Many of us were raised to think of grief only when someone died but grief is so much more than that. Grief is the conflict of emotions that arises when an established pattern changes or ends” and as we age there are more changes in our lives and the lives of our friends, than we ever imagined possible.
Losing friends as a child, seems innocuous enough. Your best friend’s father gets a promotion and the family has to move away. You get picked for a sports team and get so busy with practices and games that you don’t have time for your old chums. Or you and your friend choose different colleges and lose touch in the busyness of your new lives.
As young adults we accept promotions or choose to move to better neighborhoods and we acknowledge that leaving friendships behind is one of the expected costs of the change. We may exchange addresses and promise to keep in touch but once we’re in our new space we find ourselves immersed in new routines and we tell ourselves that what we traded up to, was worth what we lost.
Then, if we are lucky enough to live long lives, we pass some unseen line-in-the-sand and life begins to interrupt our friendships in new and often heartbreaking ways. Your friend’s son has an accident and now instead of being grandparents, your friends have to step in and take over the parenting of their son’s young children. They are once again on the treadmill of PTA meetings and dance classes and have no time to visit with you. Or maybe your travel partner has “a little bit of heart trouble” and suddenly travel insurance makes travel unaffordable. You haven’t lost your friend but the friendship changes and your life changes too, because now you have no one to travel with.
When these things happen it’s as if the old friendship has died and if you stay in touch, a new and different one will be born. When friendships last, the way we were falls away and a new way emerges, or the friendship crumbles. Either way, there is a loss.
Recovering from loss starts with seeing that we are hurting and acknowledging that in amongst all the good that life has brought us, there have been sad times too. When we can be honest about both sides, life has a richness that is lost otherwise. When we can share our memories of these joys and sorrows with our children and grandchildren it gives them a picture of what a full life holds.
The world bombards young people with images of a life that is shiny and perfect and plastic with friendships to match. Sharing your stories lets them know that life will likely be a whole lot less perfect-seeming but that it can be deep and rich and real.
Written by Catherine Mitchell, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist serving the Durham Region.