both his and my circles.

So much this. My mom meant a lot of things to a lot of people, many of whom weren't really super emotionally stable and all of whom deserved to know. Telling all of them was just a series of emotional assaults as their grief (and their form of processing it that did not hold space for my own grief) was, if I'm being honest, the very worst part of all of this. If I could have made it simpler without being a total asshole, I would have.

Realistically, under the usual terms of etiquette that I subscribe to, your friend did you a solid by not giving you terrible-but-not-urgent news while you were out on your fun event. That is the usual protocol. Nothing you could do while you were away, you had a fun time, her m-i-l will still be dead when you get back. If you weren't going to be at the deathbed holding her hand, then this is actually the appropriate response from her. I think you may be picking up some of your SO's prickly (and, imho, unfair and disproportionate) reaction.

tl;dr if your first thought when someone has a close death in the family is "they're doing this wrong" that's a good opportunity for some introspection about where you and they misalign and that introspection is best done without them, in a place like here.
posted by jessamyn at 7:42 AM on April 23, 2019 [24 favorites]

can you imagine being at a loved one's deathbed and entering into a text conversation about that as it was happening?

Sometimes we need some time before we can even talk about something. She needed to not have that text conversation with you right then, and she was also being courteous by not dumping on your weekend. Both were good reasons not to text you about the death immediately.

I understand you feel rejected since being a support for her is something that matters to you. Totally get it. But she had great reasons to not give you the play by play on the death. Your SO's reaction was uncalled for, and hopefully you'll both get your perspective back once you've reconnected with your friend in person.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:59 AM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, look, people with abusive partners are in a hellish world where they lack control. One of the ways they take back control is by protecting others. If she keeps you from experiencing her pain for a moment it's both a kindness and a way for her to feel like she has agency and is able to do something without it being manipulated by her S/O. She may not be able to see a way out, but a minimum, she can limit the damage that her relationship does to her loved ones.

This was a strong, generous thing for her to do. Your S/O's reaction is rather shocking to me, to be honest, and very controlling in and of itself. (The idea that her not telling you everything you want to know is "using" you or letting you down is a really controlling idea of what friendship is.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I once had a good friend call me up just after my mother had died. He'd been on a great holiday and I let him talk. Then he said, "how are you?" and I said, "My mum just died."
His response was "why didn't you stop me going on?" I think I was just so fed-up of my mother being so ill for so long, and he sounded so cheerful. I just didn't have it in me to stop him and say to someone for the umpteenth time what had happened.

People do all sorts of things around people close to them when they die. I think your friend as others have said was being thoughtful to you. Which is nice especially as she's in the midst of grief.
posted by blue_eyes at 8:09 AM on April 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

Here's a thing that will be hard to swallow but it's what humans do: you feel like she owes you. You've done alllll this work for her, getting emotionally involved and getting those big secondhand hits of angst as if it was happening to you instead of her, and she denied you the big fix because she was being thoughtful while under enormous duress, and now you're mad.

It sucks to realize you're doing it, it sucks to look at your partner and realize they're doing it, it absolutely does make you temporarily kind of a bad person. What a lot of people do at this point is double down and just stay mad forever instead of swallowing a complicated truth about themselves and regaining some grace and carrying on with the understanding that your disgruntlement was a human reflex and not a suggestion on how to behave.

There are a hundred possible reasons she made the exact choice she did, and ain't one of them about you. Are you going to be a person who resents that, or accepts it, or actually embraces it because you actually understand it's not about you? It's not your grief, it's just not. Even if you had been in the room, it still wouldn't be your grief and you do not know what is right or wrong for her. You don't know whether or not it was just too much in that moment to have to manage y'all's (or anybody's!) feelings too, or to have to say it out loud, or dealing with her husband, or honestly people sometimes just panic when someone dies.

It's not about you, and it's not about logic, and I think you need to choose a feeling to have here rather than just settling on the ones you had first.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 AM on April 23, 2019 [25 favorites]

I also should say that you're doing the right thing in interrogating this feeling and considering how to handle this without making it about your friend doing something wrong! You deserve kudos for that and for being a really good friend to her generally. You sound like a loving, generous person and I am sure that you will continue to be a good friend to her going forward. I'm sorry that someone you love is going through so much.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:32 AM on April 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

"my weekend can wait til you're back; have a good time!"

I know this is a bit ask/guess, but like, I do feel that you got a pretty serious signal here that things weren't okay but that she wasn't up to dealing with that with you at that time and over that particular communication channel. This wasn't disingenuous; this was discretion.

