‘Dear Lala, While grieving a family death I fell for a friend who then cut me off’

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Dear Lala,

I used to have a really good friend, who I had known for years. I felt like we had reached a point where we could be totally honest and vulnerable with each other.

In March last year my 14-year-old niece died from suicide. She was like a little sister to me, so it was harrowing to lose her like that to say the least. I live quite far away from my family, so this friend was a big support during that time. He was with me the night I found out and then when after the funeral I returned to the city we live in, he was there for me as well.

In June that same year I started to feel like I might want to be more than friends. It was probably my grief-brain talking but I ended up telling him about my feelings and we discussed it thoroughly that night. He said that if he wanted to be with me as well, but he felt he needed to think it over as he didn't want to jeopardise our friendship.

I then left again to see my family for a month shortly after we had this conversation. We continued to text, and he said many wonderful things in the following days about how much he valued me and my friendship and how grateful he was to have me in his life.

Then when I returned to the city it was obvious that something had shifted. He started to ignore my texts and avoided meeting me in real life. Long story short it escalated to the point where now he's blocked my number and blocked me on social media. He ignores me if our paths cross and acts aloof and distant if I try to talk to him at all.

I've tried to move past it and just accept that we are no longer in each other's lives. However, now whenever I think about my niece and when she died and the time after he's there in all my memories. If I could just get an explanation of what happened that made him feel the need to cut me out of his life like that it'd be easier for me to accept, and I've asked him for it but he won't engage with me.

I know he of course doesn't owe me anything, but I feel like he's hijacked my grief and made it about him. I will never know why my niece had to die but he's right here and he won't tell me why he's no longer in my life. The memories of the night she died and the weeks after are precious to me and I think about it often but having him there usually ends up making me either even sadder than I already am, confused or just angry. How can I move past this when he creeps up in all of the thoughts and memories that are on my mind these days?

Lala says…

Firstly, let me start by saying that I am so incredibly sorry that you have suffered such a tragic loss. My heart goes out to you and your family. Bereavement is always difficult to deal with but losing someone to suicide brings with it its own unique challenges like unanswered questions, what ifs, regrets, and such a feeling of powerlessness and confusion. I hope that you have received specialist grief counselling to help you manage the death of your niece, if not I would really recommend it.

Because of the complexities around this, I approached a very experienced psychotherapist, Gemma Redfern from The Therapeutic Consultants. I can personally recommend Gemma and the team if you are looking for therapy.

Gemma says, “It sounds like it’s been a tremendously difficult time for you, one that really has turned your world upside down. I think it’s important to separate the events as much as you possibly can. The loss of your niece being taken so young is tragic and shocking, this will take much thought and hard work to come to terms with and even then, perhaps, you will be left with many unanswered questions and confusion.

"You say she was like your sister and her death is harrowing and unbearable to think about. We also know that the loss of someone close to us triggers past losses, so this will also be having an impact on how you function and manage external factors such as romantic relationships.

"Your good friend was there for you in the most horrific time – perhaps he is also scared of how he found himself as such an important figure in the whirlwind of your niece’s death, and it may have triggered his own losses or past traumas that he would now like to separate himself from. He is also likely to have his own stories around intimacy, commitment and closeness that might have caused him to need to protect himself.

Letting go is a really difficult, but essential, part of life. In this instance it is not just about letting go of the two people that you loved, but also letting go of the right to have answers, or to be able to control the situations you find yourself in. Letting go of some of the feelings around the ‘how’ could he possibly of done this and not being able to have the answers you so rightly deserve and long for will be an important piece of work that might well be helped by seeing a psychotherapist to talk it through.

As you mention the memories are just so precious and the two losses have collided in your mind. It feels like it would be extremely helpful to reach out to a Psychotherapist to be able to guide and hold you in the collision and confusion. It may be painful, but it is likely to also hold really valuable insights into yourself that will help you in many other areas of your life.

Starting psychotherapy can be really scary the first steps are often the hardest, but it is also often a huge relief to have someone to support you in your grief and confusion. I wish you steadiness in the next part of your healing journey.”

My first thoughts when I read it were that he freaked out. Of course, I can only speculate, but it sounds as though he valued you and your friendship, and that none of that was fake. He was there for you when your niece died because he wanted to be. And then sh*t got real, you expressed your feelings (which was bold and brave and is something that you should keep doing if and when you feel something for someone else in the future) but he didn’t share the romantic ones. Instead of saying that and being clear that he wanted to remain as friends, he said he needed to think about it.

I don’t think he is a bad/horrible/evil person. I suspect that he felt incredibly guilty about not sharing your feelings and worried at the idea of hurting you by telling you he didn’t feel the same way. This was probably amplified by the fact that it happened during the worst period of grief of your life. I think that he lacked the courage to be truthful for fear of hurting you and then unintentionally ended up hurting you more by running away instead of facing it head on.

The fact that he now ignores you and acts aloof when he sees you makes me wonder if he is still feeling a lot of guilt and shame around the way he dealt with it. Seeing you is a reminder of that guilt, and rather than confronting it he continues to run away. He took the coward's way out. That doesn’t make him an awful fu**boy, it may just mean that he hasn’t yet developed the emotional intelligence to handle a situation like that with the grace and care required.

The horrible thing for you is that you had a triple whammy of negativity – the loss of your niece, then the loss of your friendship, plus the inevitable feelings of embarrassment and low self-esteem that come with being rejected by someone you had feelings for. Rejection is pants, we’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the cruel sting of rejection, and the brutal stomach flips that happen every time you remember it, that feeling of desperately wishing you could rewind time and take back your admission. It is important to remember that the fact that he didn’t want more than friendship is not a reflection of your attractiveness, sexiness, or desirability. It doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough. It doesn’t mean that other people will feel the same. You just weren’t a match for him.

Not getting an explanation is incredibly frustrating and I can completely understand your very valid feelings around this. But as Gemma said, it’s time to accept that the answers aren’t coming, and that you don’t need them to gain closure.

It sounds like intrusive thoughts about him are clouding your ability to grieve for your niece and focus on memories in the way you would like to. Therapy really is the best way to help you to learn how to tackle this.

You may also wish to try meditation and mindfulness (there are guides on YouTube for beginners) as those practices will help you handle thoughts and clear your mind. Mindfulness will teach you how to manage the thoughts of him that creep into your mind, but therapy will help you to make sense of it all and come to a place of acceptance.

Find the right therapist though – you don’t have to stick with the first one you meet. You have to gel with a therapist, though that may take a few sessions, but shop around until you find someone who feels right. It’s important.

It’s all still recent and raw. You’ve lived through a nightmare and all during a global pandemic! The strength it must have taken for you to get through this last year is phenomenal. Applaud yourself for that. The fact that you have chosen to write in is also commendable – it shows that you are choosing self-love, you are choosing healing. You are taking control of your life and trying to do what’s best for you. You should be proud of yourself. And you should know that every single person who has read this today will be sending loving energy out into the universe for you. You’ve got this.

Follow @Lalalaletmeexplain on Instagram for more advice on sex and relationships. Have a question for Lala? Email [email protected]

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