Relationships take time to maintain, and people often get pulled in different directions, especially as life moves people in different directions. It’s easy to lose track of friendships, even ones you consider positive and rewarding. With time, some relationships become neglected and can fall apart as people no longer make communication a priority. But it might change when bad news hits.
What would you do if an old friend went through a tragedy, causing the death of a loved one? Would you consider this old connection to be worthless? Or would it inspire you to reach out and help a grieving friend?
Reconnecting after a tragedy can be a positive experience between friends. This can feel particularly daunting, but hopefully, the 11 tips below can help make your friendship reboot more successful.
1. Consider Why You Are Reaching Out
Why do you want to get in touch? A tragedy may have triggered your interest, but that wouldn’t guarantee a desire to reconnect. Look at the history of your friendship. Do you feel guilty about the last time you spoke? Do you genuinely miss them?
If you’ve been close, your answer will probably come to mind after some thought. Don’t let past conflict automatically steer you away from reconnecting. Think about your entire relationship and whether the pros outweigh the cons. If you feel like your lives would be better with each other, then reaching out may be the right call for you.
2. Understand Your Fears About Reaching Out
What makes you nervous about reconnecting with your friend? Did you have a falling out? Was there a misunderstanding the last time you were in touch? Are you afraid they don’t want to be your friend anymore?
Get these fears out of your head by writing them down. Fear is best handled in the light. Once you acknowledge what you fear, you can think more logically about them. If you had conflict between you the last time you spoke, be prepared to face this head-on.
Sometimes your mind creates fearful thoughts that lie to you. Don’t believe them without checking things out for yourself. What may have seemed like a big deal back then may be something you can laugh about together with growth and reflection.
3. Choose Ways to Make Contact
What contact information do you have to start with? Attempt to reach out with whatever information you have at first. That could be an email, a mailing address, or a Facebook profile. Of course, these options may feel impolite to you when trying to contact your friend after a tragedy. You might need to ask common friends or relatives about other ways to leave a message.
If you think speaking to them as your first contact is too intense, a written message may be better. Your friend can decide when to open it up and take action.
Calling may make you nervous, but consider the fact that nowadays, many people don’t answer the phone if the number looks unfamiliar. If they are bogged down with emotion or are busy, they may screen their calls. Call, leave a voicemail if you get the chance, and put the ball in their court.
4. Be Flexible With Your Expectations
If you and your friend haven’t been in touch for a while, it’s hard to say how your friend will react. They may be surprised that you reached out and unsure of what to say. They may be relieved and happy to hear from you. Conversely, it may catch them off-guard, and they may react poorly at the moment.
Keep your expectations flexible in the first encounter. Be ready for any reaction. If they are abrupt or seem irritable, they may regret their actions later on. Or they may be really excited at first, then feel overwhelmed.
They may have thought you didn’t want them as a friend anymore, even if that isn’t the case. They may also be dealing with other people they haven’t talked to in a long time. All of this renewed interaction can take a toll, even if they welcome your outreach. Be as understanding as possible. Leave the door open for a do-over if the first contact is a little rough.
5. Apologize if You Need to, But Don’t Expect One in Return
Conflict or disagreement pops up in all good friendships. Becoming close to someone means you allow yourself to trust and be vulnerable. Nobody is perfect and a good friend will accept you, flaws and all.
Some friends have more conflict than good times. If you and your friend had a rough relationship, be the first to offer an apology. Consider your part in the conflict. Your friend may have made bigger errors than you. Step up and offer your regrets first anyway.
Don’t expect an apology in return. You may feel you deserve one, but you shouldn’t expect it. Your apology may spark one from your friend, but there’s no guarantee. Later on, you may find a better time to address your past conflict. Until then, be there for your friend when they need support and move forward from there.
6. Understand That Reconnecting Takes Courage
Fear of rejection is one of the strongest human fears. Being rejected can feel so personal, even when it isn’t. Reaching out takes guts, especially when you have had no connection for a long time. The fear of rejection is real and can be a strong influence on whether you try.
You’ll probably feel nervous, and maybe even consider backing out. Do it anyway. Don’t give in to your fear. Your friend’s reaction may pleasantly surprise you. You’ll never know until you reach out.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About The Loss
Tragedy and loss can be overwhelming. Your friend is dealing with all the emotions and shock that come with a sudden loss. You might not know what to say when someone dies, especially when you’ve been out of touch for a while.
You don’t have to say the perfect thing. Tell your friend you aren’t sure what to say, but that you care about them. Ask how they are feeling. If your friend is open to your reconnection, they may be happy to talk with you.
Painful emotions can be the elephant in the living room. They can be huge and obvious, but difficult to acknowledge. Have faith in your relationship and offer your listening ears.
8. Tell Them You Regret Not Staying in Touch
Offer your regret for not staying in touch. Your friend may feel the same, but it always feels better to hear someone else say it first. Be that person, and help take any added pressure off your friend.
Keeping up with relationships is more work than most people realize. It’s easy to let things go without realizing how much time has passed, and especially when you’re not living nearby or in school or work together. Regret and fear are common reactions to lost relationships.
Keep it simple and truthful. Acknowledge your regret, apologize, and let your friend respond.
9. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
Sounds easier than done, but remember that your friend may not be ready to reconnect right now. It may have nothing to do with you. Grief and shock can drain you of emotional energy, and reconnecting takes energy as well. Even if you were close years ago, rekindling a friendship with you may feel like work.
Everyone reacts differently to loss. At one point, a person can feel angry and sensitive. Later on, they might feel dull and zoned out. You may not know your friend’s true state of mind when you reach out.
If you get no answer or your friend keeps their reply short and uninviting, consider trying again weeks or months from now. If they say, “don’t contact me again,” respect that and move on.
10. Plan a Simple Way to Get Together or Talk Again
Before you make contact, think of a simple way to spend more time together. If you and your friend don’t live in the same town, suggest a phone call or a video chat. For someone who lives nearby, plan to have dinner or a cup of coffee. You don’t need to plan something big, just a chance to talk and re-enter each other’s lives.
Put something on the calendar rather than, “I’ll call you sometime.” This makes your effort more real and keeps both of you accountable. You lost touch once. If you plan to keep it up, a calendar event can help you both hold to your commitment.
11. Recognize Your Effort No Matter the Outcome
Once you’ve made your outreach, take note of what it took for you to make the effort. If your friend was happy to hear from you, that’s great. If your friend sounded distant and uninterested, feel whatever emotion comes next. It may be anger, sadness, more fear, or maybe even relief.
You may have mixed feelings about the experience, and that’s natural. Reconnection can feel joyous and comforting. Tragedy and loss can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, depression, and fear. These emotions can get blended up together, and that’s OK.
No matter what happens, remember that you mustered up courage in the face of uncertainty. That’s a challenge for everyone. Give yourself credit for that.
Rekindle a Dormant Friendship
Friendships that go dormant can pull at your heart when tragedy strikes. You want to reach out to someone to offer your love and support, no matter how long it’s been.
Reconnecting can be a positive experience, but it helps to be prepared. When the opportunity comes, take the chance and offer your support.
- “Dormant Ties: The Value Of Reconnecting.” Levin.rutgers.edu. July–August 2011, www.levin.rutgers.edu/research/dormant-ties-paper.pdf