All that said, your friend is going through a terrible time, which is a terrible time for you by proxy, and so I think you need to take into account that probably no matter what way you found out about this... it would probably feel terrible. It would have felt terrible to hear when you were going to this event. It felt terrible to hear when you got back. To some degree, even for you, this is just how grief goes: you need to give yourself some time for it to just feel awful without trying to Fix The Awful Feeling. If you give it some space for that, probably it will be easier to deal with the actual friend feelings involved if you look at it from the space of next week or the week after. Don't try to hash out what this means about your friendship immediately just because now is when you're having the feelings. It's okay to put a pin in this and come back to it when you have the emotional energy to do so.
posted by Sequence at 9:01 AM on April 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

Why do you feel bad and hurt? Because you are making this event about YOU. Not all things have you in the center of it. I know logically you know this, but we all look at things through the lens of ‘me’. We all do this. Sometimes you need to make a conscious choice to not look through that lens. You want that persons journey to be through you, connected with you, and it simply isn’t. That may bring up all sorts of feelings about not being valued. And that’s where it IS about you. How you feel valued in the world. You need to separate these two, and not bring your need to be valued into her personal journey.

It sounds like you actually are a valued friend. This does not change that. At all.
posted by MountainDaisy at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Different people deal with grief in different ways. For my part, I take great comfort in seeing happy people and knowing that life is still happening even if I’ve withdrawn from it for a bit. Chatting about lighter stuff with a friend is as much a gift as heavy processing. From what you’ve said, it sounds like she wanted to hear happy stories about your fun weekend and not feel like her relative’s death tainted everything.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:43 AM on April 23, 2019

My father just died this past Christmas Eve. He was a person who was extremely important to many people, and we deliberately waited until the day after Christmas to tell everyone, for two reasons:
1) we wanted people to be able to enjoy their Christmas (we figured, well, he's still going to be dead in a few days, it won't hurt anyone to wait a bit to hear the news, and we liked imagining them having a nice time)
2) we didn't want to have to have all these super emotional conversations right away while we were still dealing with the shock.

I think your friend, like people have said above, wanted you to enjoy this weekend that you'd been planning and looking forward to and really needed. There probably wasn't anything you could do to help right then and it probably made her feel good to imagine you having fun.

She most likely would have felt guilty if you had come home early or not enjoyed it as much--would you have wanted her to add another bad feeling to everything she's already going through?
posted by exceptinsects at 9:58 AM on April 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

You've already selected a best answer, but I wanted to add a quick note to (hopefully) comfort you. I've been going through the hardest 6-7 months of my life and every day is a struggle. I've talked to many more strangers on the internet, doctors, and therapists. I've still only told a couple of my family and friends--with whom I am very, very close--because the thought of talking to them is crushing. I crave their support, but the experience of watching the grief, sadness, and anger that they feel as I start to talk to them is so intense that I can barely handle it right now. I hope you can understand your friend's silence as a gesture of loving kindness--they likely longed for your support in the moment but couldn't yield to knowing that you would feel pain, too.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:07 AM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Think of it this way, they weren't protecting you they were protecting themselves. When my mum died tell other people was the hardest part, I would end up comforting them. Or reassuring them that their comforting of me was well comforting when all I really wanted to do was lay in bed as I felt like I was drowning. Telling people close to her was the worst as I knew I would be hurting them as much as I was hurting & I loved these people & didn't want to share the news & hurt them. In the end my husband emailed those that needed to know ASAP, mainly relatives overseas & I contacted them again later when funeral plans etc had been made & I was more together to handle it.

Your friend is handling her grief the best way she knows how & even in all that pain she is thinking of you & trying to protect you from the pain because she loves you so much. She is drowning & is trying to put her life vest on you to save you.

Or it's just that the grief is so fucking completely all consuming at first, that having any sort of thread to normalcy is something you want to protect, maybe you are that thread.
posted by wwax at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Other people have given great advice and it sounds like you’ve got some clarity. You asked why you were feeling this way, and I don’t know, but I had a couple of thoughts that may or may not be helpful.

It took me a couple of reads to understand your question, because I still struggle to understand that people want to be there for the people they love.

This is something I’m working on, and it was incredible for me to learn that people want to be needed, and that my value wasn’t just about what I could do for them, but what they could do for me.

I have put on a brave face many times, glossed over or lied about problems, or when I couldn’t, I cancelled. When I’m depressed, I cut myself off from my friends. Not because I don’t care about them, but because I do. It’s difficult for me to believe anyone would want to be around me if I’m ‘needy’ or not on great form. And when I have revealed my pain and leant on people, I’ve felt a huge amount of shame and anxiety that I’ve burdened them, they might think less of me, and I’ve put a valuable relationship at risk.

Your feelings of hurt sound to me like the other side of the same coin- for you, love is being there for someone, to meet their emotional needs. It’s about what you can give and bring to the table. That’s healthy and as it should be up to a point. The problems arise if and when:

A) you can only feel loved when you feel needed or you’re giving. How do you cope with receiving? Do you always feel the need to fix things? Do you feel you won’t be loved or lovable if you’re not offering something? Can you respect that sometimes what you want to give is not necessarily what another needs?

