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How Grief Has Changed My Approach To Friendship

The change that took place the day my father died.

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illustration of friends sheltering friend with umbrella from the storm
Allegra Lockstadt
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On the day my father died, I was sipping a pumpkin spice latte at work and pondering my weekend plans with my girlfriends. When my mother called with the news that my dad had unexpectedly died from complications related to terminal cancer, my life changed. In a split second, cocktails with my girlfriends were no longer important and my afternoon was spent in a whirlwind of preparations to fly home and attend his funeral.

And my friends rallied around me.

Four dear friends descended on my home and to this day, I still don’t know how they coordinated their efforts. They washed my family’s clothes. They talked to my husband, who was in a different city on a business trip, and coordinated my travel. They packed my suitcases — and even labeled the clothing with the days of the week so I didn’t have to make any decisions when I arrived at my parents’ house. When my hand was shaking as I tried to dial my brother’s number on my phone, my friend gently and wordlessly took my phone and dialed it for me.

In those turbulent moments in the midst of deep loss, I learned how to be a better friend during a crisis. My friends instinctively took care of me in ways I never expected or understood until I was the one who was in crisis.

And, since that day seven years ago, though my grief has faded to a dull ache in the corner of my heart, I look at my friendships through the lens of grieving.

Grief teaches you there’s no room for drama.
Life really is too short. Grieving has taught me that focusing on the women who cause drama and bring toxicity to my life only serves to cloud over the light that my true friends shine into my world. Since I’ve been on my grief journey, I’ve weeded out the friends who don’t bring joy to my life and I’ve filled my social circle with badass women who are no drama mamas.

Grief helps you not sweat the small annoyances in friendship.
Sure, I have the friend who is always late and the friend who doesn’t always carry her weight when it comes to carpool duties. But, you know what? Big deal. That friend who is always late never fails to stay as long as I need her when I’m having a bad grief day, even if that means she’s late for someone else. And that carpool friend somehow always manages to come through on the nights I have to be in two places at once.

Grief shows you that everyone is fighting a battle privately and everyone deserves grace.
When I was in the thick of my grief, in the first months after my father’s death, I was touchy and grouchy. There were days when I simply wanted to lie in bed and cry, but the empty refrigerator meant grocery shopping had to be done. When I’d run into friends at the grocery store, I was short and curt because my grief threatened to bubble over right there in the pasta aisle. Grief makes managing your emotions hard some days, and now when a friend lashes out at me or is curt, I give her grace because I remember the kindness of friends who loved me through my grieving.

Grief teaches you that lasagna really isn’t helpful.
When there’s a death in the family, people respond with food — often in the extreme. My family ate countless lasagnas that I’d frozen for months after my dad’s death, and I haven’t made one since. While I appreciated the gestures, I learned that the friend who signed me up (and paid) for a 10-mile race — because she knew I needed help getting back into running — was the friend I wanted to be going forward. She recognized that my grief had prevented me from doing something I loved, and she helped bring a sliver of joy back into the dark abyss of grieving. These days, I no longer bring lasagnas or send flowers when my friends lose loved ones. I try to emulate the kindness my running pal showed me in my grief with a similar meaningful gesture.

I have realized over the years that while grief has been a heavy burden to carry on some days, it has been a gift as well. Grieving has helped me clarify what’s truly important in my relationships, and my friendships are richer, more connected and more valued since grief has become a part of my fabric.