Ask Amy: Mother hurting over death should be honest

FresnoAugust 12, 2013 

Dear Amy: My husband "Steve" has worked with "Ted" for the past 25 years, and we have socialized with him and his wife, "Joan," (just us two couples) a few times a year.

I have always considered them to be friends, and I thought the feeling was mutual. They are educated, polite and "very nice" people. My husband and I are introverts. We have no family and no other "close" friends, and mainly we are very content with our quiet life.

Our 22-year-old son died three months ago. We phoned these friends and said we would have a small and intimate memorial service at our son's favorite hiking spot two hours away. In reply, they sent us an email of condolence.

When we decided on the date for the service, I told Joan about it and said we could give them a ride if they wanted to go. A couple of days before the service my husband mentioned it to Ted, who said that they would be going camping that weekend (by themselves).

And that was all. One short email of condolence. Period. Our son's friends and colleagues attended the service, but my husband and I had no personal support.

I am unwilling to socialize with Ted and Joan any longer. Since the service, they have asked us twice to join them for drinks and dinner, but we made polite excuses, and I feel that we should continue to politely say no and end our social relationship with them.

Steve says he understands my viewpoint, agrees and will support it, but do you think I am overreacting?

— Hurting

Dear Hurting: When it comes to a loss like you've experienced, there is no right (or wrong) way for a parent to behave.

However, at times like this, it is also common for friends and family to blunder (sometimes badly). Sometimes people are so freaked out by the enormity of this loss that they actually abandon grieving parents rather than confront their own confusion and anxiety. Your friends ran away when they should have run toward you.

Now they are reaching out and would like to resume and revive your friendship. Because you and your husband are natural introverts, you may lack the experience to realize that friendships can survive after massive disappointment, but only if both parties are honest with one another.

Even if you never want to see them again, you should explain why: "When our son died, we needed your friendship and it wasn't there. I feel very let down, and that's why I haven't wanted to spend time with you."

Send questions to askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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