B) and following on from that- are you unable to be flexible and understanding about what those emotional needs are, as opposed to what they ‘should’ be? Perhaps your friend needed to be alone with her thoughts. Perhaps telling anyone would have made it all too real. Perhaps she got some strength from being able to give to you in that moment.

I think it’s interesting that both you and your SO reacted felt hurt by your friend. What’s the balance of giving and receiving between you two? Because I’m wondering if it’s not so much hurt that you feel, but guilt, and your partners reaction helped you reframe the situation in a way that was more bearable for you. You went away and had a great time while your friend was suffering. You did nothing wrong, but it’s natural to feel bad in such a circumstance. But instead of feeling guilty and questioning yourself, you’re feeling angry and questioning her- it’s painful, but the anger is directed outward, rather than inward.
posted by Dwardles at 11:16 AM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you’re making this about you instead of being sensitive to her. Like her sharing with you is some kind of badge of honor for you. Frankly that’s gross.

She’s grieving, she’s stressed, she’s going to do what makes her feel ok and comfortable and please support her in that. Whatever that is.

A close friend of 3 years is still fairly short time to be friends. My bff of 20 years didn’t immediately share the news of his dog passing because it was too painful. It’s not personal. I did the same with my miscarriages. It has nothing to do with my love for my friend and everything to do with how ready I am to talk.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:38 AM on April 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

When we were in our first year of university one of my best friends who I had known since the 4th grade just disappeared. I found out from another friend a couple of days later that his mom had died of cancer. I was upset about being kept out of the loop not just of the death but the sickness that had preceded it. I never spoke to him about it and eventually things went back to normal. His father passed away a couple of years ago and I found out about it a month or so after the fact when he mentioned it to my wife on facebook messenger. And then I let our group of friends know because he hadn't told any of them.

I 100% don't agree with how he did things both times but I've come to accept that he doesn't like to share this kind of news with his friends.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:47 AM on April 23, 2019

I had to call one friend and ask her to text/tell another three friends about a family death.
I just couldn't articulate the words "we lost XXX last week" .
Not one more time, not to one more person.

Please don't take offense or bring this up to your friend.
That can be your kindness; that can be your "what can i do for you" action.
posted by calgirl at 1:28 PM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

In your post you stress how intimate and close this friendship is. It’s completely understandable that you would feel rocked by something that made you doubt if you were actually that close. You may be feeling betrayed and and hurt that this big important thing was happening and you weren’t “invited”. You’ve been sharing so much of your life, and you had a deep entanglement around the situation with her MIL’s cancer. Not being allowed to be there could certainly make all of that feel unstable. For you and your SO. Add into the mix that it can feel shameful to have feelings like this while someone else is grieving and it becomes very hard to sort out your feelings.

Lots of people have covered what may have been going on with her, but it’s equally important to honor whatever is going on with you. It’s ok to have your feelings. Just don’t do anything drastic with them.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:59 PM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for your replies. I'm going to mark this resolved now, but I wanted to follow up with a few things:
  • Yes, I do find a great deal of my self worth in being useful to others, so being (in my eyes) unavailable felt like a shameful thing.
  • After finding some time to just sit with my feelings yesterday, I realised I wasn't just remembering my mother's death — which was sudden and traumatic — as having flashbacks, (which culminated in a panic attack late in the day). That put me on a very uneven emotional footing from the get-go. I've made an appointment with my therapist to talk this through.
  • My friend is one of the sweetest, kindest, most big-hearted people I know, and I understand that she just wanted me to be able to have a good time after a few weeks of hard grind on a number of fronts.
  • As a corollary to that, my friend had been prepared for this moment in a way that I didn't understand: it had been a long illness, after all, and she was in many ways an outsider to it. That her in-laws are now being predictably toxic to one another in the aftermath means that she's somewhat insulated herself from matters and is just being über practical about things, which is a very good way to deal with it.
  • She texted me late last night to ask my advice on a number of things, which I gave freely, and then added that when she's back in town she's going to need some "decompression time with people I can fall apart with," i.e. me and my SO.
  • My SO is always prepared for their friends to let them down and hurt them; their extreme reaction was a manifestation of this. They are in therapy and this is one of the things that they'll be talking about at their next session after I called them out on it.
Of course, I have no intention of ever mentioning my feelings on this situation to my friend. I feel a great deal of shame about them, but I realise also that at times of upset we're kind of along for the ride and we just have to navigate the waters as best we can.

Thanks again for all your help, mefites.
posted by six sided sock at 10:40 PM on April 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

Thank you for following up. I don't think you should feel ashamed--you didn't say any of this to your friend, you checked in here for perspective and were really openhearted about it. I wish you the best as you continue to be the good friend that you are!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:42 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

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