How to Deal With Unsupportive Friends After a Death: 6 Tips


For anyone who’s ever experienced the bond of friendship, you might agree that solid relationships enhance the quality of life. From time to time, those friendships get tested when gut-wrenching tragedies happen that leave you feeling lonely and disconnected from those you’re closest to.

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Friends play a significant role in the bereavement and healing process. They help get you through the most challenging times in your grief, not to mention the first few days following a tragedy.

Although everyone is affected by loss in a unique way, individuals left bereaved after the unexpected death of a loved one typically need the added support of their friends to help get them through. One of the most significant tests that friendships can endure is when a friend needs the support of their social network when they’re grief-stricken. 

Why Might Friends Be Unsupportive After a Death

Friends who were once your best allies might turn on you and disappear after a death for many reasons that usually have nothing to do with you. You’ll never know who’ll stick by you through thick and thin until you experience the pain and sorrow of loss.

The one thing that remains consistent through grief is that your friendships will forever evolve, and you won’t know who’ll be there for you in the end. Here are some of the most common reasons a friend might not be there for you when you’re going through a loss.

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They don’t know you need help

Many people don’t know that you’ve suffered through the loss of a loved one unless you tell them. When they find out, many don’t know what to do or how to help you deal with your grief. Western society teaches us to be uncomfortable talking about death and bereavement.

Unless your friends have experienced grief first-hand, they won’t know how to react when tragedy touches close to home. Friends may tend to keep a distance once they find out about your loss, not because they don’t care about you, but simply because they don’t understand what you’re going through, don’t know you need the help, or don’t know what to do for you. 

They don’t know what to say

Not knowing how to respond to a grief-stricken friend is another common reason why friends may shy away from providing help and support when you need it most. The art of what to say to someone who’s lost a loved one is a rare skill. These conversations between friends are awkward at best. Rest assured, your friends are thinking of you as you’re struggling with your loss, but they don’t know what to say to make you feel better. In time, most will come around after you’ve had time to adjust to your loss.

They’re uncomfortable with your grief

Have you ever experienced talking to a friend about what you’re going through, only to see a glazed or anxious look come across their face? Many people are uncomfortable with grief and sadness for a variety of reasons. Most of these have nothing to do with what you’re going through.

A friend who’s unsupportive of you after you experience a death in the family is usually because your experience hits too close to home for them. Many people are afraid of being around death. The fears they attach may be related to their own mortality or that of their close loved ones. 

Should You Ask for Friends to Be More Supportive After a Death?

It’s not always easy to ask for help. There are times when you do need extra help and support from your friends following a death. There’s nothing wrong or strange about asking your friends to be more supportive when you’ve experienced a tragedy. Let’s face it, that’s what friends are for. 

As you consider which of your friends to ask to lend you some added support, think about which one makes the most sense to go to. If you only see specific individuals once or twice a year, or you hardly keep in touch, maybe they shouldn’t be the first ones whom you approach. Everyone has their own set of problems and issues to deal with in life. You want to make sure you confide in those you know are more likely to have your back than those who are strictly casual friends.

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Tips for Asking for More Support From Friends After a Death

After experiencing loss, you may need as much hand-holding as you can get. Depending on the type of loss you’ve suffered, you may not be in an emotional or psychological position to jump back into the thick of things and get back to your life as usual. When grief takes a stronghold, you may find it more challenging to get through your loss. Keep reading for some tips on how to ask for the help you need. 

Make the first move

Since not every one of your friends will be lining up to see how they can help you, you might be the one needing to pick up the phone and asking them for advice on how to get through the challenges of grief. Call or text to ask for help and support when you need it. Let others know what you’re going through and be specific on how they can help you. Your friends won’t know what you’re going through until you tell them. 

Tell them what you need

Be specific when reaching out to your friends and asking for help. Don’t expect your friends to figure out how they can help you. Regardless of how well you think someone knows you, it’s always a good idea to let them know precisely how they can help you to alleviate the stress of them trying to figure it out. Make a list of what you need and update it every time someone volunteers to help you.

Educate and guide them

Many younger adults in their twenties and early thirties won’t yet have experienced the tragedy of losing someone close to them. As a result, they won’t understand what it feels like to grieve significant losses. Younger people typically won’t know what to do or say when one of their friends suffers through loss. You can help guide them on how to react to your loss by teaching them what you need from them and how they can best support you. 

» MORE: Everyone's life is worth celebrating. These tools keep their memory close.

Tips for Moving On or Dealing With Unsupportive Friends After a Death

Many bereaved individuals will receive the love and support from their close friends they were hoping for. But some will lack the energy to make amends and move on from the friendship after grief tears them apart. And countless others will remain disillusioned by the lack of motivation and support from their support group.

Grief tends to end friendships because of a lack of support when needed and expected and because many don’t understand the depths of a suffering friend’s despair. They lack the knowledge about how grief can affect a person and how you might reconnect with someone after a death. Here are some tips on how to deal with these situations. 

Avoid making judgments

Everyone processes grief differently. Your friends aren't any different. They're all unique individuals responding to your grief, colored by the lens of their past experiences with suffering. There are many reasons why your friends may be unsupportive of you when you need them to be there for you the most. Try to avoid judging their actions. If the friendship ends, let it go.

In time, they'll either come back to you and make amends or stay out of your life for good. In either situation, their reasons for doing so are not for you to try and understand. 

Learn to let go

Having to let go of certain people in your life while dealing with the pain of loss can become overwhelming for many individuals suffering through one defeat after another. Learn to accept that there are certain things that are out of your control. And as much as you would like a different outcome, there comes a time to let go of situations and friendships that no longer serve you.

There's no denying that it's painful to lose yet another person you love and care for. But for many, moving on from dead-end friendships begins to feel freeing with time.

Practice resiliency 

After suffering through a painful loss, you might begin to feel depleted of your energy and defeated in many ways. Adding to that loss experience are your friends who might be reacting negatively to your loss by not being there for you as you expected. The key to dealing with unsupportive friends is to practice resiliency and bounce back from this particular setback.

You can do this by setting boundaries to how much effort you put into getting your friends to come around and by how much isolation and neglect you’re willing to put up with. You’ll need to figure out your needs and how much energy you have to give to those unsupportive friends.

Friends Who Withdraw After a Death

Everyone experiences different types of grief throughout their lifetime. Asking for help can be challenging at first. In time, with or without the support of your friends, you’ll acquire the strength and courage to move forward in life. And for those friends who do stick around, your connection to them will deepen while the others will naturally drop off, freeing you to concentrate on those relationships that matter most. 

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