I have tried to write about this subject a few different times, and each time it has translated to pure rage and immaturity. I have never felt as though I’ve been able to encompass the topic of friendship through loss effectively or appropriately. When I write about this, emotions rush through me. Most of them are negative and remain tandem with the worst and darkest days of my young life. With over a year to reflect and digest how friendship has played a role in my grief, I hope to convey my personal experiences and observations in a way that will help people question what friendship truly means and how detrimental your actions, as a friend, are to someone going through despair.
Not everyone is meant to be friends forever. You eventually learn what relationships around you will withstand the test of time and which will falter through distance, new life chapters, and belief or habit changes. Nothing is wrong with this. In fact, I’ve recognized that my transition to college has been the best thing for me in terms of finding people who genuinely love and support who I am, what I stand for, and what I’ve been through.
My high school wasn’t exactly the ideal place for acquiring and cultivating lasting friendships. One – out of the three friends I consider close and reliable from high school – died at the age of nineteen, and the other two are either a hundred or a thousand miles away. If I had not found “my people” on my dorm floor freshman year, I believe the whole course of my life would have been different.
It’s easy for people to project the word “strong” upon my character, but what I credit to be the strongest qualities about me…are not within me…they are around me. The unconditional love that I have experienced over the past four years, by people who aren’t blood-related, has been astounding. You all know who you are and I will never be able to repay you.
I could write about how grateful I am for the people who will support me forever, and I will, but this post is dedicated to the other half of friendships I’ve been a part of. I’ve found that the death of someone in your innermost circle is the quickest way to weed out the relationships that were never true enough to withstand the trials and tribulations that life will involuntarily offer us all at some point. My harshest baggage just happened to be packed early and in a time when my peers are beautiful, young, and all about their image or “having fun.” However, I’ve been let in on some wisdom through observation that most people in the western world stay this way their entire lives.
When it became known to the local golf community, where my family lived and in which my dad was an active part, that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer at only 47 with a dire life expectancy, he witnessed several of his relationships change. Most of the other men around his age stopped inviting him to play golf and tip-toed around him as if they were going to catch cancer by sharing the same Gatorade or sweat rag. The only consistent people who would pay him any mind, or be sure to include him, were older men who were contemplating their own lives or had suffered from disease themselves at some point. We lived in our neighborhood for TEN years. God forbid someone who is going to die be around to remind you of our shared mortality. In case you didn’t know, we will all die one day and probably not in the peaceful way you think it will happen. Delusional.
This was one of the hardest realities to see my dad go through. People who had been his “friends” for 10+ years never once coming around to sit with him, say goodbye, ask him how he was feeling, ask him how they could help him or his family, or share his impact on them. The feeling of discomfort and awkwardness overpowered their desire to make someone feel loved and cared about when his death was right around the corner. My dad is a special case because life is unpredictable, and people die in freak accidents. In his case, he died seeing this, knowing this, and feeling the emotions that come with, in my opinion, the harshest and final form of rejection. To many, he was already dead.
With no comparison to how my dad was treated, I weathered a few of my own harsh rejections. My freshman year roommate, who I will call M for this post, was my first relationship loss due to my circumstances. As far as I was concerned, M and I had a strong friendship. We moved into the same apartment for sophomore year and did everything together. We were just getting accustomed to our exciting off-campus lives when my parents drove to Boone one day to tell me the worst kind of news…news that got worse with each phone call or visit home for the next year. I don’t want to spend too much time hashing out the minute details I have agonized over, ever since, to pinpoint what went wrong or what I did to cause the friendship to end.
Eventually, she never spoke to me face-to-face again, even though we lived under the same roof. We never once crossed paths in our own shared home – she made sure of it. I had to come to terms with the fact that this abandonment and shunning by a person who was supposed to be my friend had nothing to do with me at all. We, generally as human beings, are petrified to approach uneasy situations, especially if there is no personal foreseeable gain. There was no gain for M in my circumstances. We are taught that if it doesn’t make you “happy” (whatever that means) or make you feel good then cut it out of your life. And while I realize sometimes cutting toxicity out of our lives is necessary, dumping a friend in her darkest hour of need is not. This situation caused a unique feeling of abandonment that I had never faced before. And it still affects me, my new, and old friendships, each day.
I didn’t know it could get worse…until it did. After M earned Worst Friend award, I moved on with my other friendships. Next is H. H and I were high school “best” friends for about five years when she decided that our shared memories and laughter could be easily traded for what was readily available at the time. She decided that she wanted the guy I was with at the time. So, she went after him and got what she wanted. I was hanging on by a thread, learning from home about my dad’s strokes, his coma, his impending death, the family coming in, knowing I’d never, ever, ever see my dad again, recalling the final morning he held me – the last morning he was conscious.
This is not a situation of me blaming the girl. The guy in this situation is, honestly, not even worth mentioning. But H was my best friend who I was sharing an apartment with the year after M. Much like before, we did everything together once we lived with one another. As my dad’s health worsened, I saw the shift in attitude. Once again, my life became too stressful or too “sad” for someone to be around. She credited this with not knowing what to say or not wanting to bring up my situation “just in case I wasn’t thinking about it.” Even when I told her I always was.
During this time, I was commuting back and forth from my hometown to Boone. This left the guy I was dating and my best friend H to start hanging out with one another without me around. I do understand that people find love in different ways, sometimes obscure. I’m not mad that they ended up together because in hindsight, they should probably be together anyways. What I was upset about was the lack of thought, the added weight, and heartache they caused me without care.
I was lied to and left in the dark while they attended my dad’s memorial service. This was after they had been intimate with one another and while I thought I was still with him. They found any reason they could to justify their malicious actions towards me. When I returned to school after my father died, it was harder to keep the love affair a secret. I found out and then forgave her instantly. I didn’t want to experience anymore loss of people I cared about. It was easier for me to work on a broken, trustless friendship than to give her up. I realize now she never wanted forgiveness. I just made her already made-up decision harder by forgiving her.
Around midnight one night, I left the library and took a back road which passed by a dorm where I saw H and the guy outside together. Confused and angry, I called an actual friend bawling my eyes out. I was distraught with feelings of worthlessness and unimportance. I struggled for a long time wondering how our years-long friendship could be tossed away so easily over a guy who was only in her life for a few months. I wondered for a long time what was wrong with me and how I could continually allow such shallow and narcissistic people like them get close to me. I was disposable.
I feel like I have not only been robbed of a life with my dad and my close friend Zafer but also robbed of my proper grief. I will never be able to move forward without seeing the faces of those who stabbed me in the back and then in the front too, and so effortlessly and easily walked away. I will never be able to get into an argument with a close friend and immediately after wonder if I will ever hear from them again. I can never think about the initial night that I learned about my dad without remembering that I was consoled by one friend and left alone by M because her ride was at the apartment to take her to a party. I can never think about when I left school to grieve my dad’s life without seeing two people I leaned on using my crisis and my family’s pain as an opportunity for them to explore each other’s bodies and their potential as a couple. I can never picture my dad’s memorial service without seeing some of the people standing in the crowd who did not deserve to pretend they gave a damn about me or him or my family.
My therapist once told me that she sees the worst stories of betrayal and neglect when someone goes through the death of a loved one and unimaginable loss. Why is that? Why, instead, this is an ideal time to make a situation worse or to enhance someone’s feelings of emptiness is appalling.
I will spend my future searching for where it all went wrong and how we can open the conversation to death like our global village does. Why we spend energy and money running away from any indication of aging we can. Why our elders and the sick are treated as burdens to society. And why we disregard our relationships the minute our “fun” and instant gratification is called into question.
Life is truly, truly hard enough.