How To Heal From The Sudden End Of An Important Friendship
Even as a therapist, I wasn’t prepared to lose my best friend.
“I don’t want you to go, you just got here,” I pleaded. I was devastated. My best friend drove nine hours to see me and, after two days, wanted to leave after a series of small arguments. After my partner died in 2019, friendships were my lifeline, and even more so during this past year. At 53, I wasn’t prepared to lose a best friend. I thought she would be in my life for decades. Grace and I spent a month quarantining together before I left New York, where we happily cooked, exercised and binged TV shows. I moved to North Carolina for a few months. Although apart, we kept our exercise routine going by meeting on Zoom every morning.
We watched movies together on Netflix’s Teleparty, and even planned to rent a house together when I moved back. She decided to visit. I couldn’t wait to see her. I drove to Whole Foods and stocked up on her favorite chocolate. She arrived noticeably different. She seemed less excited to see me than I was to see her. After we unpacked her car, she sat down on the sofa. “I’m not sure how long I’ll stay,” she said. “I don’t need to know, you just got here!” I replied.
I thought a good night’s sleep would bring my friend back to life. The next day we disagreed about the room being too hot and what to have for dinner. Grace and I barely argued during our four-year friendship, and if we did, we talked it through and moved on. This was different. I wasn’t used to her getting mad over small things and became frustrated. I could have been more compassionate and curious about what was triggering her. “I didn’t do anything, why are you upset with me now?” I blurted. “There is no space for me to tell you why I’m upset when you react that way,” she stated.
When she said she was thinking of leaving, I was dumbfounded. I went to my room for the night. Lying in bed, I obsessed. Surely, she will sleep on it and we will work things out. Yet when I woke up, she was gone. I was angry, hurt and, most of all, confused. Was this a breakup or a huge misunderstanding?
I became anxious and stopped exercising. I missed her. I slid into a funk and had to do something. I tapped into my psychotherapist self and devised a plan to help me heal. Whenever my patients’ stress level increases, I remind them to up their self-care just as much, to offset the extra stress. I made some minestrone soup and took a hike to clear my head. I wrote a letter to Grace daily and burned it. Yes, burned it. Not from an angry place, but from a desire to let go and move on. I knew if I reread the letters, I would bring the feelings back in. I started to feel lighter.
A week later, she texted asking how I was and said she was taking some time to care for herself. I wanted to reconcile as she was moving further away. A month later I sent a card saying I cared for her and our friendship and wanted to talk. No reply. I reached out one more time, on Valentine’s Day. “Hi, thinking of everyone I love extra today. Would love to know how you are!”
She texted she was appreciative of the card but going through a challenging time and would reach out when able. It finally hit me. She didn’t want to talk about what happened or repair our friendship. “Sorry to hear, and for any way I contributed,” I answered, knowing it might be the last time we texted.
We haven’t spoken since. Over time, I realized we did the best we could. Everyone needs more than anyone has to give right now. I made a promise that unless she tells me why, I won’t make up reasons to blame myself. I made a list to remind myself of all the ways I had been a good friend if any negative self-talk crept in. I couldn’t control Grace’s decision to shut down, but I could control how I related to myself.
I made sure I had something to look forward to each day, whether a favorite meal or TV show. I reached out to friends and scheduled a daily call until I felt better. Having her cut off contact was extremely painful. It made it seem like all the belly laughs, cries and trips we took meant nothing, and that our friendship was disposable. Even if we reconnect someday, I had to make peace with losing her.
Living in the uncertainty without answers was too hard. I tearfully wrote a goodbye letter I won’t send to help me grieve. In it, I listed everything I missed about her, things she taught me, and some favorite memories. My anxiety eventually dissipated. I started exercising again. For now, my friendship with Grace, like many things in life, is on pause. I’ve accepted it.