Can’t share my secret grief

A letter writer wants to tell her friends about an old friend who died, but is worried about being seen as an attention seeker. Tell them, urges our elder — sharing will make your friendship stronger.

Dear EWC

A friend of mine died recently. I have managed to resolve my grief on my own; however upon returning to school I get pangs of sadness thinking about her. She lived in England. I used to live there but I moved to the US a year before she died. My sadness has been noticed among my new friends here. I haven’t told them what has happened to me because I can’t see any reason to. They didn’t know her — what wisdom could they possibly have to offer me that I haven’t already considered to resolve my grief? Furthermore, I have already gotten over most my grief, and I now only suffer from occasional melancholy pangs and thoughts of her. The main reason I haven’t told anyone here is that the last thing I want to do is to exploit my friend’s death as an opportunity to get attention. If I were to speak of my woes I would get pity, apologies and sympathy, all forms of attention I have no merited and do not want. I am very conscious to always reveal little of myself as not to be an ‘attention whore’. I don’t like to bring up things that would result in immediate intrigue to myself.

But keeping this a secret makes me lonely. The only person I have talked to is my best friend who still lives back in England amid the epicenter of all grieving. But I can’t call her every time I feel sad because of our circumstantial obstacles such as time zones, school hours, availability, etc. From my position across the ocean, away from all the communal grieving I feel a bit lonely, and this isn’t the first time. About a month ago a different one of my friends was raped and I feel helpless stranded on the wrong side of the world as to what’s going on in my old life. In case you were wondering, I haven’t told any of my friends here of the rape although it did upset me greatly. I am asking you what is your take away from my situation? should I talk to a friend about what I am dealing with despite it contradicting my reserved morals? I personally believe I am capable of handling this without help (except from my best friend) I really am on the last stages of grief. But confiding in my new friends feels like it’s something I am supposed to do… should I?

Ellen replies

First, please allow me to extend my condolences over the loss of your friend, especially at such a young age. Although we may each grieve differently, there are some elements that I believe are common when we are dealing with the death of someone we care about.

Death is an inevitable life cycle event, but there are reasons why people gather together to celebrate a life, and mourn a death. It is an opportunity to reminisce about times shared, memories created, and whatever made that person special. We look at photos, remember things that may have been forgotten, and measure the impact that person made in everyone’s life. What I have come to realize as I have gotten older is that there is no good time, and no good way, for someone to die: no matter how old they were, we wanted more time; if it was sudden, we wanted time to say goodbye; if it was prolonged, it was too hard watching them suffer. We may each process these situations differently, however, and there’s no one ‘right’ way for any of us to get through the pain.

All that said though, this is something you have experienced, and as such, is worth sharing with your circle of friends here in the US. They may not have known your friend, but they can certainly be supportive, especially since you are so far away from anyone else who did know her. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot — would you think any less of anyone in your new group of friends if they shared that someone they cared about (but that you didn’t know) had died? I have a strong sense that you would be genuinely sympathetic and supportive. I have had various groups of friends that have evolved from separate circles (childhood, college, work, neighborhood), who have all been there for me during good times and bad. This is what has cemented the foundations of our relationships over the years. If I hadn’t let them all in, although perhaps to varying degrees of specificity, on the ups and downs that I was going through, I truly feel I would have limited the depth and scope of our friendship.

Explaining to your new friends that you have been going through a tough time, and why, is in no way craving attention. It is simply opting to be open and honest with them, letting them know you are comfortable trusting them with a difficult topic, and helping them understand why you may have seemed withdrawn or quiet. I hope you will consider taking this leap of faith (at least about your friend’s passing if not about the rape), and will be well rewarded by their responses. Don’t be surprised if your emotions about both events continue to ebb and flow as random events may unexpectedly trigger thoughts and memories. Please let me know how you are coping, regardless of how you ultimately choose to proceed with confiding in your American friends.

Letter #: 416897
Category: Friendship

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